President Bush told a televised audience the attacks were only the “opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign” against Iraq and not part of the major strike — the so-called “shock and awe” tactic — military analysts had predicted.
The president said the strikes had been mounted against targets of “military importance.” News agencies reported the attacks were based on time-sensitive intelligence information and aimed at leadership targets. Those reports have not been confirmed by the White House and did not specify whether the Iraqi leader himself was the intended target.
The strikes began at about 5:35 a.m. local time (9:25 p.m. Eastern time), some 90 minutes after President Bush’s deadline for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq expired.
The Associated Press, quoting anonymous military sources, reported that the attack involved some three dozen cruise missiles fired from as few as two ships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
Reuters reported that F-117A stealth fighters also participated in the attack, reportedly firing long-range cruise missiles. A Reuters correspondent in Baghdad said that blasts appeared to hit Baghdad’s southern and eastern suburbs as well as the city center. The explosions came as bursts of gunfire and air raid sirens filled the night.
According to The New York Times, the initial round of explosions took place for 10 minutes, followed by a lull.
Times correspondent John Burns reported that men armed with Kalashnikov rifles had taken up posts at bunkers in Baghdad earlier in the evening, but said in a report posted on the Times Web site that “the notable thing in the past 10 days has been how scant the defensive preparations have been.”
American messages have reportedly been broadcast on Iraqi radio stations during the morning hours, telling listeners, “This is the day you have been waiting for,” according to news reports.
News services also reported that state-run television had broadcast a message of defiance, saying of coalition forces, “It’s an inferno that awaits them. Let them try their faltering luck and they shall meet what awaits them.”
U.S. and British ground troops, meanwhile, are ready to launch an invasion of Iraq, but have not yet received orders to do so, British military spokesman Col. Chris Vernon told Reuters.
Coalition troops moved into the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait earlier Wednesday. The movements came as Turkey’s government decided Wednesday to ask its parliament to allow U.S. planes to use its airspace, but not to choose whether American troops can launch air strikes or a ground advance on Iraq from Turkish bases.
The move represents a setback for U.S. military planners who had hoped to deploy thousands of ground troops into Turkey to add a “northern front” in a potential attack. The decision also means that debt-laden Turkey will not receive some $30 billion in grants and loans the U.S. had offered in exchange for letting U.S. troops use its bases.
In all, some 300,000 U.S.-led troops are assembled in the Persian Gulf region, readying for the larger, comprehensive strike the president said Wednesday was on its way.