U.S. forces unleash first shot against Saddam

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

U.S. forces launched their long-awaited war against Saddam Hussein, targeting him personally with a barrage of cruise missiles and bombs as a prelude to invasion. Iraq responded hours later, firing missiles Thursday toward American troops positioned just across its border with Kuwait.

None of the Iraqi missiles caused injuries or damage, and one was intercepted by a Patriot missile, according to U.S. officers. American and British soldiers in the region briefly donned gas masks or protective suits, but officers later said the missiles apparently were not armed with chemical or biological weapons.

Air raid sirens wailed repeatedly in Kuwait City as officials warned that some Iraqi missiles might be aimed there.

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The opening salvo against Saddam was not the expected all-out aerial bombardment, but instead a surgical strike seeking to eliminate the Iraqi leader and his inner circle even before an invasion. Saddam assailed the attack as a ''shameful crime,'' while President Bush said the world's security was at stake.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said the U.S. strikes killed one person, injured several and hit a customs office and some empty Iraqi TV buildings, among other targets. There was no way to verify his report.

Coinciding with the strikes on Baghdad, about 1,000 U.S. troops launched a raid on villages in southeastern Afghanistan, hunting for members of the al-Qaida terrorist network. The U.S. operation appeared to signal to Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants that war with Iraq would not mean any kind of respite for them.

The State Department warned U.S. citizens abroad that they face increased danger of retaliatory terrorist actions and anti-American violence.

The first missiles hit targets in Baghdad shortly before dawn Thursday, less than two hours after Bush's deadline of 8 p.m. EST Wednesday for Saddam to yield power.

Bush briefly addressed the nation to announce that war had begun. He said the barrage marked the start of a ''broad and concerted'' operation to ''disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.''

''I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory,'' the president said.

U.S. and British troops massed in northern Kuwait were still awaiting orders to cross into Iraq, but welcomed news of the first strikes.

''It's about time,'' said Lance Cpl. Chad Borgmann, 23, of Sidney, Neb., a member of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. ''We've been here a month and a week. We're ready to go.''