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March 22, 2003
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First Waiting, Then America Begins War
After Waiting, America Enters a War Which Comes Home Quickly With Word of U.S. Casualties

The Associated Press

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March 22

First there was all that unnerving waiting.

Electronic highway signs in Washington foreshadowed danger: "Heightened homeland security alert," they flashed. "Report suspicious activity." On an aircraft carrier, sailors in broad daylight were ordered to bed, to be awake for a busy night.

Finally came word from the commander in chief: "God bless the troops," and America went to war against Iraq.

Americans watched edgily, but with more comfort and security than now felt by Iraqis and the U.S. soldiers rolling through their country.

The week America went to war began with uncertainty and faint hope of avoiding conflict. At the United Nations, President Bush's diplomacy failed, so he readied the country and the world with a 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave his land.

The prospect of peace came to an end with Bush and his top commander saluting one another on a video uplink before the president gave the go-ahead.

"Let's roll" had been the mantra of this administration's first military campaign, in Afghanistan. "Let's go" were the words Bush used to launch the first strike against the Iraqi president.

Bush had decided at 8 a.m. Wednesday 12 hours before the deadline to go to war, and he left it to the armed forces to say when the first missiles would be fired. Then, at 7:12 p.m., he ordered a missile attack on a Baghdad site where Iraq's top leaders might be resting.

Some Americans felt relief that the interminable wait had ended.

"It's about time," said Lance Cpl. Chad Borgmann, a 23-year-old Marine from Sidney, Neb., as he headed for an unknown location in the Middle East.

Adults struggled to explain it all to children, but there no diverting some young minds. "I think what we're having for lunch is a bigger topic right now," said principal Katherine Boeve at Mockingbird Elementary School in Omaha, Neb.

America's terror alert climbed to orange, the second highest level. Iraq raised its alert the old-fashioned way, with air-raid sirens.

Guards with helmets stood on Wall Street. Police used mirrors on long handles to check under cars and trucks at Los Angeles International airport. Federal meat and poultry inspectors began testing for chemical and biological agents. National Guard troops patrolled nuclear power plants.

How the week unfolded:

MONDAY: Nerves already jangling, commuters in Washington, D.C., are held hostage when streets near the monuments were closed. The culprit: a tobacco grower from North Carolina, claiming to have explosives, drives a tractor into a pond to protest farm policy.

Bush tells the nation in a televised address that to avert war, Saddam and his sons had 48 hours to leave Iraq. Otherwise, Bush says, military action will begin "at a time of our choosing."

TUESDAY: A snow storm paralyzes Colorado and Wyoming. The homeland defense alert code is at orange. In the House, lawmakers discuss legislation that would create a national child kidnapping notification network.

The Federal Reserve decides to leave interest rates unchanged and at a 41-year low. Major league baseball cancels a season opener in Japan.

WEDNESDAY: In the morning, Bush signs off on war and prepares for his evening speech when he announces the beginning of hostilities. On the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., says, "Today I weep for my country."

The tobacco farmer surrenders after 48 hours.

The war starts not with a massive show of military might but with attacks on specific sites to take out Iraq's leaders.

THURSDAY: In Congress, lawmakers largely set aside their differences and call for unity in support of troops. Thousands of anti-war protesters rally outside the White House and in cities from Chicago to San Francisco in one of the heaviest days of anti-government demonstrations in years.

"This is no ordinary day," said Jason Mark, a protester in San Francisco. "America is different today."

Not all demonstrators are against the war. Alec O'Neill, 21, of Red Hook, N.Y., stood at the edge of an anti-war protest in Providence, R.I., wearing a T-shirt that read "I am threatened by Iraq" on the front and "Regime change now" on the back.

TV ratings for the first evening of NCAA basketball tournament coverage drop more than 20 percent from the year before.

FRIDAY: On spring's first day, people stop and watch silently, some with mouths agape, at televised images of heavy bombing in Baghdad. U.S. officials designate it as A-Day to mark the aerial assaults.

Americans learn of the first combat deaths. The war, on the other side of the world, comes home.

SATURDAY: Explosions rock Baghdad during the day, the first air attacks in sunlight, but they intensify at nightfall. U.S. and British forces seize the airport outside Basra, Iraq's second largest city, and press north toward the capital.

photo credit and caption:
The week began with President Bush standing in the White House Cross Hall after addressing the nation on his ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, in Washington, in this March 17, 2003 file photo. Bush said the United States would unleash war against Iraq unless Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fled his country within 48 hours. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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

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