Shuttle Tragedy Is Page-One News in Baghdad

Major Iraqi newspapers reported the space shuttle Columbia tragedy on their front pages on Sunday, but it appeared at the bottom, overshadowed by one of Saddam Hussein's almost-nightly meetings with military commanders.

Although no official Iraqi government statement was issued, individual Baghdad officials expressed sympathy for the American people, despite the tense confrontation between the United States and Iraq.

"We are people who love other people," said Bushra al-Samarai, a member of the Iraqi National Assembly. "We respect their feelings and share their sadness over this tragic incident."

She spoke with a reporter at a National Assembly ceremony marking the 12th-anniversary period of the 1991 Gulf War, when a U.S.-led military coalition drove Iraq's army from Kuwait and bombed targets in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

A National Assembly leader, Secretary General Ghalib Jassim, also voiced sympathy for the space shuttle tragedy, but with a reminder that Iraq feels under siege from the same stricken America.

The Bush administration has threatened military action against Iraq over its weapons programs.

"We are friends for the American people," said Jassim, a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo. "We don't have anything against the American people as people. The problem is between us and the American administration."

The news of the loss of the Columbia on Saturday appeared almost immediately over Iraq's Al-Shabab (Youth) television, a station owned by Saddam's son Odai. It switched to live coverage of the fast-developing news carried by the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.

In the Babil newspaper -- also owned by Odai -- the story was carried at the bottom of page one Sunday with an old color photo of a U.S. space shuttle. It continued inside for almost a half-page, based on foreign news agency reports.

"Columbia Shuttle Crashed and the Crew Was Killed," read the headline low on the front page of Al-Thawra, newspaper of Iraq's ruling Baath Party.

That article noted that one of the astronauts was a "Zionist" who had flown in the Israeli bombing attack in 1981 on Iraq's Tammouz reactor, which was believed to be key to an Iraqi nuclear bomb program.

The astronauts who perished when the Columbia broke apart minutes before it was scheduled to land in Florida were six Americans and an Israeli.

Some coverage was decidedly low-key. The newspaper Al-Iraq carried just a two-paragraph, second-page brief about Columbia. In every paper, Saddam dominated news with his defiance of U.S. threats. A headline in Al-Thawra read: "The Warrior Leader Said I am Confident that Victory is Assured."