WASHINGTONPresident Bush ordered the start of a war against Iraq on Thursday morning,
and American forces poised on the country's southern border and at sea began
strikes to disarm the country, including an apparently unsuccessful attempt to
kill Saddam Hussein.
Bush addressed the nation from the Oval
Office at 10:15 p.m. EST Wednesday night, about 45 minutes after the first
attacks were reported against an installation in Baghdad where American
intelligence believed Hussein and his top leadership were meeting. "On my
orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military
importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war," the president
Speaking deliberately, with a picture of
his twin daughters visible behind him, he added, "These are opening stages of
what will be a broad and concerted campaign."
Bush sought to tamp down expectations of
a quick victory with few casualties by warning that the battles in the days
ahead "could be longer and more difficult than some predict."
The results of the strike on Baghdad were
unclear. However, Iraqi television broadcast a speech by Hussein, who is
believed to have a number of doubles, after the attack. He denounced "Junior
Bush" and promised the Iraqi people a victory.
The president's speech came about two
hours after the expiration of his 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave
Iraq, an ultimatum dismissed with disdain by the Iraqi leader.
The first signs of the attack in Baghdad,
which began just before first light there at 5:35 a.m., were an air raid siren
followed by antiaircraft fire and loud explosions over the city that appeared to
be bombs. The antiaircraft fire appeared to be ineffective.
At least one impact was visible about a
half mile from the Rashid Hotel in central Baghdad, throwing a great cloud of
dust into the air.
The initial round of explosions took
place over a period of about 10 minutes and was followed by a lull. The first
traffic of the day racing down the highway appeared to be drivers fleeing the
It appeared that the war started earlier
than the White House and top Pentagon officials had intended. During a nearly
four-hour meeting at the White House late Wednesday afternoon participants
included Vice President Cheney; George Tenet, the director of central
intelligence; Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense; and Condoleezza
Rice, the national security adviser Bush decided to act on fresh intelligence
indicating an opportunity to decapitate the country's leadership early in the
It was a chance Mr. Bush missed, to his
regret, early in the war in Afghanistan in 2001, when American forces sought to
kill Osama bin Laden and the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar.
According to two senior military
officials, American forces launched about three dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles
from four cruisers and destroyers and two submarines operating in the Red Sea
and the Persian Gulf as part of an effort to kill Hussein, his two sons and
other senior members of the leadership. Two F-117A Stealth fighters each dropped
two one-ton satellite-guided bombs. But the initial attack was described as
limited in scope, and fell short of the far more intense strikes to come.
Military officials said the more limited
attack was intended to demonstrate that the United States would act on timely
intelligence to strike what one official called "targets of opportunity."
"This is not the start of the air
campaign," one senior military official said in Washington.
With his four--minute address to the
nation, delivered after he finished a quiet dinner with his wife, Laura, in the
White House residence, Bush embarked on one of the country's most ambitious
military ventures since Vietnam, and on a war his administration began planning
over a year ago.
Many of the hawks in his administration
had talked for years of a war like the one that opened tonight, hoping to rid
the world of Hussein, who survived the first gulf war, attempted to assassinate
Bush's father, and killed untold thousands of his opponents.
The president had to act without the
sanction of the United Nations Security Council, where he could not assemble the
nine votes necessary for a specific authorization to go to war. Germany, France
and Russia have declared that the war is, in essence, illegal.
In his speech, Bush said 35 nations
support the United States. But he acted with significant military support from
only a small handful of nations led by Britain. A small force was sent by
"Now that the conflict has come, the only
way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force," Bush said. "And I assure
you, this will not be a campaign of heal measures and we will accept no outcome
Bush argued anew that Hussein posed a
grave threat to the United States, and would attack the country or its interests
whenever he gained the weapons and the strength. But he addressed much of his
brief speech to the American men and women in the Persian Gulf, telling them
that Iraqis "will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American
military." He contended that America had no visions of empire in the Middle
"We have no ambition in Iraq," he
declared, "except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its
Earlier Wednesday, Bush formally informed
Congress in writing, and then world leaders in a series of phone calls, that he
was ready to depose Hussein by force. In a seven-page message to Congress, he
argued that force was now the only way to "adequately protect the national
security of the United States" and that topping the Iraqi government was "a
vital part" of a broader war against terrorism. The message was required under a
statute passed last fall explicitly authorizing war against Iraq after the
president determined that a diplomatic solution was impossible.
