Volume 96, Issue 90
Thursday, March 20, 2003

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Bombs over Baghdad: war begins

(AP) – United States forces have launched a strike against "targets of military opportunity" in Iraq, President George W. Bush said Wednesday night. He described the action as the opening salvo in an operation to "disarm Iraq and to free its people."

"American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger," Bush said last night in an address to the nation. ''Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. We will accept no outcome but victory."

"The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The military action began less than two hours after the clock ran out on a deadline set by Bush for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq or face war. The 48-hour deadline, set Monday after attempts at a diplomatic solution failed, ended at 8 p.m. Wednesday EST and 4 a.m. Baghdad time.

American government officials said the U.S. military struck with cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs against a site near Baghdad last night, where Iraqi leaders were thought to be. There was no indication whether the attack was successful.

"The American people are ready for the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. They understand what's at stake," said Fleischer. "The military is ready, the nation is ready and the cause is just."

After meeting yet again with Pentagon officials, including Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush was informed last night that intelligence officials had no information suggesting Saddam had left Iraq.

Bush himself sent Congress formal notice yesterday that he had determined "further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone" would not be enough to contain the "threat posed by Iraq." Bush has contended that Saddam possesses chemical and biological weapons that he could use on his enemies or slip to terrorists.

In Baghdad, hundreds of armed members of Saddam's Baath party and security forces deployed yesterday throughout Baghdad, taking positions behind sandbags and in foxholes, as the U.S. ultimatum for the Iraqi leader to leave or face war expired.

Meanwhile, the most outspoken opponents of military action against Iraq – France, Russia and Germany – insisted yesterday that the U.S. will be acting illegally if it attacks Iraq and overthrows Saddam.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the United Nations Security Council that no resolution authorizes military action or "the violent overthrow of the leadership of a sovereign state."

There are also "no indisputable facts" to demonstrate Iraq threatens the United States, he said. If there were, the U.S. administration could exercise its right under the UN Charter to respond in self-defense.

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