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
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
"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
|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)|
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