As the deadline passed on Wednesday
night, Bush's dinner was interrupted by a call from Andrew H. Card, the White
House chief of staff, Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said. The
president asked Card if there was any evidence that Hussein had left Iraq. There
was none, Card told him hardly a surprise after Hussein's two days of defiant
claims that he would stay in place, and defeat the invading army.
Even hours before Bush addressed the
nation, there had been doubt the invasion would start this quickly. As punishing
sandstorms swirled around the Army troops massed in Kuwait, the engineering
battalions that will be in the vanguard of the invasion force breaching berms
and clearing minefields were already on the move. Special Operations forces
were reportedly already deployed inside Iraq, shaping the battlefield for the
larger invasion force to come.
American and British warplanes flew
bombing missions today against a dozen Iraqi artillery and surface-to-surface
missile positions in southern Iraq, wiping out placements that could threaten
Roughly 17 Iraqi border troops
surrendered along the border, and were taken into custody by Kuwaiti forces. A
few administration officials seized on the defections as an early indicator of
the mass defections they hope to see when the fighting begins.
But others in the administration warned
against overconfidence, cautioning that toppling Hussein and the protective
apparatus that has kept him in power for more than three decades is a far
riskier enterprise than was ousting his forces from Kuwait 12 years ago in the
Persian Gulf war.
Fleischer cautioned that "Americans ought
to be prepared for loss of life." He noted that while the White House sought "as
precise, short a conflict as possible," the unknowns from how American,
British and Australian troops would be received to the elements of weather,
accident and so-called friendly fire were numerous.
The notification to Congressional
leaders, sent to Capitol Hill late on Tuesday night, provided the most detailed
legal justification yet for military action.
Bush stayed largely out of sight until
his speech, save for a brief meeting Wednesday morning with Mayor Michael R.
Bloomberg and the secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, to review New York
City's needs to prepare for any new terrorist attacks. The White House later
said it would go to Congress for a special appropriation bill to pay for the war
and homeland security.
Washington was eerily quiet, and the area
around the White House was sealed off by police.
But there were isolated voices of
dissent. "Today, I weep for my country," Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West
Virginia Democrat and the war's biggest critic in the Senate, said on Wednesday.
"No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent, peacekeeper.
Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions
The breach with Europe continued to
widen. As Bush tried to convince Congress that the attack on Iraq would advance
the war on terror, France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said the
war would spawn more terrorism. The German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer,
said, "Germany emphatically rejects the impending war."
But while Germany allowed American troops
to fly over its territory, Turkey was still arguing about opening its airspace.
Turkey further said it would not allow United States forces to use its air bases
to refuel a remarkable slap from a NATO ally. Fleischer made clear that the
$30 billion in proposed aid and loans to Turkey dangled when it seemed as if
the country would allow American and British forces to use its territory to
invade Iraq from the north is "no longer on the table."
Fleischer disputed the view of Europeans
and others who argue that the pending invasion is a violation of the United
Nations Charter. He cited three Security Council resolutions that he said
provided all of the authorization Bush needed. But he also likened the current
preparations to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, arguing that just as President
Kennedy imposed a quarantine around Cuba "an act of war," Mr. Fleischer said
to force it to remove nuclear missiles, Bush is acting to protect the United
States from a threat that it would never see coming.
Several scholars have disputed that view,
noting that in the case of the missile crisis, the Soviet missiles could have
easily reached the United States, and the weapons clearly put Americans at
Bush argued on Monday night that waiting
for the Iraq threat to develop was tantamount to "suicide." The president's
definition seemed to fit what scholars say is the classic war of prevention.
"We choose to meet that threat now, where
it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities," the president
The document submitted to Congress laid
out yet another argument Iraq's links to terrorists, an area in which the
administration's evidence has been scanty, and its potential for greater links
in the future.
"Both because Iraq harbors terrorists and
because Iraq could share weapons of mass destruction with terrorists who seek
them for use against the United States, the use of force to bring Iraq into
compliance with its obligations under U.N.S.C. resolutions would be a
significant contribution to the war on terrorists of global reach," the report
to Congress said.
"A change in the current Iraqi regime
would eliminate an important source of support for international terrorist
activities," it said. "It would likely also assist efforts to disrupt terrorist
networks and capture terrorists around the globe. United States government
personnel operating in Iraq may discover information through Iraqi government
documents and interviews with detained Iraqi officials that would identify
individuals currently in the United States and abroad who are linked to
That rationale would seem, on its face,
to support military action against many nations, from Pakistan to Indonesia. But
Fleischer insisted that the conditions surrounding Iraq's defiance were