Baghdad Loses Power as Coalition Presses Close

After more than two weeks of bombing, the people of Baghdad faced additional hardships Friday -- a power blackout and a lack of running water.

Explosions sounded on the outskirts of the city, as warplanes struck strategic targets in support of the U.S. ground troops gathering a few miles away. However, traffic on the streets was about normal for a Friday, the Muslim day of rest.

Iraq's information minister, speaking on behalf of President Saddam Hussein, on Friday promised to defeat coalition forces at the gates of Baghdad.

"We are determined, God willing, to defeat them and destroy them on the walls of our capital," said Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who for the second time in two days was delivering a statement for Saddam, who has not been shown speaking on television since a taped appearance on March 24.

Among the bombing targets was Iraqi Air Force headquarters in central Baghdad. Al-Jazeera television reported that presidential palaces also had been hit.

Electricity in the city has been off since Thursday night, the first widespread outage of the war. Bombs had rocked the city before the blackout, but U.S. military officials said they had not targeted Baghdad's power grid.

A sustained power outage to the city of 5 million people would mean the disruption of water supply and sewage, which could spread disease at a time when temperatures are rising.

The electricity went out as U.S. forces launched their attack on Saddam International Airport, 10 miles southwest of the city center. Anti-aircraft fire could be heard near the airport, tracer rounds raced through the sky and artillery shells exploded in the air.

At a sandbagged sentry post in the city, one guard vowed to resist any assault on the city.

"We have given allegiance to our leader Saddam Hussein that we will be faithful soldiers," said Abdul Wahid Hidawi. "All they have to do is come to Baghdad to face the real Iraqis and, God willing we will make of them an example to others."

No trace of Saddam or his sons turned up Thursday when special operations forces raided a presidential palace northwest of the capital.

Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh -- who accused coalition forces of breaking into Iraqi warehouses and stealing children's milk and supplies -- laughed when he was asked where Saddam was.

"I think you have seen his picture," Saleh said, referring to recent television footage of a smiling Saddam chairing a Cabinet meeting. "He is very calm, confident."

Iraqi TV aired similar clips Thursday, showing a relaxed and laughing Saddam in an olive green military uniform and meeting with more than a dozen senior government and Baath Party officials, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. It was not possible to verify when the footage was shot.