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Five Years Ago Today: (Aussie Version)

Mar 21, 2003: First strike on Baghdad

THE US opened its war on Iraq with a pre-dawn missile barrage at the Iraqi leadership yesterday but apparently failed to kill Saddam Hussein, whose image later appeared on television to accuse President George W. Bush of a "shameful crime".

It was not clear if the less-than-10-minute address broadcast by his son Uday's Youth television was live or pre-recorded.

The assassination attacks in Baghdad, targeting Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay, signalled the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, described by Mr Bush in a televised address from the Oval Office as a "broad and concerted campaign".

As Iraq claimed last night that the bombardment had killed one civilian and wounded several others, one of them a girl, it fired six missiles, two of them Scuds, into northern Kuwait. Two of the missiles were intercepted by Patriot missiles. Air raid sirens wailed repeatedly in the emirate amid fears of chemical attack, as Baghdad hit back against US forces.

The first missiles crashed near a US Marine base in the Mutlaa desert of northern Kuwait, where tens of thousands of US and British troops are massed to launch a ground invasion. Two hours later, three more missiles hit Kuwait, one of them intercepted over the western Kuwait Bay. There were no casualties in the attacks.

Australian forces were involved last night in dangerous covert reconnaissance deep inside Iraq, and providing vital support to bombing raids in a prelude to a massive invasion.

Special forces troops were dropped deep behind enemy lines in northern and southern Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction and locate targets for coalition bombers, such as missile launchers.

John Howard said in a televised address last night that the Government had committed "Australian forces to action to disarm Iraq because we believe it is right, it is lawful and it's in Australia's national interest".

The Australian contribution to the coalition assault will be known as Operation Falconer.

The US strikes on Baghdad by about three dozen cruise missiles and F-117 radar-evading jets with satellite-guided bombs came about 5.30am Baghdad time, provoking an eruption of anti-aircraft fire around the capital.

The Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles were fired from six US surface warships and submarines in the opening strikes.

The Pentagon released video of Tomahawks streaking towards Iraq from the deck of the USS Donald Cook, a guided-missile cruiser stationed in the Red Sea.

"It is a limited thing. It ain't A-Day," said one Pentagon official, referring to the slogan for the start of the air war.

The Washington Post said Mr Bush departed from his original war schedule, which was to launch a massive air strike to start hostilities, after receiving intelligence from the CIA that it believed Hussein and "the most senior levels of the Iraqi leadership" were cloistered in a private residence in southern Baghdad and would be there for some hours.

If Hussein was among those targeted, his appearance on Iraqi TV three hours later suggested the attack had failed. Dressed in military uniform, the Iraqi dictator denounced "Junior Bush" and called on Iraqis to ``draw your sword'' in a campaign in which "we will confront the invaders and get them to where they lose their patience".

The attack on what the Pentagon called a "target of opportunity", and then an attempted decapitation, was reportedly approved by Mr Bush shortly before the expiration of his deadline for Hussein to quit Iraq at 4am in Baghdad (midday AEDT).

Within an hour of war beginning, Mr Bush addressed the world from the Oval Office, saying the US and coalition forces (including Australian troops) "are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger".

The US had "begun striking selective targets of military importance to undermine Hussein's ability to wage war".

"Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force," Mr Bush said.

"And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory."

The first strikes in the pre-emptive war, for which the US failed to win specific UN backing, were limited to a small number.

They were not immediately followed by the "shock and awe" campaign involving a bombardment of about 3000 missiles and bombs within 48 hours, which Pentagon planners had predicted.

Mr Bush, whose administration has forecast a war lasting weeks rather than months, warned the conflict could be "longer and more difficult" than some had predicted.

He said helping Iraqis become united, stable and free would require a sustained commitment.

He accused Hussein of "a final atrocity" against his people, by placing his troops and equipment in civilian areas. Every effort would be made to spare civilian lives, he said.

Mr Bush held a four-hour meeting with his senior national security advisers, and reportedly made the decision to launch the strike against several "targets of opportunity" about 6.30pm in Washington (10.30am AEDT).

Within minutes of the first reports, Mr Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, went briefly to the White House podium to announce that "the opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun".

Earlier, Mr Bush sent Congress official notification of his war plans, and Mr Fleischer warned that "Americans ought to be prepared for loss of life".

"On the brink of war with Iraq, Americans should be prepared for what we hope will be as precise, short a conflict as possible, but there are many unknowns and it could be a matter of some duration," he said.

The US strikes drew immediate condemnation from France, Russia and China, who urged Washington to cease what Beijing said was a breach of international law. France expressed "deep concern", saying it hoped the war would end "as soon as possible". President Jacques Chirac underlined the lack of UN backing.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin urged Washington to stop the military campaign, which he labelled a "serious political mistake".

About 280,000 US and British troops, including almost 180,000 in Kuwait, were poised for the order to advance on Baghdad, in what US officials say will be a "shock and awe" operation to hammer Hussein's forces into quick submission.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the allied thrust was imminent, as Mr Bush meet his closest advisers in the Oval Office early today.

"You will not have to wait very long. You can expect further operations shortly," Mr Hoon said.

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Maybe Putin would accept an offer of the Vp candidacy from the DNC. ...Maybe not, they are wrapped a bit tighter over there when it comes to color or sex.
 
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