- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

The United States and Britain unleashed a mighty bombardment yesterday on regime targets in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities as "the coalition of the willing" began the ballyhooed "shock and awe" phase of a war designed to bring down Saddam Hussein.
By all accounts, it was both shocking and awesome.
Torrents of satellite-guided bombs and Tomahawk missiles slammed into Saddam's main Baghdad palace and his security headquarters, setting them ablaze, as allied infantrymen formed the outline of a noose moving through the desert toward the city, the greatest prize of the war.
The first ground troops into Iraq have driven more than a hundred miles toward Baghdad, moving at 40 miles an hour against scant resistance. But the military authorities cautioned that hard fighting could lie ahead as the allied armies move closer to the capital.
The first wave of bombs for Baghdad arrived with fire and thunder at 1 p.m. (9 p.m. Baghdad time), rattling buildings blocks from the military targets. The attack ended 35 minutes later in the city, but air attacks on other targets around Iraq continued. Air raids resumed at daybreak in the city as the military continued its plan to release 1,500 missiles and bombs in 24 hours, including 320 Tomahawks.
Scores of satellite-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles slammed into government buildings along the western bank of the Tigris River. Electricity appeared to still be available in the city in a gesture of conciliation toward civilians, whom the U.S. wants to embrace the American "liberation."
"Every single target has been analyzed, and the weapon has been carefully selected, and the direction in which the weapon is delivered has been carefully examined, and the time of day when there is the greatest prospect of minimizing [the risk to] any innocent lives," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington.
Saddam's iron grip seems to be slipping, U.S. officials said, as allies continued to isolate the dictator from the Republican Guard that keeps him in power.
One U.S. official said that evidence of turmoil in the Saddam inner circle lies in the fact that in the past 24 hours, not one command directive has come from the regime to Republican Guard divisions in the field.
There has been no concerted Iraqi counterattack. There was little communication "chatter" between top Iraqis in Baghdad. This could be evidence of a regime crackup or that Baghdad had found a secret communications channel.
"The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing," Mr. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon. "Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away. … The regime is starting to lose control of their country."
Yesterday's bombing produced huge, deep explosions along the Tigris River as the allied command turned to its mightiest air weapons, the B-2, B-1B and B-52 bombers to drop 2,000-pound bombs. Some of the bombers flew from a base in Missouri, a 32-hour round-trip mission, to drop their bombs. Other bombers flew from a Royal Air Force base in England and from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a British base.
"Clearly, we're moving toward our objectives, but we must not get too comfortable," said Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. "We're basically on our plan and moving toward Baghdad, but there are still many unknowns out there."
Coalition commanders sent ground troops and commandos swarming throughout the California-size country, securing oil fields, dams and the southern port city of Umm Qasr.
Navy and Air Force jet fighters hit Iraqi military sites in western Iraqi, where airborne troops seized two airfields in an operation meant to deny Iraq the ability to shoot Scud missiles into Israel.
The aircraft also bombed targets in the oil town of Kirkuk on the north and enemy forces in the south, preparing a path for invading allied troops from Kuwait. The jets targeted troops loyal to Saddam in his hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division drove more than 100 miles toward the capital, setting up a confrontation with the Republican Guard. As the division's tanks and armored personnel raced at 40 mph on the 350-mile route along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to Baghdad, British troops and Marines battled for control of Basra near the Persian Gulf.
The division that defends the city, the 51st, surrendered its 8,000 soldiers and 200 tanks to the allies last night, as did another southern division, the 11th. Both are part of Iraq's 16 regular Army divisions that were not expected to put up much of a fight. U.S. Central Command has flooded the skies with leaflets in recent weeks urging the 51st and other southern defenders to surrender.
An Iranian lawmaker last night said a missile hit an Oil Ministry building in western Iran, about 30 miles from Basra, injuring two persons. "We hope this was only a stray missile," the official told the Associated Press.
Iran's Foreign Ministry accused U.S. and British warplanes of violating Iran's airspace and summoned the ambassadors of Britain and Switzerland which represents U.S. interests in Iran to protest, the Islamic Republic News Agency said, without giving details of the purported violations.
Also last night, in northern Iraq, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said it had launched an offensive against the Islamic group Ansar al-Islam that it and Washington have accused of links to al Qaeda. There were no reports of casualties. Ansar al-Islam controls a series of villages near the border with Iran, Reuters reported.
The United States suffered its first combat deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Two Marines were killed, one in the port city of Umm Qasr and the other in an operation to secure an oil-pumping station.
It appears the allies swooped down on most of Iraq's northern and southern oil fields before the Iraqis had time to set the wells on fire. Fewer than 10 fires were counted yesterday.
The fires, however, did provide the opening for Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander, to order the ground invasion on Thursday, earlier than planned. Officials said another factor was that Iraqi troops fired short-range ballistic missiles at allied positions in Kuwait.
Gen. Franks had waited to uncork "shock and awe" for two days to see whether limited air strikes could induce a coup, Iraqi surrenders or the deaths of key leaders, including Saddam.
For weeks, the United States has made contact with Republican Guard commanders to negotiate surrender. Those contacts were described yesterday as a "stalemate." Gen. Franks decided he could not wait any longer to order air strikes on Republican Guard units defending Baghdad. He wanted to ensure their numbers were diminished by the time they are attacked by the 3rd Infantry and other allied units converging on the capital.
Mr. Rumsfeld said more pressure may induce Republican Guard white flags.
"We have been issuing, through a variety of methods, communications urging the Iraqi military to surrender, and apparently, what we have done thus far has not been sufficiently persuasive that they would have done that," the defense secretary said. "It may very well be that, with the initiation of the ground war last evening and the initiation of the air war this afternoon, that we may find people responding and surrendering."
On the war's opening night Wednesday, an F-117A stealth fighter dropped two penetrating bombs on a Saddam safe house on Baghdad's southern fringe. Intelligence agencies are certain Saddam was in the house, but say he may have left before the bombs arrived. There are persistent reports that his oldest son, Uday, 39, was killed.
The U.S. official said the Saddam safe house may be on top of a deep bunker that the bombs could not fully reach, thus sparing his life. "No one knows for sure," the official said. "You can get 10 different opinions at the CIA."
Iraqi state TV showed videotape of Saddam and son Qusai, who runs the Republican Guard and the intelligence service, but there was no independent verification of when the video was made.
Yesterday's air barrage emphasized the degree to which the U.S. military now relies on precision-guided weapons to bring down an enemy as quickly as possible. In the opening days of Desert Storm 12 years ago, planners had to strike Baghdad for weeks to run through the target list.
Today, with the introduction of missiles and bombs that hit targets guided by the global positioning system, Gen. Franks can drop thousands of munitions on hundreds of targets in the war's first few days. Gen. Myers said the allies plan to hit several hundred targets in the next 24 hours.
On the war's opening salvo Wednesday against Saddam's safe house, the United States fired 40 Tomahawks. On Thursday, about 24 missiles were launched at leadership buildings, including the intelligence service and headquarters for the Special Republican Guard, a security force for Saddam and the city.

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