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March 20, 2003
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Bush Meets With Advisers on Iraq Strikes
President Bush Meets With His Advisers on the Initial Strikes Against Iraq

The Associated Press

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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 succeeded.

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 military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said military intelligence was picking up signs and "circumstantial evidence" that Saddam and his senior leadership were either incapacitated or out of communication with battlefield commanders but it was too early to say if they were killed or wounded.

"We are seeing no coordinated response to our first attack," the official said. "It's little things here and there. Some individual commanders are hunking down while others are launching small attacks and setting fires."

Military officials "believe it is significant that there is a lack of coordination and significant resistance to what we did," the official added.

Separately, U.S. officials said there are some indications that several oil wells in southern Iraq had been set on fire. Officials said the wells numbered less than five.

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 pedestrians.

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 world reaction.

"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 reporters.

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. intelligence agencies.

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 said.

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 grave danger."

photo credit and caption:
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 House)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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