Military link buried in hotel basement *Communication center housed in Baghdad hotel.


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Iraq has a major military communications center hidden in a secret basement of one of the main hotels used by journalists in Baghdad, senior American military officials say.

The center sends out the last secure transmission lines to Iraqi forces in Kuwait over two bridges that span the Tigris River, the officials say.

Allied commanders, after ordering the successful attack on four bridges in Baghdad, have been ordered by Washington not to bomb the hotel or the two other bridges, however, for fear such attacks might cause further civilian casualties.

In interviews conducted before yesterday's tragic bombing of a bunker, senior American and military officials here and in Washington said that if either the hotel bunker were destroyed or the six strands of fiber optic telephone cable under the bridges were severed, President Saddam Hussein would be forced to relay messages to his field leaders by high-frequency radio signals that could be easily intercepted.

Communications and long-range Scud missile sites in western Iraq would also be severely disrupted, a senior U.S. official said.

The transmission cable originates from a two-floor basement "communications node" in the Rashid Hotel in downtown Baghdad. Dozens of civilians, including many foreign journalists, are staying at the hotel, senior Pentagon officials said.

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