Saddam Sacks Commander of Air Defenses: Report

Saddam Hussein has fired his commander of air defenses as US-led forces claimed control of 95 percent of Iraq's sky, the British government said Saturday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said Saddam had sacked his cousin, Musahim Saab al-Tikriti, and replaced him with Gen. Shahin Yasin Muhammad al-Tikriti.

The spokesman also said new, unspecified intelligence indicated that US and British bombing may not have been to blame for explosions in two marketplaces in Baghdad this week.

He stopped short, however, of saying that Iraqi missiles were responsible for the explosions, which reportedly killed scores of civilians.

According to Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, 58 people were killed and many others wounded in the explosion at the Al-Nasr market Friday evening. Iraqi officials have also blamed US forces for an explosion at another market that killed 14 people on Wednesday.

The Blair spokesman, whose briefings to reporters are by tradition on condition of anonymity, said many Iraqi surface-to-air missiles "have been malfunctioning and many have failed to hit their targets and have fallen back onto Baghdad before exploding."

He said the Iraqi regime had ordered civil defense workers to remove Iraqi missile fragments which fell on residential areas before Western journalists arrived on the scene.

"We are not saying definitively that these explosions were caused by Iraqi missiles. But people should approach this with due skepticism," he added.

The US Central Command in Qatar, which has denied that coalition forces target civilian neighborhoods, has said it was looking into the incidents.

Source: agencies

People's Daily Online ---