(19 Dec 1998) English/Nat
A series of thunderous explosions rocked Baghdad before dawn Saturday as U-S and British forces pressed a punishing air offensive on Iraq for a third night.
Reporters on Baghdad rooftops saw fiery streaks from what appeared to be Tomahawk cruise missiles speeding across the sky in descending arcs and landing in giant fireballs.
The sound of warheads exploded a few seconds late, lighting the pre-dawn horizon in red glow that silhouetted palm trees against the dark sky.
Iraqi anti-aircraft gunners on roof-tops opened fire, filling the sky with booms and bright red flashes.
Bright orange tracer bullets streaked across the night sky.
When the attack ended, ambulances or fire trucks with sirens blaring were heard speeding away.
Officials, who must escort journalists wishing to tour the city, refused to take them to the targeted areas.
The attack appeared the most severe and dramatic on Baghdad since U-S and British forces began airstrikes early on Thursday to punish Iraq for its alleged obstruction of U-N weapons inspectors searching for the country’s weapons of mass destruction.
Before Saturday’s attack, the United States fired nearly 300 Tomahawk cruise missiles from ships in the Gulf or by B-52 bomber aircraft.
The missiles carry warheads of up to 3-thousand pounds (1,365 kilograms).
Iraq says 25 people have been killed and 75 injured in the first two nights.
Saturday’s explosions were not preceded by air raid sirens, implying that for the first time the strikes eluded Iraqi air defence.
When the reverberations from the explosions subsided at about 4:45 a.m. (0145 GMT), the winter air filled with the sounds of muezzins’ call from mosque loudspeakers, informing Muslims to eat their last meal before beginning the first day of fasting for the holy month of Ramadan.
Clerics declared the start of Ramadan after sighting the moon on Friday, the 29th day of the preceding month, Shaaban.
The Pentagon reported on Friday that initial bomb-damage assessments indicate only a small number of the targets were destroyed or severely damaged even though Iraq offered virtually no resistance.
For example, of 27 Iraqi surface-to-air missile facilities attacked, only one was destroyed and eight suffered no damage.
The Iraqi military claimed its anti-aircraft batteries had shot down 77 incoming missiles so far.

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