Initial reports from the Associated Press indicate that the primary targets of the attack were strongholds of the Iraqi Republican Guard, widely considered the military forces most loyal to Saddam Hussein.
Plumes of smoke were reported in the vicinity of the Iraqi foreign ministry and buildings were said to be on fire near the planning ministry after the strike.
Smoke was also reported on the west bank of the Tigris River in central Baghdad, where two of Saddam’s palaces and other government buildings are located, although it could not be immediately determined what was hit.
Air raids sirens were reported just before 9pm local time (1pm Eastern time) in the Iraqi capital and were soon followed by the crackle of intermittent anti-aircraft fire and the flash of explosions.
F-14 and F-18 jets were reported to be taking off from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean sea armed with missiles and bombs as the attack unfolded although there was no confirmation as to whether the jets were headed for Baghdad.
According to the Associated Press, unnamed military officials have said that this second wave of U.S.-led air attacks did not signify the start of the “shock and awe” air campaign of some 3,000 missiles and bombs predicted by Pentagon planners.
An Iraqi military spokesman said later on state television that a U.S. helicopter was shot down during the Baghdad offensive.
“An American aircraft of the Sikorsky type used in carrying troops and equipment was downed as it was trying to infiltrate Iraqi airspace to carry out aggressive operations. Long live Iraq,” the spokesman said in a statement.
U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment, according to Reuters.
At an earlier press briefing, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the initial missile and bombing attacks in and around Baghdad would just be a first taste of the war plan to come.
“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,” Rumsfeld said.