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March 21, 2003

U.S. Marines help an unidentified Iraqi soldier who surrendered while U.S. and British troops push toward Baghdad. (AP Pool)
'Exemplary Destruction'
B-52 Bombers Reportedly Head for Baghdad; Witnesses Say Saddam Was Injured

B A G H D A D, Iraq. March 21 — Heavy B-52 bombers are reportedly making their way to Iraq in what could be the start of the much-anticipated "shock and awe" attack on Iraq. Meanwhile, ABCNEWS has learned that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have been hurt in the first airstrikes on Baghdad.

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ABCNEWS has learned that the U.S. military is ready to launch the next wave of major air and land attacks, with Baghdad as the primary target later today. U.S. intelligence sources told ABCNEWS that the operational name given to the second wave of airstrikes will be "Exemplary Destruction."

The new wave comes more than 24 hours after the "regime decapitation" first wave of airstrikes, which began after President Bush announced the start of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on Wednesday night (ET).

U.S. intelligence sources tell ABCNEWS that "exemplary destruction" follows the failure of the first airstrikes to decapitate Saddam's regime, although there are doubts within U.S. intelligence circles about whether the Iraqi leader was hit in Wednesday night's airstrikes on Baghdad.

Eight B-52 aircraft based in Britain are known to have left their base at Fairford in recent hours.

Earlier today, U.S. intelligence sources told ABCNEWS that witnesses at the site of a Baghdad suburban residential complex have told U.S. intelligence officials that Saddam was observed being taken from the bombed complex on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask over his face on Thursday before dawn local time.

U.S. intelligence sources also said there had been a significant lack of communication from the Iraqi leader to his government and military structure since the bombing.

The report came amid doubts about whether a speech broadcast on Iraqi television shortly after the war began on Wednesday (ET), was made by a double. Saddam is known to have several doubles as a security measure.

At news briefing in Baghdad today, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said the first U.S. airstrikes had hit one of Saddam's homes, but he said the Iraqi leader had survived and was safe.

Reports of Saddam's injury came amid major gains by U.S. and British troops rolling toward the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the strategic southern city of Basra. U.S.-led coalition forces in southern Iraq today encountered hundreds of surrendering Iraqis and some resistance from the Iraqi military before seizing control of the southern Iraqi oil fields.

U.S. Marines encountered armed resistance as they seized the strategic southern Iraqi port town of Umm Qasr. The American flag and the flag of the U.S. Marines was briefly raised over the strategic southern port, according to the BBC's Adam Mynott, who is embedded with a Marine unit.

But a Reuters correspondent traveling with the U.S. Marines said a brief while later that Marines returned and removed the Stars and Stripes. Although there was no reason supplied for taking down the flag, the Bush administration has maintained that U.S. forces were in Iraq to "liberate," not occupy Iraq.

The dramatic gains, however, came with the first reported U.S. combat death, when a soldier in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was killed by hostile fire in southern Iraq.

President Bush was informed of the U.S. death today and expressed his regrets.

It was reported just hours after four U.S. and eight British soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in the Kuwaiti desert. The British military said it was not taking fire when it went down.

The casualties came as the official Iraqi news agency, the INA, quoted a military spokesman as saying a U.S. or British fighter jet had been downed by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in Kuwait today.

The Pentagon has denied the report.

Dramatic Gains

In a ground offensive that began Thursday from Kuwait, U.S. and British forces moving toward Baghdad seized the strategic al-Faw peninsula in southern Iraq. It is Iraq's only access to the sea and it was the first significant seizure of Iraqi territory in the war.

U.S. and British forces have taken control of Umm Qasr in the south, as allied troops in the north are pushing down toward the Kirkuk oil fields. (
In the strategic Shat al Arab — the waterway that connects the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf near the borders of Iraq, Kuwait and Iran — U.S. forces intercepted at least one Iraqi barge loaded with 50 "contact" mines in an ongoing operation, ABCNEWS has learned.

According to U.S. military sources, the barges were between Basra and the Persian Gulf, headed for the Gulf. U.S. forces have secured some of the barges, but it was unclear if it involved a fight.

The gains in southern Iraq were accompanied by significant progress in the military onslaught in western and northern Iraq, according to U.S. officials.

