Bombs fall just after deadline
War … finally
‘Let’s get this show on the road. Paly time is over.’
– Staff Sergeant Lavert Mitchell, US 101st Airborne Division
Action follows Bush’s war words but the scale of operations remains unclear
DAWN brought war to Iraq, some 90 minutes after the expiry of US President George W. Bush’s deadline to Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein to leave or face all-out war.
More than 40 cruise missiles launched from US warships in the Persian Gulf struck at selected targets.
In Baghdad, anti-aircraft tracers flashed across the skies and explosions sounded. Reuters correspondents in the city centre heard jets roar overhead, Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries open up and air raid sirens sound.
They said the first blasts seemed to come from the southern and eastern suburbs. Large plumes of black smoke billowed from the east after the same target appeared to have been hit three or four times. Explosions later hit the city centre.
Police cars with sirens wailing raced through otherwise deserted streets. Air-raid sirens had begun their chilling wails within a minute of the first strike.
A Baghdad radio station run by Mr Saddam’s elder son, Uday, played a military song and called on local people to resist, saying: ‘This is our day. Let us start the fight. We will be victorious. We will all die as faithful martyrs.’
At 11.15am Singapore time (10.15pm in Washington), Mr Bush went on TV and declared that US and coalition forces were ‘in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger’.
The attack, he said, was in its early stages; ‘These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign,’ Mr Bush said in his address.
‘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.’
And they would do it with decisive force.
‘We will accept no outcome but victory,’ he said.
‘We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.’
Pentagon officials described the early strikes as a ‘decapitation attack’ to take out the Iraqi President, even before the planned start of the war.
More than 3,000 satellite-guided bombs and cruise missiles would be unleashed from sea and air on targets vital to the Iraqi government, officials had said.
CNN reported that the meeting at which the strike decision was made ended at about dinnertime.
Mr Bush gave the order to strike, told his speech writer to get to work, had a ‘relaxing’ dinner with his wife, Laura, then went back to the Oval Office to announce the start of the war.
After his four-minute speech, he reportedly went to bed.
In the minutes after the deadline imposed by Mr Bush, Iraqi TV showed footage of a pro-Saddam march on Tuesday in Baghdad, with members of the crowd chanting pro-Saddam slogans, some brandishing rifles and carrying pictures of the Iraqi leader.
There was calm in the rest of the Middle East still in the wee hours of the morning.
But local TV stations here and elsewhere in the region broadcast the attack with some carrying live the speech by the US President declaring that he had ordered the strike.
The signs of imminent conflict were already abundant in the last 48 hours.
Israel ordered its citizens to start carrying their gas masks to work and to school.
And hundreds of Israeli residents fled Tel Aviv, fearful that Iraq would launch missiles against their seaside city, as happened in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Jordan’s leader, King Hussein, also ordered the border between Iraq and his country be sealed off in anticipation of a major influx of refugees in the event of a war breaking out.
But even before the first shot was fired came news that 17 Iraqi soldiers had surrendered.
Reports say Baghdad radio is operating normally but residents are staying at home and there are very few cars are on the roads.
The US military appeared briefly to have taken over the main frequency of Iraqi state radio. An announcer came on air to say in Arabic: ‘The facilities of the Iraqi regime have started to be hit.
‘This is the day we have been waiting for.’
US officials said that there were no plans for major military operations within the next 12 hours.
Retired US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf told the MSNBC television network: ‘My first reaction was complete shock.
‘We all believed that it would begin with a giant attack on downtown Baghdad and instead it’s a very, very small operation.’
‘It just shows the fantastic technology that our forces have available to them.’