BAGHDAD, Iraq – For the second time in a day, U.S. forces launched precision strikes on Iraq's capital Thursday, leaving its ministry of planning in flames and Saddam Hussein's loyalists wondering when a promised full-scale blitz would begin.
The night sky crackled with flashing light and anti-aircraft fire, reminiscent of the 1991 war under a different Bush administration, as the Tomahawk cruise missiles began dropping on Baghdad once again.
But instead of widespread bombardment, specific targets -- the main presidential palace, the ministry building and Special Republican Guard strongholds -- were struck by the second wave of U.S. missiles. The two buildings were hit almost simultaneously in a day bookended by morning and evening attacks.
The Iraqi military said four soldiers were killed and six others wounded in the day's strikes, during which it said a total 72 cruise missiles were fired. The morning wave of missiles killed one other person -- apparently a Jordanian civilian -- and injured 14, the International Red Cross confirmed.
While Baghdad was quiet for the rest of the night, air raid sirens were heard before dawn Friday in the key northern city of Mosul before dawn and, soon after, several large explosions were heard.
At least two explosions could be heard Friday morning at Kalak, 30 miles east of Mosul on the banks of the Great Zab river, which marks the boundary between the Kurdish self-rule area and territory controlled by the Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, in southern Iraq, U.S. forces rained artillery and rockets on Iraq forces and crossed the border from Kuwait. Thursday night, Iraqi television announcers read a two-minute message from Saddam that mocked U.S. claims that Iraqis would welcome American invaders with open arms.
"May you be accursed and may your actions fail," the statement said, addressing U.S. troops. "God is greater, God is greater, and may the debased ones be accursed."
Saddam did not appear for the evening statement, though television showed him earlier talking with his leadership in a meeting it said took place Thursday.
In Washington, government officials said U.S. intelligence believes Saddam and possibly two of his sons were present inside a suburban Baghdad compound when it was struck by U.S. missiles and bombs in the first hours of pre-dawn bombing Thursday and that medical attention was summoned afterward. It was not sure whether Hussein or his sons were injured or killed, the officials said.
A witness in Baghdad reported seeing anti-aircraft artillery on the roof of the ministry building, which was burning as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene.
The fire was visible from across the river on the east bank of the Tigris.
On a cool, breezy Baghdad night, a thick plume of black smoke climbed into the sky, which was occasionally illuminated by red flares or tracer fire.
The presidential palace sits on the west side of the Tigris River, inside a vast area that stands as the official seat of power in Iraq but is rarely used by Saddam. The Iraqi leader has access to dozens of palaces.
Three distinct locations in the center of Baghdad were smoking after apparently being bombed.
Reports circulating Thursday night suggested that a 10-story office building damaged in the attack belonged to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a powerful figure in Saddam's regime and a stalwart of his ruling Baath party who often speaks for the Iraqi leader.
Other thunderous detonations resounded from the area of the airport before the all-clear siren sounded, leaving an eerie quiet cut only by the roar of generators.
As dusk fell Thursday, many of those left in Baghdad -- ordinarily a city of 5 million -- abandoned its normally bustling streets for the safety of their homes, shelters or the countryside, anticipating night attacks.
By 7:30 p.m., there was hardly anyone on the streets and only a few cars speeding off. Within 90 minutes, the squawk of air raid sirens filled the air and the second attack was under way.
Although longer in duration than the barrage that launched the war hours earlier, the bombing lasted barely 15 minutes, hardly on the scale of the 1991 bombings.
The blast of the air raid sirens resumed once again later, but there was no further attack. F-14 and F-18 jets armed with missiles and bombs took off from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean; their targets were unknown.
Pentagon officials have described their war strategy as "shock and awe," saying they planned to drop 10 times the bombs in the opening days of the air campaign in Iraq than they did in the first Gulf war.
Hundreds of armed members of Saddam's Baath party were hunkered down in the capital, waiting for the United States to unleash its full might, but there was no indication of when that might happen.
On Iraq Radio, a spokesman said that the first attack of the war had targeted Saddam's family home, as well as the homes of his three daughters. The spokesman condemned "the missiles of the reckless criminal Bush and his lackeys."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that first attack had targeted an Iraqi leadership compound, and that U.S. officials had "very good intelligence" about the site.
Baghdad was last bombed in December 1998, when U.S. missiles hit military targets around the city to punish Iraq for blocking U.N. weapons inspectors.