AMMAN, JORDAN, FEB. 7 -- As U.S.-led forces struck at targets in Baghdad and at Iraqi troops in the desert, the Iraqi government said today it was "waiting impatiently" for a ground war to begin in the Persian Gulf conflict and vowed to send "tens of thousands" of Americans home in coffins.
Intensive air strikes on Baghdad killed 22 civilians, Iraqi authorities said, and the army newspaper al-Qadissiyah charged allied forces were trying to destroy Iraq by deliberately striking civilians. U.S. officials have said only military sites were being targeted but that Iraq had placed many in civilian neighborhoods and casualties there were unavoidable.
Witnesses, including former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, a longtime peace activist on a private mission to Iraq, gave detailed accounts of the latest bombing raids in the capital, which lasted 12 hours and apparently targeted a highway heavily used by the military and a bridge. At least 10 houses were destroyed or damaged in the attacks, news reports said.
At least six civilians were killed and 15 wounded in an air strike apparently aiming at -- but missing -- a bridge over the Tigris River in the Adhamiyah section of Baghdad, according to Western and Arab correspondents.
A retired teacher, Hassan Bayati, was quoted by Reuter as saying that allied jets hit a house near the river, reducing it to a smoldering mound of debris in which "five people burned to death."
Correspondents taken to the Numan Hospital told Reuter correspondent Bernd Debusmann that they had seen extensive civilian injuries, including a 5-month-old girl, Marqa Omar, whose right eye had been gouged out by flying debris.
Raja Hamie, a civilian, said from her hospital bed that a rocket hit her house in Adhamiyah, killing her husband and three children. "We all were asleep in one bedroom when the ground was shaken beneath us and suddenly we were engulfed in a fire," she told the AP.
Cable News Network correspondent Peter Arnett reported that residents of the capital city were wondering how much longer the bombing would continue as they adjusted to life without electricity and gasoline. At noon, he said, markets were packed with customers searching for batteries, candles, fruits and vegetables.
An Arab journalist working for Radio Monte Carlo reported tonight that air strikes at the city of Nasiriyah, 230 miles south of Baghdad, had destroyed two bridges and damaged another over the Euphrates River, killing at least 17 people.
Numbers of civilian fatalities estimated by Baghdad radio total about 600. At a news conference in Baghdad today, Clark said an Iraqi doctor told him several thousand people around Iraq had been killed and wounded by the bombings.
After making the first visit by an American to the southern city of Basra since the war began Jan. 17, Clark charged that the allied forces were exceeding U.N. resolutions to oust Iraq from Kuwait. "You don't have to bomb cities," said Clark.
The government, meanwhile, said it was eager for the next phase of the conflict: a ground war.
"Iraq is waiting impatiently for its decisive battle against all the infidel forces," Baghdad radio said. "The number of Americans killed will exceed tens of thousands if a ground battle occurs. . . . This means tens of thousands of coffins will arrive."
Iraq also issued a new call for Arab and Moslem militants to attack U.S. and Western interests, saying there was no place for neutrality in the war.