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U.S. Tank Blast Kills Journalists

April 8, 2003

U.S. tank blast kills journalists in hotel; second "decapitation attack" aimed at Saddam, U.S. troops under heavy fire in presidential compounds.

One of the injured journalists from the Palestine Hotel is rushed into a Baghdad hospitalImage: AP

A U.S. tank, responding to suspected sniper fire, opened fire on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killing two journalists and wounding at least four others on Tuesday, bringing the total of media deaths to five in the last 24 hours.

The Palestine Hotel, where much of the foreign media is based, was suddenly turned into a scene of devastaion and confusion as the tank round hit the 15th floor of the building. Television pictures from the scene showed the bodies of the injured journalists being hurriedly carried through the lobby of the hotel while other reporters, visibly shaken, ran for cover clutching their equipment.

Journalist and cameraman killed

Two cameramen -- Jose Couso, working for Spain's Telecinco and Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk covering the war for Reuters news agency -- died from injuries sustained in the shelling. Reuters Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank said: "We are devastated by the death of Taras, who had distinguished himself with his highly professional coverage in some of the most violent conflicts of the past decade." A Reuters reporter and technician were also wounded in the attack.

David Chater, a journalist with Sky News reporting from the hotel said: "I noticed one of the tanks had its barrel pointed up at the building. We went inside... and there was an almighty crash, a huge explosion that shook the hotel."

USA Panzer beim Informationsministerium in Bagdad
Tank fire in Baghdad.Image: AP

U.S. military officials expressed regret at the incident, saying one of their tanks had responsed to incoming sniper and rocket fire fired from the hotel. "A tank was receiving small arms fire...from the hotel and engaged the target with one tank round," said General Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad.

In a separate incident, a correspondent from the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network was killed and a colleague was hurt when at least one US missile hit the station's Baghdad office.

A journalist from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and a German journalist with the news magazine Focus were killed on Monday when an Iraqi missile struck the U.S. Army camp in south of Baghdad where they were sheltering.

Both sides in the Iraq war have been condemned for the deaths of reporters by The International Federation of Journalists, which represents hundreds of thousands of journalists around the world. Twelve foreign journalists have died in Iraq since the start of the war, and two are missing.

Decapitation attack targets Saddam

B-1B Lancer bomber
A B1-B bomber.Image: AP

Meanwhile, the coalition offensive in the capital continues after a second "decapitation attack" intended to kill President Saddam Hussein and at least one of his sons was mounted in a residential area of the city.Acting on what military sources referred to as "time-sensitive intelligence," a single U.S. B1-B bomber swooped out of the blackened sky over Baghdad on Monday to target what was believed to be the latest sanctuary sought by the dictator and his sons Qusay and Uday.

Dropping its payload of four precision-guided JDAM bombs, weighing 907 kilograms (2,000 pounds) each, the building in the Mansour neighborhood of the capital was reduced to smoldering rubble at around 2 p.m. local time. "There is a big hole where that target used to be," said one U.S. official.

However, the attack also severely damaged a restaurant and surrounding apartments with reports circulating that at least nine people were killed and 13 others wounded, mainly civilians. There were no confirmed killings of top Iraqi officials despite high optimism amongst U.S. intelligence officials that the building housed the Iraqi president and his sons as well as high-ranking military figures at the time of the strike. A senior administration official in Washington said the strike was "very much the same" as the initial "decapitation attack" that began the war.

Speaking at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at their war summit in Belfast, U.S. President George W. Bush said: "I don't know whether (Saddam) survived. The only thing I know is that he's losing power."

"Saddam Hussein will be gone. It might have been yesterday, I don't know," Bush added.

U.S. troops under attack

Meanwhile, on the streets of Baghdad, the initial euphoria surrounding the sight of U.S. troops calmly strolling around a number of captured presidential palaces on Monday was replaced by the grim reality of brutal urban warfare.

As A10 and F-14 fighter jets set about decimating Iraqi units in the center of the capital from first light on Tuesday, troops from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry, who had remained in the city overnight, found themselves under intense counterattack as morning dawned in Baghdad. Fierce machine gun, rocket and mortar attacks rocked the main presidential compound as Iraqi troops attempted to regain control of the palace grounds. Four U.S. Abrams tanks defending the captured compound returned continuous heavy fire as armored vehicles advanced towards the Iraqi positions, with low-flying U.S. war planes provided air support.

Heavy fighting was also reported across the river, on the east bank of the Tigris, where a firefight between a U.S. armored unit and Iraqi forces was raging around a central Baghdad high-rise building, until recently used by one of Iraq's deputy prime ministers.

Coalition casualties mount in Baghdad battles

Elsewhere, coalition forces continued to encounter scattered resistance in and around Baghdad.

Erstürmung einer Brücke in Bagdad
Heavy fighting is claiming casualties on both sides.Image: AP/Boston Herald, Kuni Takahashi

The U.S. 7th Marines Division, slowly but surely gaining ground in the southeastern suburbs of the city, met with Iraqi small-arms fire as it pushed farther into Baghdad on Tuesday. In the west, ground troops were involved in heavy fighting as they moved towards the heart of the capital. On the city's eastern front, two U.S. soldiers were killed as the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines approached the capital under sustained Iraqi mortar and artillery fire while attempting to secure a bridge over a canal near the Tigris River on the southeastern outskirts.

Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.

Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.