war started

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War Begins with Bombs in Baghdad
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By Nadim Ladki

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. bombs and cruise missiles hit Baghdad at dawn on Thursday as the United States launched a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).


Reuters Photo

U.S. Fires Missiles, Bombs Against Iraq
(AP Video)




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Special Coverage





Reuters correspondents in the city center heard jets roar overhead, Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries open up and air raid sirens sound about 90 minutes after a U.S. deadline expired.


U.S. officials said it was a limited raid by stealth fighters and cruise missiles, aimed at the Iraqi leadership. An expected mass bombardment had yet to be unleashed, they said.


A brief all-clear was heard some two and a half hours after the initial attack, but minutes later the sirens sounded again and several new explosions rocked the outskirts.


A British military spokesman in Kuwait said an expected land assault from the south had yet to start, but Reuters correspondents with the ground forces said they had moved to forward positions near the Iraqi border.


Reuters correspondent David Fox heard several dozens rounds being fired by artillery near the Iraq (news - web sites)-Kuwait border. Soldiers donned chemical suits at desert staging posts.


The U.S. military appeared to jam and then briefly take over the main frequency of Iraqi state radio, saying Saddam's administration was under attack. "This is the day we have been waiting for," it said in a brief message before going silent.


In Washington, President Bush (news - web sites) said the attack on Iraq had begun; "These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign," he said in a televised address.


Another Baghdad radio station run by Saddam's elder son Uday played a military song and called on people to resist: "This is our day. Let us start the fight. We will be victorious.


"We will all die as faithful martyrs."


Iraqi television said Saddam would broadcast to the nation.


The first blasts seemed to come from the southern and eastern suburbs. Heavy 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 center and the west, near where several ministries are located.


The explosions, accompanied by anti-aircraft fire, went on sporadically for more than an hour and half before a brief lull.


WARPLANES STRIKE


Reuters correspondent Nadim Ladki heard the first two or three blasts at 5:33 a.m., as warplanes screamed overhead at medium altitude. Reuters correspondent Hassan Hafidh said that, judging from the directions of the blasts, it seemed that anti-aircraft batteries had also been targeted.


An Iraqi official said the U.S. strikes had hit military facilities and positions.


Police cars and ambulances with sirens wailing raced through otherwise deserted streets as a grey, dusty dawn broke. Some trucks sped around carrying militiamen. Air raid sirens began wailing out within a minute of the first strike.





Electricity was still working in the city center but state radio ceased broadcasting after the blasts. Minutes later, a new announcer broke in on state radio's frequency, apparently from the U.S. military, speaking in Arabic.

"The facilities of the Iraqi regime have started to be hit," the new announcer said.

Reuters correspondents saw nine U.S. strike aircraft taking off between 0030 and 0130 GMT from Qatar's Al Udeid airbase.

They turned on their afterburners and climbed away almost vertically from the desert base. Two large aerial refuellers accompanied the jets in bright moonlight.

A Reuters correspondent aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in the Gulf said Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired. Rear Admiral John Kelly said four cruisers and two submarines had fired. One missile had failed, he said.

Reuters correspondent Luke Baker with U.S. soldiers massed on the Kuwait-Iraq border said three missiles roared overhead before dawn, their rocket burners lighting up the night sky.

The Iraqi capital had taken on the air of a ghost town on the eve of Bush's deadline. Shops and restaurants were shut and the streets deserted. Thousands of people, those who could afford cars and petrol, had fled the city on Wednesday.

Trenches had been dug and sandbags placed around official buildings and handfuls of militiamen with Kalashnikov rifles posted outside in recent days.

"God willing we will be victorious. We don't fear America and we don't fear any wars. We are ready to fight," said Kabel, who was in his early 30s and wearing military fatigues.

FRONTLINES QUIET

Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) have massed 280,000 troops in the region to kill or capture Saddam, overthrow his government and rid Iraq of chemical and biological weapons that the United States accuses it of stockpiling.

Iraq denies having such weapons. The war has sharply divided Washington's allies.

U.S. officials had said upward of 3,000 satellite-guided bombs and cruise missiles would be unleashed from sea and air on targets vital to Saddam's government to start the war.

In northern Iraq, where Kurds run their own affairs under the protection of a post-Gulf War (news - web sites) no-fly zone, the de facto frontier with Saddam's forces was also quiet.

Reuters correspondent Jon Hemming, on the Kurdish side of the border near the town of Dohuk, said Kurdish fighters told him 10 Iraqi military trucks had moved up to the Iraqi lines on Wednesday evening and local residents said Kurdish "peshmerga" guerrillas had reinforced their own lines.

Hemming also said a handful of European-looking men in civilian clothes had headed for a position nearby with Kurdish guards. Kurdish fighters say they have been cooperating with U.S. special forces in the region, which lies close to the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, the main oil center in the north.

The United States had wanted to open a northern front to attack Iraq from NATO (news - web sites) ally Turkey.

But, faced with popular opposition to war on fellow Muslims, Ankara balked at letting U.S. troops onto its soil.




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