WASHINGTON March 20 —
President Bush, leading the nation into war a second time, said
U.S. troops had "performed with great skill and great bravery" in
the opening hours of an attack against Iraq.
"We're confident we can achieve our objectives," said Bush,
commander in chief of 300,000 troops massed in the Persian Gulf.
He spoke at a Cabinet meeting after U.S. officials, dismissing
anti-war criticism from abroad, said explosions in Baghdad and U.S.
artillery fire on Iraqi troops were a prelude to a massive assault
on Iraq, due any time.
In his first public appearance since the war began, Bush did not
assess the results nor did he take questions about the whereabouts
of Saddam Hussein.
"There's no question we've sent the finest of our citizens into
harm's way," he said. "They performed with great skill and great
Behind the scenes, White House officials said early reports from
the battlefield were encouraging, raising hopes that senior Iraqi
leaders may have been captured or killed, perhaps even Saddam.
While cautioning against speculation, government officials said
intelligence information suggested that Iraq's leadership was in
disarray after the attacks.
The administration raised doubts about whether television footage
of Saddam was authentic. The speaker in the videotape mocked Bush
and called the attack a "shameful crime."
"We have reached no conclusion about that tape or who was on the
tape or when it was taped," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told
reporters. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a Pentagon news
conference before meeting with Bush, also expressed skepticism about
Even as heavy detonations and the crackle of anti-aircraft fire
rattled Baghdad, the White House said it was not too late for Saddam
to seek exile. "It would be a welcome event if Saddam Hussein were
still to flee," Fleischer said.
"He brought this on himself."
Bush called his Cabinet to the White House for a midafternoon war
update. A day after warning Americans that conflict "could be long
and more difficult than some expected," he urged his top officials
to maintain a focus on his domestic agenda, including education, the
economy and Medicare.
Leaders of Russia, China, France and scores of other nations
reacted with criticism or regret to the U.S.-led war. The White
House paid little heed.
"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,"
Bush made several telephone calls to world leaders, Fleischer
said without specifying the recipients or the content of the
conversations. Official news agency reports from Arab nations said
Bush had called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; the emir of Qatar,
Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the king of Bahrain, Sheik
Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to discuss the military operation in
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. Protesters, outnumbering the police
cars by 2-1, stood in the chilly rain chanting, "No blood for
Fleischer said Bush signed an execution order before Wednesday
night's strikes and gave military leaders an oral go-ahead after
lengthy meetings. He said he did not know when the written order was
signed and whether it covered the entire war or just the first
Bush, who waged war against the Taliban in Afghanistan shortly
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, awoke once again to war.
After a 6 a.m. EST call from National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice, the president walked into the Oval Office at 6:50
a.m., his regular time.
He later met with national security aides, including CIA Director
George Tenet who emerged from the White House chewing on his
The attacks Wednesday night were not part of Bush's original war
He decided to target Saddam after a hastily arranged White House
meeting Wednesday afternoon, when Tenet told him U.S. intelligence
believed it had a probable fix on the residence where Saddam and
other Iraqi leaders would be sleeping, officials said.
Those other Iraqi leaders were believed to include Saddam's two
sons, Qusai and Odai, who hold high-level security positions in
|President Bush makes a statement
to repoters following a Cabinet meeting Thursday, March 20,
2003, at the White House. (AP Photo/Rick
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