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Thursday, March 20

Missile strikes on Iraq begin

By John Yaukey and Jon Frandsen

First posted 10:58 p.m., March 19

WASHINGTON - Iraq responded Thursday to surgical cruise missile strikes aimed at taking out Saddam Hussein with a broadcast of a man looking and sounding like the Iraqi leader cursing President Bush and exhorting Iraqis to fight the U.S.-led coalition preparing to assault Baghdad.

"It is the duty of all people, good people, to protect and defend this dear nation and our values,’’ he said on Iraqi television in what could have been a taped broadcast. "These days will go as God wills. This is your share of dignity and victory. You will be victorious all Iraqis. Long live jihad."

The cruise missile attacks on Iraq began at sunrise in Baghdad (late Wednesday in the United States) followed by a period of quiet.

President Bush told the American people that a much larger assault would soon follow the missile attacks.

"These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign," Bush said. "Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures.’’

Once the campaign hits full stride, air attack plans call for hitting Iraq with 3,000 air sorties in the first 48 hours launched from five aircraft carriers in the region and more than two dozen bases.

The initial war plan for Iraq, called "shock and awe," is designed to break the Iraqi fighting spirit almost immediately with massive air and ground strikes.

"We intend to make it so clear that the only alternatives here are to fight and die or to give up," Air Force Col. Gary Crowder said hours before the strikes began.

CNN reported that the initial attack with about 40 missiles was centered in Baghdad and appeared aimed at killing Saddam and his military commanders, in an attempt to decapitate what is left of Iraq’s war machine and hope confused underlings simply give up.

"That would be the optimal situation and not one of fantasy," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said in an interview with CNN. "After all is said and done, this is about one evil dictator who possesses evil weapons.’’

The attack came less than two hours after the clock had run out on the ultimatum Bush delivered to Saddam on Monday: Leave the country in 48 hours or face the military might of the world’s only superpower. Few in the government expected Saddam to accept the last chance to avoid war, and indeed, he rejected it almost immediately.

Earlier in the day, a dozen U.S. and coalition warplanes dropped precision munitions on Iraqi artillery units in the southern no-fly zone that U.S. troops poised to invade southern Iraq might have encountered, Pentagon officials said. Before those attacks began, 17 Iraqi troops surrendered to coalition forces near the Kuwaiti border.

Bush warned that conquering and occupying Iraq could be long, costly and take considerable sacrifice.

"A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict," he said. "And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment."

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., praised Bush for preparing "the people for the potential long-term consequences of this action, including the possibility of a protracted military engagement … and the role that the United States will play after the hostilities cease."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., also warned that the easy military victory that many desire could be elusive.

"I think it is going to be a lot harder than most think," Goss said. "We’re dealing with a tricky, nasty player on his home turf. He doesn’t play by the rules of engagement. He has a free hand to hit below the belt. He will and he has. We have to expect every dirty trick in the book and some we may not have thought of. That’s what I lose sleep over."

The greatest, immediate fears include the unleashing of deadly chemical or biological weapons and the exploding of dams that are holding back lakes and rivers swollen from heavier than normal rains in recent months.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who infuriated Republicans on Monday by saying Bush's diplomatic efforts at the United Nations had "failed" miserably, issued a statement that spoke only of support for "our sons and daughters in uniform."

"We are awed by their sacrifice and their bravery, and we want them and their families to know that they have the profound respect and gratitude of every American," Daschle said. "We pray for their safety and their success and we will make sure that they have every necessary resource so that nothing stands between our troops and victory."

Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam to leave Iraq followed the collapse of diplomatic efforts to win United Nations backing for a U.S.-led invasion intended to disarm Saddam of weapons of mass destruction.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in November calling on Iraq to disarm and readmitting weapons inspectors.

While Saddam did readmit inspectors, the United States alleged that he has lied from the beginning when he claimed that he had no more weapons of mass destruction - chemical weapons, biological weapons, even nuclear weapons.

There has been no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But the Bush administration has suggested that an anti-American dictator like Saddam could provide weapons to terrorist groups, allowing them to wreak unprecedented havoc against Americans at home.

Congress voted last October to give the president authority to use force against Iraq. The House vote was 296-133; the Senate voted 77-23.

With strong international opposition to a war with Iraq and a jittery economy at home, Bush is under pressure to get any potential conflict over with as soon as possible.

(Contributing: Carl Weiser, GNS)