U.S. destroys meeting it believes included Saddam, top aides

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

ABU DHABI U.S. forces have destroyed a bunker and what they believed to be a meeting in progress of President Saddam Hussein, his sons, and members of the Iraqi leadership.

The bunker was located under a restaurant in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad. The building was destroyed by four one-ton conventional bunker-busting bombs equipped with JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition] guidance systems dropped by a B-1 heavy bomber on Monday.

U.S. officials said "time-sensitive" intelligence information reported that Saddam, his sons, Uday and Qusay, were convening a meeting of up to 12 senior aides. They said the information, confirmed by radio intercepts, was that Saddam had been planning to discuss the escape of the leadership from the Iraqi capital to either Tikrit or Mosul.

"I don't know whether he [Saddam] survived," U.S. President George Bush told a news conference in Ireland on Tuesday. "I just know he's losing power."

U.S. military personnel have sifted through the rubble for a trace of Saddam and his sons, who were said to have been seen entering the restaurant on Monday afternoon. Officials said up to 30 Iraqi senior officials were believed to have attended the meeting chaired by Saddam.

"We are confirming that a leadership target was hit very hard," U.S. Central Command spokesman Maj. Brad Bartlett said in a briefing in Qatar on Tuesday. "Battle damage assessment is ongoing."

Officials said the search could take several days. So far, 14 bodies were said to have been found in the rubble.

"As his regime collapses around him, the question is asked, where is he [Saddam]?" Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "There are three possibilities: He's either dead or injured or not willing to show himself."

The destruction of the suspected Saddam bunker was followed by the cessation of Iraqi radio and television broadcasts. The Information Ministry has also been bombed.

On Tuesday, U.S. armored units, backed by AH-64D attack helicopters and A-10 close-support combat fixed-wing aircraft, fought Republican Guard armored forces near the Tigris River and entered eastern Baghdad. At the same time, U.S. troops also launched an attack on Rashadiya airport south of Baghdad.

Earlier, the U.S. 1st Marine Division was said to have found an arsenal of Iraqi missiles with suspected chemical warheads. Military sources told the U.S.-based National Public Radio that 20 Iraqi BM-21 missiles and Katyusha short-range rockets tipped with sarin and mustard gas warheads were found in a warehouse in southern Baghdad.

One report asserted that Scud-class missiles were also found in the site. U.S. officials did not confirm the report. Later, officials said several chemicals found in a site near Karbala on Monday did not constitute nonconventional weapons agents.

"We have to recognize that almost all first reports we get are wrong," Rumsfeld said. "There tend to be changes in them. As a result we have to take our time and look at them."

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