| A Marine waits in a bunker at a Kuwait base after a warning of a second Scud missile attack from Iraq. (Reuters)
Washington, March 20: “The early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq,” as President George W. Bush called it, is focusing on finding and killing Saddam Hussein.
The long-awaited war against Iraq started 24 to 48 hours ahead of plans after a White House war council concluded last evening that eliminating Baghdad’s top leadership at the outset would prevent it from authorising Iraqi soldiers to use chemical weapons on invading US and British troops.
Bush told Americans on national television shortly after US missiles and bombs hit a “senior Iraqi leadership compound” in Baghdad that “these are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign” to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
The “shock and awe” air blitz on Baghdad with mega missiles and bombs of payloads never used before, which has been planned for many months is to come as soon as it is conclusively established that last night’s air attack did not kill Saddam Hussein or seriously incapacitate Iraq’s leadership.
“Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force,” Bush warned in his TV address. “And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures and we will accept no outcome but victory.”
The morning after the first attack on Baghdad, the US intelligence community on whom Bush is relying, furiously debated whether the Iraqi President or his son Uday had been killed in the raid. Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon that “battle damage assessment” of the attack was still being done.
Other sources took heart from the fact there has been no coordinated response from Iraq’s military to the first US air attack. They believe it is significant that there was no serious resistance to any US plans since Baghdad was bombed.
CIA’s image analysts worked to determine the distance between the eyes and nose and such other details of the man who addressed Iraqis on TV shortly after the first American air attack. As the day advanced, there was growing consensus within the intelligence community that the man was, indeed, Saddam Hussein and not one of his many doubles.
As if to reinforce that conclusion, Iraq’s TV today showed their President at a meeting with top aides.
Sources here said that TV clip appeared genuine and new since Izzat Ibrahim, who always sits next to Saddam Hussein was missing. Ibrahim, vice-chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, has been put in charge of the Iraqi army in the northern areas. The table where the group sat was smaller than usual and everyone was huddled suggesting that they were in some kind of safe house or bomb shelter.
Just as the Bush administration appeared to be concentrating on eliminating Iraq’s leadership as a short cut to victory, Baghdad’s Revolutionary Command Council was counting on demonstrating its continuing leadership to herd and lead Iraqis into fighting the Americans.
As US planes dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets urging Iraqis to cooperate with an imminent American invasion, Rumsfeld today urged Iraqis not to go to work, but to stay in their homes and listen to radio broadcasts by Americans and their allies.
“The day of your liberation may soon be at hand,” he told Iraqis through his media briefing. “The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered. We continue to feel there is no need for a broader conflict if the Iraqi leaders act to save themselves and to prevent such further conflict.”
But if it did not work, joint chiefs of staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers warned Americans that war will not be easy. “We do not regard combat as an easy task. Warfare is dangerous. We will have casualties,” he said.