In western Iraq, U.S.-led forces seized two desert airfields overnight, called H-3 and H-2, according to ABCNEWS' John McWethy. And allied forces in northern Iraq have been pushing towards the oil fields around the strategic northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk after taking control of a northern Iraqi airfield, said McWethy.

U.S. and British forces rumbling towards Baghdad from southern Iraq have been encountering Iraqi resistance as well as surrendering Iraqi soldiers waving white flags.

ABCNEWS' Mike Cerre, embedded with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, today said about 113 Iraqi POWs had surrendered to U.S. troops along with their tanks and weapons.

While traveling northwards from the Kuwaiti desert, Cerre said the unit had encountered Iraqi resistance and had to call for air support.

There were also several reports of oil wells on fire in southern Iraq. ABCNEWS' Bob Woodruff, embedded with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said he had seen at least two oil wells ablaze, one of which was a very large fire.

Awaiting ‘Shock and Awe’

The military officials, in Washington, said the plan is for advancing tanks and forces to stop at a certain point, to be followed by the war plan's main air campaign — which is intended to inspire "shock and awe" among Iraqi leaders.

Saddam Hussein may have been injured in the first night of U.S. airstrikes, U.S. intelligence sources tell ABCNEWS.

U.S. and British forces gain control of the town of Umm Qasr and the southern Iraqi oil fields.

One U.S. Marine is killed in action by hostile fire in southern Iraq, becoming the first U.S. combat casualty.

A U.S. Marine helicopter returning from a mission crashes in Kuwait, killing four U.S. Marines and eight British soldiers.

Iraq's information minister says Saddam Hussein and his family survived a precision air assault targeting them.

Explosions are heard in the northern Iraqi town of Mosul and the southern city of Basra.

Although the "shock and awe" phase of the air war has not begun, Adm. John Kelly, commander of a U.S. carrier task force in the Persian Gulf, told reporters airstrikes from Gulf carriers to degrade Iraqi defenses and support advancing coalition troops continue around the clock — despite heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire.

"Folks, [Iraqi forces] on the ground realize their time is up and we're coming," Kelly said. "We gonna win, we're gonna win it fast, and their efforts [to ward it off] have increased."

In a sign of major airstrikes to come, the Associated Press today reported that two heavy B-52 bombers left Britain for the region today.

The massive B-52s have played a major role in bombing campaigns in the Afghanistan and Vietnam war.

Ground Invasion

Earlier this morning, just after dawn Iraq time, which is eight hours ahead of the eastern United States, columns of tanks from the 3rd Infantry Division began rolling into Iraq, marking the official beginning of a U.S.-led major ground offensive toward Baghdad.

Reporting from his position embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division near the Iraq-Kuwait border, ABCNEWS' Ted Koppel said officials expected 10,000 vehicles to sweep into the country from eight to 12 points of entry over a 24-hour period.

Rumbling tanks and Bradley troop carriers kicked up plumes of sand as they advanced across the border. Soldiers on board were told to bring enough food and water to last between five and seven days, and they have been told to drink three liters of water a day.

Koppel reported that the 3rd Infantry Division engaged and eliminated approximately 11 Iraqi tanks prior to the U.S. division's move across the Iraqi border.

Although the main ground advance began at dawn, the 1st Marines had moved into Iraq earlier and initially headed in the approximate direction of the oil-rich southern city of Basra, where explosions were reported early this morning local time.

Air raid sirens and explosions also were reported this morning in the northern Iraqi town of Mosul.

Baghdad Missile Strikes

On Thursday, British submarines and U.S. vessels launched two dozen cruise missiles into Baghdad, military officials told ABCNEWS.

In central Baghdad, explosions rocked the area where the Interior Ministry and other government buildings are located, ABCNEWS' Richard Engel reported. Smoke and flames were seen coming from the buildings and caused an odor that lingered in the city.

Unlike the initial strikes at dawn Thursday, or 9:30 p.m. Wednesday ET, which were a "decapitation attack" targeted at ousting Saddam's regime, the later missile attacks on Iraq focused on pre-planned military targets and were not sparked by any intelligence information regarding the whereabouts of Saddam or his senior leadership.

ABCNEWS' Richard Engel in Baghdad, Ted Koppel, Bob Woodruff and Mike Cerre traveling with the U.S. military, George Stephanopoulos in Qatar, Mike von Fremd in Kuwait City, and John McWethy and Martha Raddatz in Washington contributed to this report.

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