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March 20, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Iraq Launches Missiles Near U.S. Troops
Iraq Launches Missiles Near U.S. Troops in Kuwait; All Intercepted or Thudded Into Sand

The Associated Press


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U.S. Military Launches Attack on Iraq
Who's Calling the Shots Against Iraq?
Reporters On the Move with U.S. Forces
IN THE KUWAITI DESERT March 20

Iraq launched at least three missiles into Kuwait Thursday in retaliation for a U.S. pre-dawn attack on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. All were intercepted or thudded harmlessly into the sand, officials said.

Fear the missiles could contain chemical or biological weapons prompted soldiers to pull on gas masks and protective suits. No such weapons were detected, officials said.

Initial details were extremely sketchy. Reporters accompanying U.S. troops are subject to heavy security. There also was confusion over the number of attacks and what kind of missiles were fired.

By mid-afternoon, Kuwait time, at least three attacks were recorded. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt, a British spokesman at Camp As Sayliyah, said Iraq fired three missiles into northern Kuwait, one of them an intercepted Scud.

Iraq is barred from possessing Scud missiles with ranges greater than 93 miles. U.N. inspectors sent after the 1991 Gulf War discovered Iraq had 819 Scuds exceeding that limit. Iraq declared all but two were used or destroyed.

But chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, who headed the latest effort to find Iraq's banned weapons, told the Security Council this month it was "questionable" whether the Iraqis really had destroyed all of its Scuds and about 50 Scud warheads were unaccounted for.

One missile landed near A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, whose soldiers were eating lunch.

"That is not supposed to be happening," said Capt. Chris Carter, the company commander.

Within minutes a message came across the radio: a tactical ballistic missile had hit the desert. Minutes later, all troops were ordered to put on gas masks and biochemical protective suits.

The soldiers moved swiftly and calmly first putting on masks, then the heavy, charcoal-insulated suits according to orders drilled into them for months.

Then they waited in the desert heat.

"All clear," the radio crackled about 20 minutes later.

"Damn, I had just put a pinch of chew in when the order came down," said Spc. Dean Bryant, lamenting the loss of valuable chewing tobacco.

At Camp New Jersey one of at least two encampments in the Kuwaiti desert where soldiers jumped into protective gear officers said the missile may have been an Al Samoud 2, which is also banned under the weapons agreement signed by Iraq after the Gulf war.

Blix ordered the Al Samoud 2 missiles destroyed after the Iraqis reported that, in test flights, it had flown slightly farther than the 93-mile limit. That effort started March 1, and Blix reported that about 70 of the missiles had been destroyed, leaving approximately 30 in the Iraqi arsenal.

Kuwaiti army commanders said a missile was launched at Kuwait City at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

The report came minutes after air raid sirens sounded in the capital, followed by an all-clear signal.

On Kuwaiti television, military spokesman Col. Youssef al-Mullah said the wailing sirens were prompted by a Scud missile being fired from Iraq. It was shot down by three Patriot missiles, he said.

A second missile was "dealt with," he said.

Lawyer Hassan al-Matrouk went to a supermarket to buy food after the sirens blared twice in Kuwait City.

"The first time, we went into the safe room we had prepared at home. My wife and children were afraid," he said. "The second time, they went into the room and I stayed in the living room watching television."

The 48-year-old attorney said he believes Iraqi president Saddam Hussein "will use chemical weapons against us. And that will be a stupid decision because it will lead to attacking Baghdad with nuclear weapons."

The government said Kuwait University and public schools will be closed for a week beginning Saturday.


photo credit and caption:
A U.S. Marine closes his eyes as he waits in a full nuclear biological and chemical protection suit in a bunker at a desert base in Kuwait after a warning of a second scud missile attack from Iraq Thursday March 20, 2003. Iraq fired missiles at Kuwait, prompting U.S. troops to don chemical protective suits and setting emergency air raid sirens blaring in Kuwait City. (AP Photo/MoD POOL)

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

 
 
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