Dozens of ship-launched cruise missiles and U.S. stealth F-117 warplanes fired limited "decapitation strikes" at dawn in Baghdad Thursday, aimed to kill senior Iraqi leaders.
Iraq responded hours later by firing missiles across the Kuwaiti border toward U.S. troops, prompting soldiers to don gas masks and chemical protective gear. At least one of the rockets was intercepted by a Patriot missile, U.S. officials said.
An explosion lights up the morning sky in Baghdad Thursday as the U.S. launches targeted strikes on the Iraqi leadership. (Patrick Baz/AFP)
At least four missiles in all were fired at Kuwait, said Colonel Youssef al-Mullah, spokesman for the Kuwaiti military. At Camp New Jersey — one of at least two encampments in the Kuwaiti desert where soldiers scrambled into their protective gear because of missile attacks — U.S. officers said that one of the missiles appeared to be an al-Samoud 2, which is smaller than the Scud missile used broadly in the first Gulf war.
The first shots of a U.S.-led war in Iraq were fired in an apparent attempt to strike at the heart of the Iraqi regime. But, by mid-morning in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi television, defiantly predicting victory for Iraq and humiliation for the United States.
Clad in military uniform, the Iraqi President implored his people to "draw their swords" and drive back the U.S. invaders.
"Iraq will be victorious," he said. "We will win."
Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf introduced the broadcast, saying a jihad had begun, and Mr. Hussein ended his speech with a pitch to rally the Arab world.
Earlier, Mr. Bush made a brief, late-evening address from Washington to announce the start of a war to oust the Iraqi President and disarm Iraq.
"On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war," the President said, barely two hours after the end of a 48-hour ultimatum for the Iraqi leader to flee into exile.
He vowed to use the full weight of U.S. military might to crush the Iraqi regime. "This will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory," Mr. Bush said.
In Europe, French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that he hoped the war would not lead to a "humanitarian catastrophe," while Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded a quick end to the attack, saying that it was in no way justified.
"Russia demands the swiftest end to military action," Mr. Putin said at the start of a meeting with top Russian officials. "The military action against Iraq is a big political mistake."
"The military action in Iraq is being conducted in spite of world opinion, in spite of the principles and norms of international law and the UN Charter," Mr. Putin said. "This military action cannot be justified."
Mr. Chirac, in his first public comments since the war began, also said that his government regretted the attack on Iraq, and hoped for a quick end to the fighting.
"France regrets this action taken without approval of the United Nations," he said in a brief televised speech. "We hope these operations will be as rapid and least deadly as possible, and that they don't lead to a humanitarian catastrophe."
The limited aerial attacks were clearly not the start of the massive "shock and awe" aerial onslaught that U.S. military officials had said would signal the beginning of the full-scale war.
"These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign," Mr. Bush said.
Senior U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that there had been several "decapitation strikes" at "targets of opportunity."
Mr. Bush met with his war council starting at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, according to The New York Times and U.S. television networks. Pentagon officials said there was intelligence that Iraq's leadership, perhaps including Mr. Hussein and his sons, had gathered in a single spot.
It was not, apparently, the "go" signal for the broader military campaign, but rather an attack on selected previously identified targets believed to be used by top Iraqis.
Unconfirmed reports said as many as 40 cruise missiles had been fired from warships in the Red Sea against the selected military targets. In the Iraqi capital, bursts of sporadic anti-aircraft fire lit the dawn sky.
Mr. Bush, speaking from the Oval Office, said "more than 35 countries are giving crucial support, from the use of naval and air bases to help with intelligence and logistics to the deployment of combat units."
War was needed, the U.S. President said, because the Iraqi regime posed a grave threat to the United States and its allies.
"[We] will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder," he said. "We will meet that threat now with our army, air force, navy, coast guard and marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."
Along the Iraq-Kuwait border this morning, thousands of American and British combat troops remained massed and in attack formations, but no ground assault was under way.
There was unusually heavy military traffic all Wednesday on Highway 80, the motorway that leads north from Kuwait City to the Iraqi border. Security was tightened, and Kuwaiti paramilitary police were halting all civilian vehicles on the highway, preventing them from entering northern Kuwait.
Many coalition troops were moving into forward battle positions, primed to launch the invasion within hours if ordered. Some were planning to sleep in the desert without tents, an indication that they were planning to move forward and launch an invasion within a day or two.With reports from The Globe and Mail's Paul Koring in Washington and Geoffrey York in Kuwait City