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Bombing of Baghdad Continues Sunday - 2003-03-23

The bombing of Baghdad continues as an Arab satellite television station airs interviews with what what are said to be captured U.S. soldiers.

As night fell across Baghdad, air raid sirens wailed throughout the capital city. Moments later, a heavy round of anti-aircraft fire could be heard. Tracers were reported to be lighting up Baghdad as the thunder of bombs and missiles reverberated through the city.

One of the bombs reportedly sparked a huge fireball on the east bank of the Tigris River. Plumes of smoke were seen billowing over the capital and ambulances sped through the streets.

The aerial bombardment is intended to destroy Iraq's command and control centers and its leadership.

Earlier, Iraqi television showed video of President Saddam Hussein meeting with top members of his war council. It was not known where or when the video was taken.

Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan appeared on television claiming Iraqi forces had shot down seven coalition aircraft. Senior coalition officials deny the claim, saying Iraqi forces have not shot down any aircraft.

Mr. Ramadan also announced that Iraq is holding some U.S. soldiers taken prisoner in the fighting. Several hours later, Iraqi television broadcast interviews with five soldiers identified as Americans, and also showed four bodies that appeared to be wearing U.S. uniforms. The Arab satellite station al-Jazeera re-broadcast the video.

U.S. military acknowledged that as many as 10 U.S. soldiers are missing in Iraq.

Iraq's vice president also suggested that coalition forces are within 160 kilometers of Baghdad because the Iraqi regime is intentionally allowing them to race towards the capital uncontested. He said once they near the capital they will be defeated.

Iraq's Information Minister, Mohammed al-Sahaf told reporters that 77 civilians were killed when cluster bombs were dropped Saturday on the southern city of Basra. He said 366 civilians were wounded. The casualty figures could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile in Cairo, Arab foreign ministers will meet Monday to discuss the war in Iraq. There have been huge demonstrations throughout the Arab world against the war. Arab League officials say the purpose of the meeting is to seek a peaceful conclusion to the war and to express Arab anger over the U.S. led invasion of Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri is in Cairo for the meeting. He told reporters he will call for all Arab states to do everything in their power to end the armed conflict in Iraq.