AMMAN, JORDAN, FEB. 14 -- Iraqis buried their dead in anger and grief today as rescue teams worked into the second night to remove bodies of men, women and children from a still-smoldering, bombed-out structure that they were using as a shelter but which the United States says was primarily a military command center.
Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nassif Jassim accused President Bush of being a "war criminal" and told foreign journalists in Baghdad that the bombing attack early Wednesday would "live in the memory of the Iraqi people and strengthen their resolve," while the official Iraqi media warned the U.S. allies of "devastating surprises."
As rescue workers awaited a third day of digging through rubble of the structure, varying figures were given for the death toll.
Faiq Bakr, director of the government mortuary in Baghdad, told reporters that 288 bodies, 91 of them children, had been removed by dusk today. The Information Ministry said at least 400 people were killed.
British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent Alan Little said the chief of a 60-man rescue team told him 92 bodies were recovered Wednesday and 200 today. Reporters at the scene counted more than 40 corpses, many decapitated or missing limbs, being extricated during one 90-minute period today, the Associated Press said.
A military communique this afternoon said only 64 bodies had been identified, and officials said they feared that many would never be identified, either because they were so badly mutilated or charred or because entire families had been killed.
As night fell, reporters at the scene said stretchers were still being brought out from the building, carrying bodies wrapped in blankets, some of them unrecognizable. The heat inside the reinforced structure was intense as volunteers dug out victims from under mangled bunk beds and twisted structural steel, Little said. He quoted the chief rescue worker as saying the operation might take days to complete.
Funeral processions weaved through the streets of Baghdad, behind trucks laden with coffins, as thousands of mourners wept or directed their passions against the United States. Men fired automatic weapons into the air, a tradition at funerals. Little described the mood as "swinging from grief to fury and back again."
Jassim, one of the Iraqi officials closest to President Saddam Hussein, likened the attack to the "Holocaust against Jews," charging: "They say that Hitler burned Jews. Now Bush burns children in the inferno. He will be followed by a curse until death."
Baghdad Radio vowed that the allied bombing campaign would "boost Iraq's strength and firmness," and it warned Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney that "Iraq's surprises will continue, and we promise him that these surprises will multiply and grow. They will be devastating surprises." The state radio did not elaborate, but Iraq has repeatedly threatened to resort to the use of chemical and germ warfare against the allies.
Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, who has been in Baghdad since Tuesday, toured the site of the bombing today and told reporters at a press conference later that when he warned Saddam the war might last three years, Saddam "laughed and told me Iraq could stand the war for six years."
"In the beginning," Arafat said, "I was worried about Iraq's situation, but after meeting Saddam, I became fully confident of the sound position of Iraq."
After the especially intense 12 hours of bombing Tuesday night and early Wednesday, journalists in Baghdad reported a relative lull overnight and today.
Iran's official news agency IRNA, however, said Basra, a major port in southern Iraq that allied forces have called a key military city, underwent intensive attacks, aimed primarily at an oil refinery and petrochemical complex, the AP reported.
In Jordan, where there was strong popular and official reaction to the civilian bombing deaths, King Hussein today sent an angry letter to U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, pressing him to halt all military operations against Iraq and to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad to ensure that allied military operations do not violate humanitarian norms.
"The bombing of the shelter is another reminder that Security Council Resolution 678, which some see as the license to launch an organized war of devastation against Iraq, is . . . devoid of a legitimate basis," Hussein said.
Jordanian Information Minister Ibrahim Ezzedine said of the scenes in Baghdad: "I cannot forget the faces of relatives screaming and trying to fetch the bodies of their children, mothers and fathers. I think this incident is going to last in the memory of humanity for many years to come. It is like Pearl Harbor. It is like Dresden. It is something that is not going to be easily forgotten."