Iraq vows to retaliate for U.S.-British airstrikes, Saddam meets aides

Saturday, February 17th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq threatened to retaliate for a major U.S.-British airstrike on its air defense system, while people in the street insisted on Saturday that the raids only stiffened their support for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Two people were killed and 20 were wounded in Friday night's missile attack on air defense and radar sites south of Baghdad, the official Iraqi News Agency reported. The first fatality, a woman, Ghayda Atshaan Abdullah, died hours after the 9 p.m. attack. The second, a man, Khalil Hameed Alwash, died early Saturday.

Two of the wounded are in critical condition, hospital officials told The Associated Press.

Anti-aircraft guns began firing minutes after sirens wailed across Baghdad, alerting the city of more than 5 million people to the attack by 24 U.S. and British warplanes. Their missiles targeted sites to the south of the capital.

``The American administration claimed the strikes were in self-defense,'' the state-run newspaper Al-Qadissiya said in a front-page editorial. ``They are laughing at the world by telling such lies. Iraq was defending its skies from illegal American-British airstrikes.

``This crime will not go without strong punishment for the aggressive Americans,'' the paper added. It did not say how Iraq would retaliate.

Saddam, meanwhile, met Saturday with his top aides to discuss the airstrikes, according to a report by the official Iraqi News Agency. It was the second such meeting since the airstrikes.

``The meeting discussed last night's American aggression and the military measures and steps needed to be taken to respond to America and those who help her in case this aggression is repeated,'' the agency said. It did not elaborate.

The streets of Baghdad functioned as normal Saturday, but people expressed fear of more airstrikes. They also saw them as aimed not at Iraq's improved air defense capability, as the U.S. State Department said, but as an attempt to undermine Saddam.

``They expect us to hate our leader by doing this ... They are wrong. We started to hate everything American because of these strikes,'' said Tamader Jassim, 19, a student.

``Two civilians are killed and 20 injured. All were innocent children, women and men who do not mean anything to America,'' she added.

A history professor at Baghdad University, Sadoun Fadil, said people rally around their leader during hard times. The Americans ``want the people to hate President Saddam Hussein by encouraging them to love him,'' he said.

In Shorja Market, people from distant parts of the country were trading on Saturday. One merchant, Kamil Burhan, from Basra, 343 miles south of Baghdad, said recent airstrikes in his city had only made people more attached to their country.

``In Basra we hear the sirens almost daily so it's like music ... we wonder what's wrong if we don't hear it,'' Burhan said, while loading his truck with goods bought to take home.

About 1,000 demonstrators gathered at one of the ruling Baath party's many offices in Baghdad on Saturday in support of Saddam and the Palestinians.

Shouting ``with our blood and soul, we sacrifice you Saddam and Palestine'' and ``Bush listen well ... we all love Saddam Hussein.''

In al-Kindi hospital, where Ghayda Atshaan Abdullah died Friday night, her family came to take her body away for burial in a family graveyard outside the city.

``Her injuries were so extensive. She lost a lot of blood and, despite the extra care and efforts by the doctors to keep her live, she died,'' a hospital employee told the AP.

State radio and television broadcasts, meanwhile, were devoted Saturday to showing support for Saddam. All three TV channels showed scenes from hospitals where some of the 20 injured were taken, patriotic songs and archive Gulf War footage.

Saturday's newspapers came out with banner headlines like ``we shall fight them (enemies) on ground, sea and in the air'' and ``They will not scare Iraq.''


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