BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Intermittent explosions were heard throughout the day Saturday, and by late afternoon at least 12 huge columns of smoke towered all along Baghdad's southern horizon. After sunset, a series of strong blasts rocked the Iraqi capital.
Warplanes could be heard overhead when the attack began at about 7:15 p.m. It was unclear what targets were hit. Foreign journalists are not permitted to move freely in the city.
Throughout the day workmen swept glass from the streets after two days of fierce bombardments that destroyed presidential palaces, government offices and military headquarters.
Iraqis were back in the streets during the day in greater numbers than they had been since the start of the war. Small shops and restaurants reopened.
But by early evening, there were few cars or pedestrians, and black smoke had drifted toward the heart of the city. Two or three explosions were heard.
Early Saturday, a massive explosion had rocked the center of Iraq's capital, just hours after Saddam Hussein's Old Palace was demolished by coalition airstrikes. Aircraft could be heard overhead and smoke and the sound of sirens rose from the city, thought it was unclear what had been targeted.
Elsewhere, U.S. aircraft bombed Iraqi tanks holding bridges near Basra, the country's second-largest city. American officials said Saddam's regime was clearly losing control.
In Baghdad, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf addressed the Iraqi people Saturday, claiming that the government remained in power and had repulsed the U.S.-British attacks, destroying five tanks in the process. He also said those captives taken by coalition troops were civilians, not Iraqi soldiers.
"Baghdad will remain with its head held high," Al-Sahhaf said. "The Baghdad of Saddam will remain defiant."
Al-Sahhaf said 19 missiles had been fired upon a small area of Baghdad, injuring more than 200, mostly civilians.
The blast at first light ended an eerie quiet that had fallen over Baghdad after a ferocious attack filled the sky with towering fireballs Friday night. Tomahawk missiles began to rain down just after 9 p.m. and air raid sirens squealed. Two Iraqi palaces and the intelligence headquarters were among the buildings destroyed.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the intelligence facility was struck by a Tomahawk fired from a British submarine.
Allied ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea fired 320 Tomahawks in the strike -- the third and largest since the war began.
The attack apparently was coordinated to occur simultaneously with strikes on two other cities, Mosul and Kirkuk in the north and Basra and Nassiriyah in the south.
The leader of one of the missions said a 30-plane strike force encountered no resistance from the air or ground during their six-hour mission. Commander Anthony Gaiani, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of two carriers in the eastern Mediterranean, identified the complex as Ar Ramadi, on the Euphrates River, and said it consisted of two large palaces.
"I really had thought that based on the type of target and the proximity to Baghdad they would put up more of a fight," he said.
Three other carriers and their complement of cruisers and destroyers are launching similar strikes from the Persian Gulf region.
The air barrage came with U.S. ground troops already a third of the way to Baghdad, and with Saddam and his regime fighting to demonstrate their control of the country despite reports of surrendering Iraqi troops and the loss of strategic sites.
After the early morning blast Saturday, traffic returned to the streets of Baghdad, and workmen swept glass from the sidewalks around the badly damaged main presidential compound.
A hole the size of two ping-pong tables had been blown in the dome of the Peace Palace, though four busts of Saddam still stood on the corners of the building. The intelligence headquarters was gutted and appeared to have taken a direct hit. Bricks, masonry and glass were strewn across the street in the al-Salhiya neighborhood.
Friday night's spectacular blasts lit up the horizon, illuminating Baghdad even as they devastated parts of the city of 5 million people. Iraqi anti-aircraft bursts winked in the darkness. At one point, the sound of a missile roared through a street before exploding into a fireball.
Hoon said the attacks on the Iraqi capital were carefully calibrated not to damage civilian targets or city infrastructure.
"The lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of tyranny are collapsing," Hoon said.
Three major fires raged inside Saddam's Old Palace compound, which stretches for 1.7 miles on the west bank of the Tigris River. The compound is the official center of the Iraqi state, and home to the offices of the prime minister's staff, the Cabinet and a Republican Guard camp.
Its turqoise-domed main building appeared untouched. But a building next to the palace was on fire, and black smoke billowed from a 10-story building in another part of the compound.
Despite the apparent setbacks, Saddam's regime was taking a hard line -- denying military setbacks and verbally attacking its enemies in a show of public resolve. Al-Sahhaf lashed out at the allies early Saturday.
"They are a gang of war criminals ... international bastards," he said. "They lie day and night. They are not human."