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March 20, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
U.S. Targets Saddam; Iraq Fires at Troops
U.S. Targets Saddam With Missiles and Bombs; Iraq Fires at U.S. Troops Across Kuwait Border

The Associated Press


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U.S. Military Launches Attack on Iraq
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March 20

U.S. forces launched their long-awaited war against Saddam Hussein, targeting him personally with a barrage of cruise missiles and bombs as a prelude to invasion. Iraq responded hours later, firing missiles Thursday toward American troops positioned just across its border with Kuwait.

None of the Iraqi missiles caused injuries or damage, and one was intercepted by a Patriot missile, according to U.S. officers. 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.

Inside southern Iraq, a helicopter carrying U.S. special forces crashed hours before the U.S. missile strikes, but its crew escaped unharmed, U.S. officials said.

Air raid sirens wailed repeatedly in Kuwait City as officials warned that some Iraqi missiles might be aimed there. U.S. officers reported that a small plane flew from Iraq toward U.S. positions in Kuwait, but crashed en route.

The opening salvo against Saddam was not the expected all-out aerial bombardment, but instead a surgical strike seeking to eliminate the Iraqi leader and his inner circle even before an invasion. Saddam, in a TV appearance that U.S. officials said appeared to be delivered after the attack, 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. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield planned a morning briefing for reporters.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said the U.S. strikes killed one person, hit a customs office and some empty Iraqi TV buildings, among other targets. There was no way to verify his report.

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.

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.

Coinciding with the strikes on Baghdad, about 1,000 U.S. troops launched a raid on villages in southeastern Afghanistan, hunting for members of the al-Qaida terrorist network. The U.S. operation triggered by radio transmissions intercepted from caves in the region appeared to signal to Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants that war with Iraq would not mean any respite for them.

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. He said the barrage marked the start of a "broad and concerted" operation to "disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."

"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 were still awaiting orders to cross into Iraq, but welcomed news of the first strikes in the war that the United States calls Operation Iraqui 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.

U.S. officials said the attacks were not a sign that the main air offensive against Iraq had begun, but were approved by Bush in response to intelligence that Saddam and his sons, Qusai and Odai, might be sleeping in one of the targets.

About two hours after the cruise missiles hit, a subdued-looking Saddam appeared on Iraqi television in a military uniform. An initial review of the tape by U.S. officials indicated it was Saddam, not a double.

The fact that Saddam read from a steno pad indicated the speech was delivered after the strike, because it was prepared in haste, the officials said.

"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."

Hundreds of armed members of Saddam's Baath party and security forces took up positions in Baghdad after the attack.

Across the United States, the start of war was an emotional moment for families of U.S. troops.

"I thought I was prepared for this, but I'm really not," said Suzanne Hoefler of Coronado, Calif., whose husband, Navy Petty Officer John Hoefler, left in January for the Persian Gulf.

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.

"There is a two-front war here," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "One is on the streets of our cities, and one is overseas."

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 and Japan, among others. Australia, which has contributed 2,000 soldiers to the U.S.-led force, said its warships and fighter jets were involved in combat support operations Thursday.

In Israel, civilians began carrying gas masks and air defense units were placed on highest alert to intercept any incoming Iraqi missiles.


photo credit and caption:
A U.S. Seabee (U.S. construction soldier ) prays in a full biological and chemical protective suit in a bunker after a warning of a second scud attack fired from Iraq towards their base in Kuwait Thursday March 20, 2003. (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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