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Britain Denies Coalition Bomb Caused Baghdad Blackout - 2003-04-04

Britain's air defense chief denies a coalition bomb has caused a power blackout in Baghdad, and he says the Iraqi military is probably to blame.

British chief of Air Staff, Peter Squire, says the military of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may have decided to black out Baghdad as coalition forces attacked the capital's airport. "There is no way that a stray weapon could take out the whole of Baghdad's power system," he said. "I think it almost certainly is the fact that Saddam himself, or the regime, has turned the power off in Baghdad. For whatever reason, I don't know. Perhaps to disguise what is going on at the airport and things of that nature."

Air Marshal Squire spoke at a news conference in London Friday, where he emphasized the efforts made by coalition planners to avoid civilian casualties during bombing raids.

He pointed out British suspicions about an explosion last Friday at a Baghdad market, where doctors said more than 50 people were killed. A British newspaper, the Independent, has reported that a metal fragment found at the scene bore numbers traced back to an American cruise missile factory.

But Air Marshal Squire says Iraqi officials may have planted the metal fragments to make it look like the coalition had attacked the market. "The marketplace was never a target," said Air Marshall Squire. "There is no indication whatsoever that any of the weapons from any of the coalition aircraft went astray. And I think the fact that people produce bits of metal with numbers on some days after the event has again to be questionable. "

In another development, Prime Minister Tony Blair is promising that British troops will leave Iraq as quickly as possible after the Saddam Hussein government falls.

He says Iraqis should take over an interim government as soon as it can be arranged, once the fighting stops.

The prime minister's pledge is contained in an Arabic-language pamphlet being printed for distribution by British troops in Iraq.