A large explosion rocked a major shopping mall in the Kuwaiti capital early Saturday.
CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips reports the blast shook Souq Sharq, one of the most popular shopping malls in Kuwait City, where many Americans are based.
There was no immediate report of casualties from the explosion, which occurred just before 2 a.m. local time. Television images showed smoke rising over the Kuwaiti skyline.
The damage to the interior of the shopping mall seemed to be reasonably extensive. But it’s unclear exactly what caused the explosion. A Kuwaiti police official said it was caused by a missile, but later reports suggested it was a bomb. The debris seemed to suggest it could have been either, reports Phillips.
The news comes amid growing concern – denied by U.S. war planners – that Iraqi ambushes on long U.S. supply lines could mean a longer and costlier war.
The internal disagreement over the effectiveness of the Iraqi resistance boiled to the surface, as the U.S. Central Command denied Friday that it had underestimated Iraq’s fighting ability.
There has been strong resistance by Iraqi paramilitary forces as U.S. troops have moved north from Kuwait toward Baghdad. American forces sought at first to bypass towns in the south in the drive to reach the Iraqi capital quickly but have had to slow their advance to root out enemy fighters.
In other major developments:
Buoyed by a second straight day of good weather, American and British warplanes bombed at will. Many warplanes took aim at Republican Guard units guarding the approach to Baghdad, and air raid sirens sounded in the capital shortly before midnight in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a stern warning to Syria on Friday to stop the flow of military equipment to Iraqi forces, saying such shipments have included night-vision goggles. Iraqi and Syrian officials disputed his charge.
In a speech to veterans at the White House, President Bush said U.S. forces were “making great progress in the war in Iraq.” He said American troops were closing in on Baghdad, loosening Saddam’s grip on power with every advance. “The regime that once terrorized all of Iraq now controls a small portion of that country,” he said.
In Basra, a “couple of thousand” Iraqi civilians trying to flee the besieged city, which is encircled by British troops, were attacked by Iraqi paramilitary forces who opened fire on them with mortars and machine guns, British officials said.
Flanked by patrol boats and assault helicopters, the British supply ship Sir Galahad docked at the hard-won port of Umm Qasr on Friday, loaded with the first military shipment of relief aid for Iraqi citizens.
The State Department said it had information that Iraqi intelligence officers planned terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in two unnamed foreign countries. In both cases, the operatives were arrested and terrorist material confiscated, and the planned attacks were not successful, spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday to restart a U.N. humanitarian food program for Iraq once the U.S.-led war winds down.
The Pentagon says 27 Americans have been killed in the war so far; 22 Britons have also been reported killed. Figures on Iraqi dead are unknown but widely believed to be over a thousand.
The internal dispute over war planning broke into public view Friday morning when front-page stories in The Washington Post and The New York Times quoted the Army’s senior ground commander in Iraq as saying the effort to oust Saddam may last longer than predicted.
“The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d war-game against,” said Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.
The remarks were met with private recriminations from Mr. Bush and top aides at the White House, all of whom have sought to assure Americans that the war is going well despite casualties and stiffer-than-expected resistance on Iraqi battlefields.
“I think the point here, as you’ve heard it repeatedly from administration officials, that we cannot predict how long it will go,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Recently retired Army Gen. Buck Kernan, a CBS News military analyst, agrees with the Bush administration that it’s too early to make judgments about “Operation Iraqi Freedom”:
In an interview with CBS News radio, Kernan said, “I believe, having personal knowledge of the plan in its infant stages, I believe it is truly on plan, on time, on schedule. It’s interesting that everybody’s expectations were that this would go hopefully a lot faster than it is.”
A new CBS News poll finds that 55 percent of Americans think the U.S. underestimated the Iraqi resistance. An overwhelming majority nonetheless still believes the war is going well. In fact, increasing numbers now want the U.S. military to use even more force against Iraq.
President Bush and top advisers are reportedly now considering laying siege to Baghdad, after isolating it from most of the Republican Guard armies around it, reports CBS News Anchor Dan Rather.
The idea is that perhaps Baghdad’s Shiites will openly rebel against Saddam and his Sunnis. U.S. special operations inside Baghdad now seek to help organize and ignite such rebellion.
Of Baghdad’s population of 5 million, about 50 percent or more are believed to be Shiite Muslim. Saddam Hussein is a Sunni Muslim, and so is most of his government.
But before any final decision is made about a possible siege, U.S.-led forces must try to cut up and off Saddam’s Medina Division Republican Guard, which is now dug in between Baghdad and attacking allied forces.
The major drive to accomplish that is expected over the next few days, a week at most, reports Rather.
In the interim, the American game plan is simple: bombs, bombs and more bombs.
Elsewhere, a U.S. official involved in military planning and intelligence said Iraqi troops have been spotted between U.S. and Iraqi lines wearing full chemical protection suits and unloading 50- gallon drums from trucks. U.S. intelligence doesn’t know what was in the drums, but fear it could be chemicals.
Officials have said that the closer invading forces get to Baghdad, the higher the possibility that a cornered regime will launch an attack with chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam as denied he has.