Iraq Invasion Begins As Bombing Continues
By: Associated Press
American combat units rumbled across the desert into Iraq from the south on Thursday and U.S. and British forces bombed limited targets in Baghdad. But military commanders withheld the massive onslaught that would signal all-out war.
"The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld confidently predicted, although he also said there was "no need for a broader conflict" if Iraqi leaders surrender.
There was no sign of that on the second day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, although intelligence officials said they detected some disarray in the country's leadership after missile strikes on a few buildings in the capital on Wednesday night.
Rumsfeld and other American officials held out the tantalizing possibility that Saddam had been killed in the mission, personally approved by President Bush at the White House. "We've reached no conclusion" said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, as intelligence analysts tried to determine whether a man in military garb shown on state-run television was the Iraqi leader or a double.
State run-Iraqi television said Saddam survived, and met with his top aides to counter the U.S.-led attack.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's staunchest ally in the war effort, went on television to tell his country that British forces were "engaged from air, land and sea. Their mission: to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," he said in the recorded address.
It was the second straight night that cruise missiles and bombs penetrated Baghdad.
This time, officials said the targets included facilities of the Special Republican Guard and the Special Security Organization. The organization, run by Saddam's younger son, Qusai, oversees most security and intelligence activities in Iraq.
Red and white anti-aircraft tracers lit the night sky and a huge plume of smoke rose from the west bank of the Tigris River in central Baghdad.
A senior defense official with direct knowledge of the operation said about two dozen Tomahawk missiles were fired from two American and two British submarines, plus one American surface ship. The vessels were in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
But two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the night strikes were not the beginning of the massive air assault that Pentagon officials have said they plan 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 an artillery barrage. Troops eager to cross the border into Iraq cheered — and units were soon on their way.
The 101st Airborne Division rumbled across the desert in a vast convoy _trucks, tankers, humvees and more rolling along under a round white moon.
Iraq sent missiles toward Kuwait in retaliation for the pre-dawn attack against Saddam, and American officials said they had set fire to some of their own oil wells.
The missiles landed harmlessly in the Kuwaiti desert. Officials said none of the Iraqi missiles caused injuries, and one was intercepted by a Patriot missile. Thousands of American and British troops donned protective gear, but there was no evidence the missiles carried chemical or biological weapons.
The onset of war sparked large anti-war demonstrations at U.S. embassies around the world, and the State Department warned U.S. citizens abroad of an increased danger of terrorism.
In an unusual diplomatic move, the Bush administration called Thursday for the expulsion of Iraqi diplomats by all countries that recognize and deal with the government in Baghdad.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the diplomats represented a "corrupt and ruthless regime."
In Washington, protesters briefly blocked one of the Potomac River bridges carrying traffic into the capital. Outside the White House, demonstrators shouted "no blood for oil."
Inside the executive mansion, Bush was in the Oval Office before 7 a.m. EST, and summoned his Cabinet to a mid-afternoon meeting to discuss the war.
"There's no question we've sent the finest of our citizens into harm's way," he told reporters. "They performed with great skill and great bravery....We appreciate their sacrifice."
Despite continued opposition overseas, including criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush said 40 nations backed the American-led effort to topple Saddam.
Turkey, which borders Iraq to the north, approved a limited form of cooperation during the day. The parliament, which earlier had rejected a plan to let U.S. forces mass on Turkish soil, voted to let aircraft fly over the country's airspace during the war.
Bush approved the cruise missile attack on Wednesday night after receiving intelligence information that Saddam and his two sons were sleeping at a specified location, according to officials.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said one person was killed and doctors said 14 were injured in the attack.
Hours later, Shabab television, owned by Saddam's son Odai, reported that the Iraqi leader met with his top aides to "review military and other measures to resist the aggression."
But American intelligence officials scrutinized videotape of a televised speech broadcast after the attack to see whether the man shown was Saddam, or perhaps a double.
Asked whether officials believe the puffy-faced man on the tape was the Iraqi leader, Rumsfeld said, "There's debate about that."
Other officials, who spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity, said there was growing optimism the strike had left the Iraqi leadership in disarray.
Early intelligence reports suggested Iraq's leadership was not organizing any coordinated response to the U.S attack, suggesting the Iraqi regime might be in chaos or cut off from the military, these officials said.