WASHINGTON March 20 —
President Bush conferred with his national security adviser early
Thursday on the initial strikes against Iraq, as officials tried to
determine whether the attack aimed at killing Saddam Hussein had
Bush called his Cabinet to the White House for a mid-afternoon
war update, a day after he told a global audience that war in Iraq
"could be long and more difficult than some expected."
Thirty police cars guarded the front entrances to the White
House, where security was unusually intense hours after the first
salvo in the war to disarm Iraq. There was no word from Bush or his
spokesman on whether the mission was a success.
"The president is not going to be a play-by-play commentator on
it," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "The president
has a long approach to this."
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
the administration did not know whether Saddam or his top aides had
survived the attack. U.S. intelligence officials were trying to
determine the Iraqi leader's fate.
Outside the White House, some 50 anti-war protesters gathered in
the chilly rain. "No blood for oil!" they chanted. Police blocked
Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to protesters and
Fleischer said Bush signed an execution order before Wednesday
night's strikes and gave military leaders a verbal go-ahead after
lengthy meetings. The attack was greeted with criticism and regret
across the globe, but Fleischer shrugged off the mostly negative
"The president understands and respect the thoughts of those who
disagree but the United States and the coalition of willing will not
be deterred from the mission to disarm Saddam Hussein," he told
Fleischer announced that the Cabinet would meet with Bush on
Thursday afternoon to get an update from the president, who would
urge the advisers to press forward with his domestic agenda.
On Wednesday night, Bush said the hostilities began with a narrow
focus on "selected targets of military importance" and will grow to
a "broad and concerted campaign."
After a brief night of sleep, the president talked to National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at 6 a.m. EST Thursday to learn of
overnight events, said a senior administration official. Bush began
work in the Oval Office at 6:50 a.m.
Saddam, meanwhile, appeared on state-run television Thursday,
mocking Bush and calling the attack a "shameful crime."
U.S. officials were trying to determine whether the speaker was
indeed Saddam and whether the broadcast was taped after the U.S.
strikes or in advance of them.
It appears to be him, and not a double, officials said after an
initial review of the tape. A voice analysis was underway at U.S.
There was nothing in the tape that specifically referred to the
strike, or other events, that would confirm that it was made after
the strike. Even Saddam's reading of the date could have been
pre-recorded, officials said.
However, that Saddam read the speech from a steno pad indicated a
fairly impromptu production, suggesting it was in fact given after
the strike, officials said.
President Bush met with his war council early Thursday, including
CIA Director George Tenet, who was expected to brief the president
on results on the strike against Iraqi leaders.
On Wednesday afternoon, Tenet had told Bush that U.S.
intelligence had a probable fix on the residence where Saddam and
other Iraqi leaders would be sleeping in the early morning hours in
Baghdad, U.S. officials said, speaking on the condition of
anonymity. Bush then authorized the strike.
Those other Iraqi leaders were believed to include Saddam's two
sons, Qusai and Odai. Officials said it was unclear Thursday whether
any of the three were near the target, or had been killed. Both sons
hold high-level security positions in Saddam's regime.
U.S. officials provided no details of how the intelligence was
developed that made them believe they knew where Saddam was.
Two other U.S. officials, also speaking on condition of
anonymity, said Thursday that the strikes were a small prelude to a
massive assault that was to begin as early as Thursday. With 250,000
U.S. troops still encircling Iraq, the president said the mission to
disarm Saddam had just begun.
"I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures and
we will accept no outcome but victory," the president said in brief,
nationally televised remarks from the Oval Office.
The White House was expected to send a special spending bill to
Congress soon, asking lawmakers to provide money to pay for the
military action and the post-Saddam reconstruction of Iraq. The
White House has said the request would be made to lawmakers shortly
after the start of hostilities.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., praised Bush for undertaking a "risky
venture" Wednesday night. The targeted strikes were designed to "try
to have a shorter war," McCain said during a CNBC interview.
"I think the motivation for this action was clearly to try to
avoid as many innocents being killed or injured as possible," he
Bush was likely to remain at the White House under extraordinary
security in the opening phases of the war. The Cabinet meeting was
expected to be his only public event.
In his four-minute speech to the nation, Bush said his goal is
"to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from
|President Bush, second from
right, receives an update on the status of military action in
Iraq Thursday, March 20, 2003 in the Oval Office of the White
House. From left are, Vice President Dick Cheney, back to
camera, CIA Director George Tenet, the president and Chief of
Staff Andy Card.(AP Photo/Eric Draper, White
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