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March 20, 2003
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U.S. Launches Second Attack on Baghad
U.S. Unleashes Second Wave on Baghdad With Ground, Air Attacks Happening Simultaneously

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
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 numbered."

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 Constellation.

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 Iraq.

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 was pending.

The assault "was the first," he said. "It likely will not be the last."

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 President Bush.

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 said.

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 television journalist.

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 streets.

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 security concerns.

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 detectors.

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.

photo credit and caption:
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 Guardian)

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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