It begins anew
Published 2:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Twelve years after father went to war, younger Bush launches attack on Iraq
By Paul Keane
A cruise missile attack on what was called a "target of opportunity" began the U.S.-led war against Iraq last night, marking "the opening stages of the disarmament of Iraq," according to White House officials.
At approximately 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, a cruise missile attack was launched on a "target of opportunity" in Iraq. The attack happened at roughly 5:40 a.m. Iraqi time.
Officials with the Pentagon said the initial attack was on a "leadership position," but did not elaborate by press time. Anti-aircraft fire and air raid sirens blared into the morning skies above Baghdad Thursday morning.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer – in similar fashion to the press secretary for the first President Bush – stepped up to a podium in the White House at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday to announce that "the opening stages of disarmament of Iraq had begun."
Between the time of that statement and a speak by President George W. Bush, Iraqi Radio broadcast a statement saying, in part, "God protect us from foreign aggressors," and "God protect our President" in reference to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
President Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office at 9:15 p.m. local time Wednesday, invoking images of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania in his speech that took less than four minutes.
"We have begun the stages to disarm an aggressor, defend liberty and end a regime," Bush said. "We have struck selective targets to mark the start of a long and broad campaign."
Bush also commended the current and future efforts of both U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq.
"The peace of a troubled world relies on you now," he said. "It is being placed in good hands.
"Our enemies will find forces and personnel that are effective and strong, but also have the moral standing to be compassionate and caring."
Bush pointed out that civilian lives may be in danger, but that Coalition forces will make every effort to protect innocent lives.
"Coalition forces will make every effort to save and spare civilian life," the President said. "But Saddam Hussein is the type of leader that has placed military equipment and installations in and around civilian locations so that it makes it difficult for us to strike there.
"Our troops and forces will liberate Iraq and have respect for its citizens, its history and its religious beliefs and convictions."
Bush said the resolve of troops and military personnel will not waver, and that the only acceptable objective in the war will be total victory.
"We are beginning this operation to remove a threat," he said. "Our nation enters into this conflict reluctantly, but with resolve and determination.
"We must meet this threat now with members of our Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine, Coast Guard, National Guard and Reserves now so that we don't have to meet this threat later with our firefighters and policemen on the streets of our nation later.
"This is not a campaign of half measures, and our objective is complete and total victory."
The cruise missile attack came at a time roughly two hours after a U.S. imposed deadline for Hussein, his sons and other Iraqi leaders to leave the country or face war. The deadline for that ultimatum was 7 p.m. local time.
Throughout the day Wednesday, Hussein and other Iraqi leaders scoffed at and refused to adhere to the President's ultimatum, going so far as the call for the President to step down and even calling the leader of the free world a "moron."
Iraqi officials also vowed to fight "the infidels and aggressors" and to fight to the end, evoking "martyrdom" and other religious beliefs dealing with the Islamic religion and "holy wars."
The Pentagon confirmed late Wednesday night that the missile cruise attack was a "decapitation attack" aimed at eliminating Hussein before the outbreak of war.
Twelve years ago, the President's father launched a similar attack against Iraq and Hussein after the Iraqi leader invaded and occupied the neighboring country of Kuwait. The elder Bush's war began with a heavy air strike campaign to weaken the Iraqi resolve and pave the way for ground troops.
On Wednesday, fighter jets bombed various sites in the Iraqi "no-fly" zone, knocking out artillery positions and radar stations in what the Pentagon said was a way to "soften the path" for ground troops to move into the country.
Late Wednesday night, both the 7th Calvary and the 3rd Infantry were massed along the Kuwait-Iraq border awaiting words on when to enter the country for a ground attack.
Reports early Wednesday indicated that as many as 17 Iraqi soldiers had crossed the border into Kuwait and had surrended to U.S. forces in with the 3rd Infantry.
At press time, no word on further air strikes nor troop movements were known.