BAGHDAD, Iraq – Adnan Saleh Barseem stood Wednesday amid burning cars and bombed-out restaurants, the aftermath of an aerial strike that killed 14 people in a crowded residential neighborhood in Baghdad.
"This is barbarian!" he shouted as hundreds of angry Iraqis milled around craters created by two missiles that also injured 30 people, knocked down power lines and ruptured water pipes in the Al-Shaab neighborhood.
The worst single reported instance of civilian deaths since the U.S. bombing campaign began last week prompted little public mourning in the Iraqi capital. Instead, Iraqis shook their fists in hostility; others pledged allegiance to President Saddam Hussein.
"Oh, Saddam, we sacrifice our souls and blood to you," chanted residents of apartments damaged by flying shrapnel, taking to the streets near a gutted market of about 30 mostly inexpensive restaurants and auto repair shops.
Others hung out their apartment windows, flashing V-for- victory signs in support. Barseem surveyed the scene and declared, "It's proof that (U.S.) aggression is collapsing."
U.S. Central Command said there was no proof U.S. missiles were involved in the civilian deaths, although they did acknowledge using "precision-guided weapons" to target Iraqi missiles and launchers "placed within a civilian residential area."
During a Pentagon briefing, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said U.S. forces did not specifically aim at Al-Shaab, "nor were any bombs and missiles fired" there. But he could not say whether the missiles that hit the neighborhood were Iraqi weapons or misguided U.S. missiles.
Later in the day, a series of explosions -- becoming louder and more frequent -- were audible across the city. Rain began to fall, combining with smoke and a sandstorm to give the city a dark, apocalyptic look.
When the sandstorm cleared, the strongest explosions in days shook the city -- although it was unclear where they originated. A few hours before dawn Thursday, at least aircraft were heard overhead, followed by eight large explosions could be heard in the city center.
After Wednesday's midday the missile blasts, Associated Press Television News video showed a large crater in the street near a smoldering building, with bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting in the back of a pickup truck.
Flames shot into the air above several burning shops, mixing with smoke from fuel fires lit by Iraqis to obscure targets for U.S. and British warplanes. Streets flooded after pipes ruptured, while street lights toppled and trees were uprooted.
Cars were tossed like toys, with some turned upside down and the wheels blown off others. Seventeen cars were destroyed, their charred metal skeletons left on the street, said Lt. Col. Hamad Abdullah, head of Iraqi civil defense in the area.
Men lugged water buckets to douse the burning automobiles, while women in black chadors grabbed the hands of children and ran from the scene.
The reports of civilian deaths prompted a quick response from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said he was "increasingly concerned by humanitarian casualties in this conflict."
On Monday, Iraq's information minister reported 194 civilians had been injured so far in the bombing of Baghdad. That number threatened to grow as U.S.-led troops closed in on the city of 5 million.
"We are one tank of fuel from Baghdad," said Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.
Iraq's state-run television returned to the airwaves Wednesday despite allied bombs and missiles that knocked out its signal for hours at a time. U.S. authorities had hoped to disable the television signal, ending its use as a propaganda tool.
Instead, a Muslim cleric appeared on television to urge Shiite and Sunni Muslims to unite in the face of U.S. aggression.
The attacks targeted not only Iraqi television but also government communications and satellite links at several sites in the capital, U.S. military officials said. Smoke was seen next to the Information Ministry and the Iraqi TV building.
But there was no trace of Al-Shabab television, the station owned by Saddam Hussein's son Odai. That station is normally transmitted from the state television building.