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The Scene ‘in the Center of Hell’ With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt

January 17, 1991

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The first air attack on Baghdad came eerily, without the sound of warplanes, and from a pre-dawn sky lighted like the Fourth of July.

Explosions and colorful bands of anti-aircraft artillery signaled the beginning of the attack. One reporter in the Iraqi capital said it felt like being in ″the center of hell.″

A second-wave attack later in the morning scored direct hits on the Defense Ministry and post office headquarters, according to Bob Simpson of the British Broadcasting Corp. A telecommunications center also was damaged, said Gary Shepard of ABC-TV.

About two hours after the first Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, Baghdad Radio reported ″wave after wave″ of warplanes moving over the city of about 4 million people in the pre-dawn darkness.

But apparently because of their high altitude, they came silently, and it was not until the bombs hit and ordnance lighted the night that Iraq knew it was under attack.

Many of the foreign journalists watched the attack from the plush Al Rashid Hotel downtown.

″At one point during the night we saw a huge fireball, in fact several fireball explosions only a mile or two from the hotel,″ said Shepard.

A check with residents and a survey of an area within a mile from the hotel indicated no civilian targets were bombed and there were no immediate reports of civilian casualties. Traffic was moving normally in the area by mid- morning.

″Many of the targets were way in the suburban areas of Baghdad and we have been unable to get to those areas and inspect for damage,″ said Shepard. ″But the city itself looks almost completely intact.″

The command of the Iraqi armed forces said the warplanes struck densely populated residential areas of the capital.

There was also no sign of any hits on President Saddam Hussein’s ornate palace near the hotel.

Saddam was not in the palace at the time and was in good health, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The agency report, monitored in Nicosia, quoted Iraq’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Foreigners and reporters in Al Rashid initially were hustled to the basement air raid shelter by hotel staff. Some Arab guests shouted ″Death to Bush 3/8″ as they huddled together.

Most of the damage apparently was on the outskirts of the city, according to American TV network reporters in Baghdad.

Cable News Network reporter Peter Arnett said there appeared to be direct hits on some buildings. He said he saw three surface-to-air missiles launched, but did not see them hit a target.

One building that was hit, according to residents, was a downtown Popular Army militia building, causing an unknown number of casualties.

Air raid sirens wailed. The streets were nearly deserted. The air attacks were separated by periods of calm.

During the first hours of the attack, some correspondents reported fires in the distance. CNN’s John Holliman said an oil refinery apparently was hit and a wave of heat swept over the hotel.

He reported huge blasts near the telecommunications center, which reportedly sustained some damage.

The initial anti-aircraft barrage filled the sky with tracers looking like ″fireworks on the Fourth of July multiplied by 100,″ ABC’s Shepard said.

″Oh, oh, now there’s huge fire 3/8″ said Holliman shortly after the attack began. ″It is due west of our position. ... WHOA, HOLY COW 3/8 That was a large airburst that we saw that was filling the sky.″

″This feels like we’re in the center of hell,″ said CNN’s Bernard Shaw.

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