March 21 —
The United States launched a ferocious, around-the-clock aerial
assault on military targets in Baghdad and other cities on Friday
and invading ground troops penetrated 100 miles into Iraq. Fires lit
the night sky over the capital as bombs struck.
American and British troops encountered little resistance as they
seized Iraq's only port city and moved to secure southern oil
fields. Other units moved into airfield complexes where Iraq was
believed to have Scud missiles capable of reaching Israel.
"We're going at it hammer and tongs," said Capt. Mark Fox, back
aboard the USS Constellation after a bombing run that was part of a
widely heralded Pentagon effort to "shock and awe" the Iraqis.
Military commanders reported that two Marines were killed by
enemy fire, the first coalition combat deaths in the 3-day old
Operation Iraqi Freedom. One died trying to secure an oil pumping
station; the other fell in the battle for Umm Qasr, the port city
taken after a fight.
Iraqi troops surrendered in large numbers some so eagerly that
they turned themselves in to journalists accompanying American
forces. But the regime gave no clear sign of quitting.
Asked whether Iraqis plan a counterattack, Information Minister
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said, "Our leadership and our armed forces
will decide this, in what guarantees the defeat of those
mercenaries, God willing."
"This criminal (Bush) in the White House is a stupid criminal,"
There was continued debate among U.S. intelligence officials over
the fate of Saddam, and whether he had been wounded or even killed
in a Wednesday night strike on a building in the capital of
Whether Saddam was alive or not, U.S. intelligence officials said
the Iraqi command and control system was in disarray, and Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, "The regime is starting to lose
control of their country."
The aerial onslaught was designed to accelerate that.
The U.S. Central Command, which is running the war, said the
targets included military command and control installations and
buildings in and around Baghdad, as well as targets in the northern
cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.
One senior defense official said U.S. and British warplanes
flying from more than 30 bases would fly about 1,000 strike missions
during the first 24 hours of the accelerated campaign. Plans called
for the launch of nearly 1,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the
Persian Gulf and Red Sea.
After weeks of delay, Turkey relented and agreed to let combat
aircraft fly over their territory. Even so, top administration
officials publicly warned the Turkish government not to expand its
existing presence of troops into northern Iraq.
Explosions shook downtown Baghdad as cruise missiles found their
targets and warplanes dropped bombs over the capital city.
Fires raged inside Saddam Hussein's Old Palace compound and thick
smoke enveloped the Iraqi capital.
In Washington, President Bush said, "We're making progress"
toward the goal of liberating Iraq, and he sent lawmakers formal
notification of his decision to send troops into combat.
Anti-war sentiment flared in the United States, major European
cities and across the Middle East.
Police clashed with thousands of anti-war demonstrators trying to
storm the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, leaving a policeman and two
protesters dead amid a barrage of bullets, rocks, water cannons and
tear gas canisters.
In the United States, more than 80 people were arrested in San
Francisco. Another two dozen were taken into custody near the White
House for blocking traffic.
In Iraq, the government-run news agency said Saddam had decreed
that any Iraqi who kills an enemy soldier would get a reward
equivalent to $14,000. The reward for capturing an enemy solider was
put at $28,000.
But that was more bluster than bounty, as most Iraqi units
offered no resistance, and those that did were overwhelmed by
American and British troops and their high-tech weaponry.
In the southern town of Safwan, Marines hauled down giant street
portraits of Saddam, and some local residents joined Maj. David
Gurfein in a cheer. "Iraqi! Iraqis! Iraqis," he yelled, pumping his
fist in the air.
Fighting was stiffer in Iraq's only port city, but Adm. Michael
Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, declared, "Umm Qasr has
been overwhelmed by the U.S. Marines and now is in coalition hands."
He added that troops were also moving toward Al Basra, southern
Iraq's largest city.
Boyce said British forces in the area were dealing with
"significant numbers" of Iraqi troops who had surrendered, but
offered no estimate of the numbers.
One military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
U.S. Navy SEAL commandos took control of two terminals in the
Persian Gulf where Iraqi oil can be loaded onto huge tanker ships.
At least one of the terminals contained explosives that had not yet
been wired for detonation, the official said.
Not far away, Australian forces intercepted an Iraqi patrol boat
filled with sea mines and other equipment.
Control of Umm Qasr, located along the Kuwait border about 290
miles southeast of Baghdad, gives U.S. and British forces access to
a port for military and humanitarian supplies and speeds the
clearing of Iraqi resistance in the south.
Its capture also produced a minor controversy. American troops
who raised the Stars and Stripes over the city were quickly ordered
to take it down, in compliance with Bush's oft-stated statement that
Americans are fighting in Iraq as liberators, not conquerers.
Pentagon officials have long planned for an attack they called
"shock and awe."
They held off for two nights, first because Bush ordered the
opening strike Wednesday night against Saddam and then because
officials hoped Iraqi capitulation would make it unnecessary.
Even with the war continuing, diplomatic jockeying broke out over
French President Jacques Chirac, a vocal opponent of the war,
said he would veto any United Nations Security Council resolution
that would allow the United States and Britain to administer a
"That would justify the war after the event," Chirac told
|Maj David "Bull" Gurfein, of New
York City, right, with 1st Marine Expeditionnary Force, tears
down a portrait of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the southern
border city of Safwan, Iraq, Friday, March 21, 2003. (AP
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