DOD: Neighborhood not targeted by U.S.
March 28, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. military did not target the marketplace in northern Baghdad where Iraqi civilians were killed Wednesday, senior defense officials said Wednesday afternoon.
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said two cruise missiles hit a residential area, killing 14 people and injuring 30 in the Al-Shaab neighborhood, which contains dozens of shops and homes.
But Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, vice director for operations on the Joint Staff, told reporters here that “coalition forces did not target the Al-Shaab district.”
McChrystal said that “another explanation” for the destruction might be triple-A fire shot by the Iraqis themselves, or “a surface-to-air missile” that fell back after Iraqi forces targeted incoming U.S. bombers.
“We know for a fact that something landed,” McChrystal said. “What we don’t know for a fact [is if] it was U.S. or Iraqi.”
U.S. aircraft flew more than 700 sorties in Iraq on Tuesday, McChrystal said, most of which were directed against targets in Baghdad.
Victoria Clarke, undersecretary of defense for public affairs, said that no matter which side dropped the ordnance on the market, any and all civilian deaths in the Iraqi war are the fault of Saddam Hussein, not the U.S. military.
“Any death that occurs is the direct result of Saddam Hussein’s policies,” Clarke said.
Despite heavy sandstorms, U.S. ground troops continue to make “extraordinary” progress toward Baghdad, Clarke said.
But McChrystal said that the troops are “more than 220 miles into Iraq,” which is less than 20 miles farther than the progress reported by Pentagon officials 24 hours earlier.
Reporters traveling with Army units said that many ground troops used the blinding sandstorm as a time to rest and prepare for the next push, which is likely to bring them directly into contact with the Republic Guard forces that ring Baghdad.
That contact may come sooner than expected: Television reports Wednesday morning said that a column of about 1,000 Republic Guard vehicles had poured out of Baghdad and was heading south toward U.S. Marine positions in central Iraq.
Clarke and McChrystal said they could not confirm the reports.
Meanwhile, Clarke said the more than 3,000 chemical protection suits and masks and nerve gas antidote found by U.S. Marines in a hospital at An Nasiriyah on Tuesday prove that Saddam Hussein intends to use chemical weapons on U.S. troops.
“The conclusion is inescapable,” Clarke said, noting that U.S. forces do not have chemical weapons in their arsenal and, therefore, “the enemy is planning to use” chemicals against coalition forces.
Marines from Task Force Tarawa, which includes the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, captured the chemical protection materials in a raid. U.S. Central Command officials said that Iraqi paramilitary forces were using the clearly marked hospital as a staging ground for troops coming into the city.
In addition to the chemical suits, the Marines captured about 170 Iraqi soldiers and found and confiscated more than 200 weapons, stockpiles of ammunition and a T-55 tank.
Clarke called the hospital “a den of destruction.”