- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

American missiles fell on Baghdad for the second straight night Thursday and ground troops attacked Iraqi forces in the desert with artillery in a slow escalation of the war to drive Saddam Hussein from power. Iraqi missiles fell harmlessly in Kuwait.

Half a world away from the war theater, U.S. intelligence officials sought to determine whether the Iraqi leader had been killed hours earlier in a pre-dawn attack by cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs.

State-run television denied it, and said the Iraqi dictator had met with aides during the day.

Either way, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered."

He called on Iraqi leaders to surrender - and said the alternative was an attack "of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before."

With more than 250,000 troops, 1,000 combat aircraft and a naval armada in the Persian Gulf region, administration officials said the full-scale invasion was just over the horizon.

In the capital, red and white anti-aircraft tracers lit the night sky and a huge plume of smoke rose into the night from the west bank of the Tigris River in central Baghdad.

A senior defense official with direct knowledge of the operation said the attack included sea-launched cruise missiles fired at Republican Guard strongholds in Baghdad.

But two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the night strikes were not the beginning of the massive air assault that Pentagon plans to unleash.

In southern Iraq, white light glowed in the desert sky, and the sound of explosions could be heard from across the Kuwait-Iraq frontier as the 3rd Infantry division unleashed its artillery barrage. Troops eager to cross the border into Iraq cheered.

Iraq sent its missiles toward Kuwait in retaliation for the pre-dawn attack against Saddam.

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