|An explosion in Baghdad
Baghdad, March 20 (Reuters): After signalling the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom with dawn raids to kill Saddam Hussein, America rained cruise missiles on key targets in Baghdad and launched intense artillery barrages near the Iraq-Kuwait border in the night.
The official Kuwaiti News Agency said late tonight that US and British troops seized the Iraqi border town of Umm Qasr. The town is the only major sea port for goods to enter Iraq.
CNN said the US First Marine Expeditionary Force had crossed into Iraq. The New York Times on its web site said the first reported combat engagement of the war occurred when Marine armoured vehicles encountered and destroyed two Iraqi armoured personnel carriers.
Reuters eyewitnesses in Baghdad reported several explosions near government buildings as cruise missiles swooped down, shaking the city with massive explosions. Iraqi Radio said the “family home” of Saddam was hit.
It was the second round of US attacks after Saddam defied an ultimatum to leave the country. The previous raid at dawn targeted the Iraqi President himself and his senior leadership but the results were not clear.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the initial missile and bombing attacks in and around Baghdad were just a first taste of what would soon be unleashed. “What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict. It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before,” he said.
Rumsfeld said Iraq may have set fire to three or four oil wells in the south of the country. Kuwait television reported that several oil wells near Basra had been set alight by Iraqi troops. Iraqi oil minister Amir Muhammed Rasheed denied the reports.
As night fell in Baghdad, eyewitnesses said US forces had launched a new artillery attack near the Iraq-Kuwait border, and large explosions were reported in the direction of the Iraqi city of Basra.
Earlier, announcing the start of the campaign to oust Saddam and disarm Iraq, President George W. Bush said “selected targets” were hit on the basis of specific intelligence of a gathering of Iraq’s top leadership.
Iraq responded to the first US attack with several missile strikes on northern Kuwait.
Saddam appeared on television three hours after the first strikes on Baghdad, denouncing the “criminal, reckless little Bush”.
Rumsfeld said there was some debate as to whether the man that appeared was really Saddam or one of his doubles, but some viewers were convinced the voice was authentic. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon was still studying the damage from the opening attack.
Iraq said the US raids hit empty buildings and civilian districts, killing a civilian and four soldiers.
The US has formally asked governments worldwide to shut down Iraqi embassies and diplomatic missions until new authorities are in power in Baghdad.