- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

U.S. forces launched a strike against "targets of military opportunity" in Iraq, President Bush said Wednesday night. He described the action as the opening salvo in an operation to "disarm Iraq and to free its people."

Bush spoke after the U.S. military struck with cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs against a site near Baghdad, where Iraqi leaders were thought to be, U.S. government officials said. There was no indication whether the attack was successful.

The strikes used Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs dropped from F-117 Nighthawks, the Air Force's stealth fighter-bombers, military officials said.

Bush addressed the nation about two hours after his 8 p.m. EST ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to give up power.

"Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force," Bush said. "We will accept no outcome but victory."

He spoke as a U.S.-led force of 300,000 troops ringed Iraq, ready to launch a ferocious assault to topple the Iraqi dictator and capture any weapons of mass destruction.

"On my order, coalition forces have begun targeting selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war," the president said. "These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign."

As he has many times in the run-up to war, Bush declared that the United States has "no ambition in Iraq except to remove a threat. Our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had announced Bush's plans to speak on short notice.

Fleischer spoke as anti-aircraft fire and explosions were heard across Baghdad after air raid sirens went off at the capital at dawn.

A U.S. official declined to identify which leaders were targeted or to say whether the attack was successful.

However, a second official said the plan for targeting Iraqi leadership included using F-117 stealth bombers and a handful of cruise missiles.

Bush's speech came at the end of an anxious day of waiting at the White House.

The president scrutinized final battle plans and told Congress why he was poised to launch the largest pre-emptive attack in U.S. history.

After meeting yet again with Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Bush had just finished dinner Wednesday night and was in the living room of the White House residence with first lady Laura Bush when his chief of staff, Andrew Card, called. Card informed the president that intelligence officials had no information that Saddam had left Iraq.

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