March 20 —
U.S. warplanes unleashed a second wave of Baghdad bombing
Thursday, moving from precision strikes to a wider attack, while the
ground war began with U.S. infantrymen cheering as howitzers boomed
scores of artillery shells at Iraqi troops.
A series of heavy detonations and a contant crackle of
anti-aircraft fire echoed across Baghdad, a contrast with the
targeted strike that began the war a day earlier.
The twin attacks provided a rapid follow-up to the Bush
administration's promises of Saddam Hussein's imminent demise. The
ground war began about an hour after Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld promised: "The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are
It followed two dozen overnight bombing missions that targeted
military installations and communications facilities in Iraq attacks
meant to "clear a path" for ground troops and further air strikes,
said Rear Adm. Barry Costello, commander of the USS
In Baghdad, explosions could be heard from the west side of the
Tigris River, where at least two of Saddam Hussein's palaces and the
intelligence headquarters are located.
Near the Kuwait border, where the ground war began, white light
glowed in the sky as more than 100 artillery shells were fired in
the direction of southern Iraq. Explosions inside Iraq were audible,
and no fire was returned.
The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division's artillery opened fire hours
after an American airstrike started the hostilities. Maj. Gen.
Buford Blount, the division commander, had said the artillery
barrage would signal the first phase of the ground war against
Infantrymen who were between the howitzers and the Iraqi border
cheered as the shells screamed overhead.
Rumsfeld, in his first news conference since the war began, said
the United States had hit a senior Iraqi leadership position in its
initial strikes. He offered no details, saying a damage assessment
The assault "was the first," he said. "It likely will not be the
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a
massive assault on Iraq could begin later Thursday. An American-led
invasion force of 300,000 troops was poised to strike on orders from
Iraq responded within hours to the U.S. air attack, firing as
many as a dozen missiles Thursday toward American troops positioned
just across its border with Kuwait. American and British soldiers in
the region briefly donned gas masks or protective suits, but
officers later said the missiles apparently were not armed with
chemical or biological weapons.
None of the Iraqi missiles caused injuries or damage, and one was
intercepted by a Patriot missile, according to U.S. officers.
Later Thursday, air raid sirens wailed repeatedly in Kuwait as
U.S. military officials donned flak vests amid warnings that another
volley of Scuds was possible.
As Rumsfeld spoke in Washington, orange flames were visible in
the direction of the southern Iraqi oil center of Basra. Associated
Press reporter Ross Simpson, embedded with a Marine unit in Kuwait,
was told by a battalion commander that "three oil wells have been
torched" in Iraq.
Rumsfeld said he had heard similar reports of the Saddam regime
setting fire to oil wells. "Needless to say, it is a crime for that
regime to be destroying the riches of the Iraqi people," he
The U.S. operation gained a boost, meanwhile, when Turkey's
parliament Thursday approved U.S. military use of its airspace for
the war on Iraq.
The government-backed proposal allows American warplanes based in
Europe or the United States to cross Turkey to strike Iraq. The
United States also could use Turkish airspace to transport troops
into northern Iraq or to bring supplies to the region.
The U.S. launched its long-awaited war against Saddam on
Wednesday night, targeting him personally with a barrage of cruise
missiles and bombs as a prelude to invasion.
The opening salvo against Saddam was not the expected all-out
aerial bombardment, but a surgical strike seeking to eliminate the
Iraqi leader and his inner circle even before an invasion. Saddam,
in a TV appearance, assailed it as a "shameful crime," while
President Bush said the world's security was at stake.
Bush was awake early, meeting with National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice at 6 a.m. EST Thursday before heading to the Oval
Office less than an hour later.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said the U.S.
strikes killed one person and hit a customs office and some empty
Iraqi TV buildings, among other targets.
Fourteen people were treated at local hospitals, but none
appeared linked to Saddam, Iraqi doctors said. The wounded
reportedly included six members of a suburban Baghdad family who
were eating breakfast and were hit by shrapnel, and an Iraqi
The International Red Cross on Thursday confirmed one death and
14 wounded in the initial attacks.
In Baghdad, in the aftermath of the initial attack, the city was
quiet and a few children rode bicycles or kicked soccer balls on the
But as night fell, with the threat of another attack, the streets
emptied as people rushed to find safe haven in shelters, their homes
or the countryside.
The State Department warned U.S. citizens abroad that they face
increased danger of retaliatory terrorist actions and anti-American
violence. The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan was shut down because of
The first missiles hit targets in Baghdad shortly before dawn
Thursday, less than two hours after Bush's deadline of 8 p.m. EST
Wednesday for Saddam to yield power.
Bush briefly addressed the nation to announce that the war had
begun. "I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures,
and we will accept no outcome but victory," the president said.
U.S. and British troops massed in northern Kuwait welcomed news
of the first strikes in the war that the United States calls
Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"It's about time," said Lance Cpl. Chad Borgmann, 23, of Sidney,
Neb., a member of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "We've been
here a month and a week. We're ready to go."
The initial salvos against Baghdad consisted of 40 Tomahawk
cruise missiles launched from Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the
Red Sea, as well as precision-guided 2,000-pound bombs dropped from
two F-117A Nighthawk stealth jets.
About two hours after the cruise missiles hit, a subdued Saddam
addressed his country on television.
"We promise you that Iraq, its leadership and its people will
stand up to the evil invaders," he said. "They will face a bitter
defeat, God willing."
But was it Saddam speaking, or one of his doubles? "There's
debate about that," Rumsfeld said.
Hundreds of armed members of Saddam's Baath party and security
forces took up positions in Baghdad after the attack.
State and local authorities intensified security measures, hoping
to shield power plants, bridges and other facilities against
possible retaliatory strikes. In New York City, police prowled
streets with bomb-sniffing dogs, submachine guns and radiation
In other nations, reactions varied dramatically. Both Russia and
China demanded an immediate halt to the military action, which
Russian President Vladimir Putin called "a big political mistake."
Religious parties in Pakistan called for a general strike to protest
U.S. policy, and hundreds of stone-throwing anti-war protesters in
Egypt clashed with riot police.
Support for Washington came from allies Britain, Australia and
Japan, among others.
|American and British troops and
journalists take shelter Thursday March 20, 2003, in "Scud
trenches" during an unconfirmed Iraqi missile attack in the
Kuwaiti desert. (AP Photo/MoD Pool, Dan Chung, The
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