The unit, which was reportedly one of the best-equipped in Iraq’s regular army forces, surrendered to coalition forces advancing toward Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, the AP reported. It was the largest single unit to surrender on Friday.
U.S.-led forces used a psychological campaign of leaflet drops to persuade the 51st division to surrender. According to The New York Times, the leaflets instructed Iraqi soldiers who did not want to fight to park their tanks and walk at least half a mile away.
American officials said many of the division’s soldiers had simply left their posts, causing the division to “melt away,” reporter Michael Gordon wrote.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press briefing Friday that U.S. ground troops had pushed some 100 miles into Iraqi territory from the Kuwait border, securing the port city of Umm Qasar and the al-Faw peninsula. Myers said he expected troops would also capture some of Iraq’s southern oil fields.
The surrenders came after air strikes pummeled the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and several northern cities in a “shock and awe” strategy to showcase the coalition’s military strength.
Rear Adm. Matthew Moffit, the commander of the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier battle group, said coalition warships launched as many as 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Baghdad.
The attacks began at 9 p.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), sparking large fires at Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s Old Palace compound on the west side of the Tigris River. Pilots returning from bombing raids remarked about the power of the armaments coalition forces used.
“When the Tomahawks first hit it was like boom, boom, explosion after explosion. It’s just a huge flash on the ground, it lights up all the clouds from underneath,” Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth O’Donnell, who flew a radar-jamming EA-6B Prowler in the strikes, told Reuters.
Attacks were also reported in the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.
During the Pentagon’s press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he believed the strikes were shaking control of Iraq out of the hands of Saddam Hussein’s government.
“The regime is starting to lose control of their country,” Rumsfeld said. “The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. They’re ability to see what is happening on the battlefield … and the control of their country is slipping away.”