AMMAN, JORDAN, JAN. 17 (THURSDAY) -- Iraq's President Saddam Hussein responded defiantly to this morning's U.S. air attack on Baghdad and other cities, calling President Bush a "hypocritical criminal." By midday, the Iraqi capital remained calm, but air raids continued and damage to strategic targets was visible, according to Western reporters in Baghdad.

Saddam spoke on Baghdad radio after the bombing attacks and vowed to crush "the satanic intentions of the White House." Declaring that "the great duel, the mother of all battles has begun," Saddam said "the dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins."

A Cable News Network technician spotted Saddam at a Baghdad television station during the morning, CNN said, and Saddam gave another defiant declaration on state television in the late afternoon. During the day, Baghdad radio said he had viewed bomb damage in parts of Baghdad.

Baghdad radio said 14 of the attacking planes had been shot down in dogfights, although news reports quoted U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia and at the Pentagon as saying no planes had been lost. The radio also said planes had attacked densely-populated residential sections of Baghdad and a number of air bases in the pre-dawn raids.

The few Western journalists in the city could not immediately confirm the radio's account or give a full description of damage in Baghdad. The state-run radio gave no report on casualties of the bombing.

Baghdad's main telecommunications center was bombed and severely damaged, breaking telephone contact with the outside, according to American Telephone and Telegraph Co. Accounts of the raids came out only through broadcast reports by Western journalists. An acrid smell hung in the air over the city of 4 million this morning, the journalists said.

A BBC correspondent said the Defense Ministry and post office buildings had been hit directly, and other journalists reported bomb damage to an oil refinery and the headquarters of the ruling Baath Socialist Party. Some journalists reported severe damage in some areas, although CBS reporter Allen Pizzey said he had "driven around a section of the city and saw no damage at all. There was no sign anything had happened."

Traffic was light in the foggy morning, and many streets were nearly deserted. One reporter said he had spotted a school bus, and trash was being collected. Air raid sirens wailed.

Correspondents for Cable News Network said many of those in the streets were soldiers in uniform or government workers on their way to their jobs who expressed support for Saddam. Some vehicles could be seen piled high with luggage and headed north or west out of the city.

Baghdad radio had shut down for approximately two hours after the air strike began at 3 a.m. local time, and resumed broadcasting with quotations from the Koran. Reuter reported an announcement on the radio calling up more people for Iraq's million-strong regular army. A Defense Ministry statement broadcast hours after the raids ordered those born in 1954 through 1956 to report to recruitment offices within three days.

"War started today," the radio announced. "We will teach America and its allies a lesson."

At 6:35 a.m., an announcer declared that Iraq stood "on strong and solid ground," and said, "Victory, God willing, is near." The station said, "We will make the showdown that {President} Bush wanted . . .a disaster for him and his agents."

In his speech, Saddam invoked Islam in flowery rhetoric and quoted from the Koran, the Islamic holy book. He said his nation would "overthrow the renegade traitors who are followers of evil and will crumble the White House, the den of infidels and domination, and the den of poisonous wasps and aggression in Tel Aviv."

As the attacking planes approached the capital, air-raid sirens sounded through the city and the sky lit up with anti-aircraft fire, correspondents in the ar-Rasheed Hotel reported.

"There were loud explosions, obviously bombs, in three parts of the city," a CNN correspondent said in a telephone report from the city. It looks like the Fourth of July" in Washington. . . . They just got the main telecommunications center."

Announcers claimed that Arabs sympathetic to Iraq were responding to the outbreak of war with words and deeds aimed at bolstering Saddam's cause. "Tunisian masses" were calling for a halt to oil supplies for the United States and its allies, and "Moroccan masses" are praising "Iraq's courageous stand against imperialist and Zionist challenges," the radio reported. It said that "mass demonstrations" are taking place in Jordan in support of Iraq. The claims could not be independently verified.

Despite Saddam's hard-line statements, it seemed likely that the Iraqi government was still assessing the effects of the attack, and no statement characterizing its political or military response was expected this morning.

Baghdad had waited for war with anxiety Wednesday, as many residents quietly abandoned the city for far-flung towns in the countryside, and others huddled with relatives for moral support, according to travelers arriving from the Iraqi capital and several Baghdad residents reached by phone.

Two Baghdad residents said some families had fled to the northern mountains, others to resort towns near the Iranian border and still others to the southern cities of Najaf and Karbala, which are Shiite religious centers. Refugees apparently hoped that U.S. planes would avoid striking near holy sites.