BAGHDAD, Iraq - Thunderous explosions rocked Baghdad on Friday in some of the most powerful bombardments of the Iraqi capital in days. One missile struck a market in western Baghdad on Friday afternoon, killing more than 50 people, news reports said.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said 55 civilians were killed Friday at the market in a residential neighborhood. Al Arabiya television said at least 52 people died. Footage showed the injured, many of them children, lying in hospital beds with their faces and heads wrapped in bandages.
The day of bombings - led by 4,700-pound, satellite-guided "bunker-busting" bombs the previous night - were aimed at disrupting communications between Saddam Hussein's leadership and his military, U.S. officials said.
The barrage on the communications tower on the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad started shortly after 11 p.m. local time Thursday and continued sporadically through the night and into Friday.
Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf said seven people were killed and 92 others wounded overnight.
Husein Moeini, telecommunications director of Baghdad, said he believed people were buried beneath the rubble, but journalists who arrived at the scene less than three hours after it was hit did not see a rescue operation under way.
Explosions destroyed the seven-story al-A'azamiya telephone exchange building and a dozen shops, homes and apartment buildings nearby.
At a second telephone exchange, Al-Rasheed, the 10-story building was largely intact Friday, except for some broken windows. Next to it, however, was a huge crater in the road where Iraqi officials said a missile apparently lodged without exploding.
Al-Jazeera said the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party were targeted in bombings Friday afternoon.
Air strikes also targeted positions of the Republican Guard, Saddam's best-trained, best-equipped fighters, in a ring outside the city.
The air strikes hit at or near the Information and Planning ministries and at telephone installations - "as if government buildings are empty of human beings and there are no civilians in them," al-Sahhaf said.
Al-Sahhaf denounced speculation that the Iraqi forces would use chemical weapons. Advancing forces recently found chemical weapons suits and gas masks left behind by soldiers in retreat.
He said having such equipment is standard procedure for any army.
Muslim cleric Abdel-Ghafour Al-Quisi, with a Kalashnikov rifle resting against the pulpit, delivered a fiery sermon broadcast on state television Friday, the Muslim holy day.
"May God install terror in the hearts of our enemies, and set against them invisible soldiers," he said at one of Baghdad's largest mosques, in the heart of the city.
"Their dead are in hell because they have launched aggression against a Muslim nation," he said, referring to felled coalition soldiers.
A crowd of worshippers interrupted his sermon with shouts of: "God is great!"
The people of Baghdad knew a punishing attack was coming after a two-day sandstorm that grounded many coalition warplanes gave way to blue skies Thursday.
Powerful explosions continued through the night and after the sun rose, with aircraft swooping low over the city. Anti-aircraft fire was intermittent.
On Friday, gray smoke drifted across the capital from the bombings and from fires started by authorities to conceal targets. Police and ambulance sirens wailed.
Iraq's satellite television channel was cutting in and out after the air strikes but telephones were working in many parts of the city.