- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

U.S. and British forces drove north from Kuwait into Iraq yesterday, and new intelligence reports confirm that Saddam Hussein was in a building struck by two precision bombs on the war's opening day.
A U.S. official told The Washington Times last night that there is no doubt that Saddam was meeting with top Iraqi leaders, including military commanders and his two sons, Uday and Qusai, in the building that was struck by two bombs from an Air Force F-117 stealth fighter.
The official said the question is whether Saddam had left the building 30 minutes before the strike, which hit at 5:30 a.m. Baghdad time, or was still in the building.
But the Associated Press quoted unnamed sources last night that medical attention was summoned afterward and that nobody appears to be commanding the Iraqi military.
The U.S. official told The Times there are intelligence reports that his elder son, Uday, was killed.
Wednesday's strike was made possible by intelligence from special-operations and CIA teams inside the city who pinpointed Saddam's location at a government building on Baghdad's southern fringe. The American clandestine teams work covertly and for all appearances are Iraqi denizens of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, Navy cruise missiles hit leadership targets in Baghdad for a second day, although the United States held off ordering the war's next stage, a massive air, land and sea attack dubbed "shock and awe."
The uncertainty on whether Saddam is dead is one factor in holding off on the promised massive bombardment, the official said.
While that bombardment was on hold, the U.S. military was trying yesterday to negotiate surrender terms with key Iraqi officials. The official said the United States was talking with three Republican Guard commanders who might be persuaded to turn on Saddam's regime.
"The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon in a briefing. "We continue to feel that there's no need for a broader conflict if the Iraqi leaders act to save themselves and to prevent such further conflict."
Meanwhile yesterday, Allied forces suffered their first losses in the newly dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, although it probably was not to Iraqi fire. Twelve British and four American soldiers were killed when their Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Kuwait.
The aim at this point is to isolate Saddam and his top ministers from the commanders by closing off most communications links. Officials last night were trying to assess the degree to which Saddam still controlled his forces, since the coalition had met little initial resistance as it moved ground troops into Iraq.
Limited attacks and troop movements continued as Marines and British forces attacked defenses in the southern Iraqi city of Basra as Army tanks moved north from Kuwait on a 350-mile drive to Baghdad.
Commanders reported scattered fighting around Basra and there were also reports of surrenders.
In the war's first major ground action, the Marines and the British units battled enemy forces in an exchange of artillery and tank fire. Gen. Tommy Franks, the coalition's overall commander, ordered the ground invasion after Iraq fired ballistic missiles at his forces of more than 150,000 in Kuwait, where air sirens wailed throughout the day.
A senior defense official said U.S. Patriot missile batteries knocked out two Iraqi short-range ballistic missiles fired at Kuwait. The missiles are not believed to be the longer-range Scuds, which U.N. disarmament resolutions ban and which Baghdad maintains it no longer has.
At 1 p.m. EST (9 p.m. Baghdad time), 24 Tomahawk cruise missiles pounded Iraq's intelligence headquarters and other government buildings in downtown Baghdad and along the Tigris River. Other targets were the office of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a Saddam palace and the homes of his sons.
The top-secret war plan approved by Mr. Rumsfeld is emerging. Gen. Franks is hitting key leadership targets and cutting off Saddam from his commanders in the hope that the military revolts, ousts the ruling Ba'ath Party and then surrenders to the coalition.
At the White House, President Bush made brief remarks to reporters after a Cabinet meeting.
"We heard from Secretary Rumsfeld, who briefed us on the early stages of the war," the president said. "There's no question we've sent the finest of our citizens into harm's way. They perform with great skill and great bravery. We thank them, we thank their loved ones. We appreciate their sacrifice."
At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducted their first press briefing since the war began. The defense secretary urged Iraqi civilians not to go to work and to stay in their homes.
"What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict," Mr. Rumsfeld said of the upcoming "shock and awe" phase. "It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before."
He urged Iraqi soldiers and officers to surrender rather than "die fighting for a doomed regime."
"We see evidence of military personnel, some have already surrendered in Kuwait," the defense secretary said. "We are in communication with still more people who are officials of the military at various levels the regular army, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, who are increasingly aware that it's going to happen, he's going to be gone."
Describing potential motives for defection, the defense secretary added, "I can't do this perfectly, but as I try to put myself in their shoes they have to be fearful of that regime because that regime kills people every day to enforce obedience and discipline. So they have to be fearful of the regime. On the other hand, once they are persuaded that that regime is history, it is going, it will not be there, in some reasonably finite period of time they will be gone, then their behavior begins to tip and change."
Of beginning the war with a quickly planned strike on a Saddam's meeting place, Gen. Myers said, "Having intel agencies and armed forces that are flexible is key to victory, and that's what you saw."
A senior defense official said the early phases of the campaign were successful.
"So far we have accomplished many, many of the battlefield preparations we wanted to," the official said.
The official emphasized the battle plan had built-in flexibility.
"There is no strict timeline," he said. "Gen. Franks has the ability to [alter the plan according to circumstances]."
On the ground, the coalition captured its first Iraqi town, the border crossing of Umm Qasr, Iraq's largest commercial port, the Kuwait News Agency reported.
Near Basra, Iraqis set fire to several oil wells, a repeat of what their forces did when fleeing Kuwait in 1991.
Southern Iraq is defended by regular army troops, as opposed to the elite Republican Guard, and it is not clear how many of the enemy will fight at all.
There was some resistance. Reuters reported that artillery shells exploded near the southern city of Basra, a key early Allied objective and the site of a major citizens uprising after the 1991 Gulf war, which Saddam's forces crushed.
The Associated Press reported that elements of the 1st Marine Division crossed into Iraq at 1 p.m. EST and destroyed an Iraqi T-55 tank with a Javelin portable missile.
It also said the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the Army's only heavy division in the fight, opened fire on Iraqi units with Paladin howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems. No fire was returned.
The Army's 101st Airborne Division, expected to play a major role in creating fronts on all sides of Baghdad, also moved out, its soldiers carrying gas masks and protected by chemical-proof camouflage battle garb.
"I remind you that the road home leads through Baghdad," Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, the division commander, told his soldiers. "That's also where our next 'rendezvous with destiny' is."
Scripps Howard News Service quoted one commander as saying the weather forecast called for "partly sunny. Chance of intermittent Scud attacks throughout the day."

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