At least 12 explosions hit the western edges of Baghdad tonight shaking buildings in the centre of the Iraqi capital.

A journalist with Agence France Press said one of the missiles slammed into a presidential compound used by Saddam Hussein and his aides.

A Reuters correspondent said no air raid sirens had sounded before the strikes.

Flames could be seen rising into the night sky near the central Palestine Hotel.

Meanwhile the Pentagon has reported that members of Saddam Hussein's family have been trying to flee the country.

Seven killed as US troops open fire

Elsewhere in Iraq seven people were reported killed and two injured when US troops opened fire on a car at a military checkpoint in Najaf. Troops said the driver had ignored a warning.

Earlier today, Baghdad was hit by a wave of US-British bombing. The Al-Jazeera television channel showed images of thick smoke rising from several points of the city.

Among the buildings struck were the telephone exchange, the Information Ministry and a palace belonging to President Saddam Hussein's youngest son, Qusay.

The US said it had targeted the Information Ministry to reduce the command and control capabilities of the Iraqi government.

Fierce fighting continuing in Iraq

British Paratroopers were involved in a firefight with two Iraqi infantry companies in the Rumaila oilfields to the north of Basra. Up to 200 Iraqis are reported to have been killed or wounded in the engagement.

The Iraqis claimed that at least 54 US and British soldiers had been killed in fighting in the previous 24 hours, most of them in the south of the country.

Elsewhere US troops have been involved in heavy fighting on the banks of the Euphrates river.

US forces are reported to have engaged units of President Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guards in and around the city of Karbala, about 50 miles from Baghdad.

US soldiers are also reported to been engaged in street-to-street fighting in Hindiya, in what is thought to be the closest battle to the Iraqi capital.

American troops are also said to have almost encircled the city of Najaf, which lies about 100 miles from Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, says he is in no doubt that the coalition forces are losing the battle for Iraqi hearts and minds.

Iraqi TV back on air

Iraq's domestic state television channel is back on air this afternoon after an earlier breakdown in transmission.

The channel had failed to resume its normal broadcasting this morning after the Information Ministry in Baghdad was bombed overnight.

The international satellite channel, which has also been affected at times by bombing, continued broadcasting through last night.

Journalists dismissed from Iraqi assignment

Two US journalists have been dismissed from high-profile reporting assignments in Iraq for allegedly breaking rules that govern reporting in the US-led war there.

Award-winning news correspondent, Peter Arnett, famed for his coverage of the Vietnam War and the first Gulf war, was sacked by NBC, after telling Iraqi state-run television that the US war plan had 'failed'.

NBC said it was wrong for Mr Arnett to grant an interview to state-controlled Iraqi television, especially at a time of war

Meanwhile, celebrity TV journalist Geraldo Rivera has been told by US military officials that he is no longer welcome to accompany US troops there.

20 die in farm strike

Twenty people, including 11 children, were killed on Saturday when a night time air raid hit a farm near Baghdad.

Another 10 people were wounded in the attack, according to relatives who survived the bombardment, which destroyed three homes in the Al-Janabiin suburb on the edge of Baghdad.

They told AFP the dead also included seven women and two men belonging to five families.

The two survivors were the only residents to escape unharmed from the ruins of the homes.

US engage Republican Guard

US forces are reported to be having their first serious engagement with units of President Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guards in and around the southeast city of Karbala, some 50 miles from Baghdad.

The Americans are claiming that 200 Iraqis have been killed in the fighting.

The United States is also sending another 5,000 troops to Nasiriyah, to bring the total of ground forces there to 12,000.

Fighting for the city has been continuing for more than a week.

'Al-Qaeda' camp captured

US forces captured a camp in northeastern Iraq that US officials insist was used as a safe haven by members of the al-Qaeda network.

The camp, run by Ansar al-Islam, had been bombed for several days before US and Kurdish forces entered it.

It is located in a Kurdish-controlled area near the border with Iran.

The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said on TV last night that some of the bodies recovered were not Iraqis or Iranians.

'We don't know for sure, but they're most likely al-Qaeda,' said Gen. Richard Myers.

He said the camp was the one Colin Powell mentioned in his speech to the UN Security Council last month as proof of the Iraqi government's secret ties to the al-Qaeda network.

British forces close in on Basra - report

British forces are reported to be a mile from the centre of Basra.

British Central Command said Royal Marines had taken a strategically important village, Abu al-Qassib, which is just outside Basra, after a day-long battle.

It said five senior Iraqi officers and hundreds of soldiers were taken prisoner.The marines said Iraqi fighters put up the hardest fought resistance they have seen so far.Seven marines are said to have been seriously wounded by artillery fire from their own side during the battle.