First air strikes of war target Saddam

ALLIED forces launched a strike today in an attempt to assassinate Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The surprise attack on Saddam and his inner circle, which followed "lastminute'' intelligence about their whereabouts, attempted to rip the heart out ofthe Iraqi government.President Bush then went on American television to tell the world that war withIraq had begun.

From Keith Harrison of the Express & Star, Wolverhampton, in the Gulf

ALLIED forces launched a strike today in an attempt to assassinate Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The surprise attack on Saddam and his inner circle, which followed "last minute" intelligence about their whereabouts, attempted to rip the heart out of the Iraqi government.

President Bush went on American television to tell the world that war with Iraq had begun.


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He said: "On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.

"To all the men and women of the United States armed forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed.

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"The enemies you confront will come to know your skill and bravery. The people you liberate will witness the honourable and decent spirit of the American military.''

Today's attacks were made in an effort to bring a rapid conclusion of the war with minimal casualties. Military experts believe that if Saddam and his chief henchmen are killed, few in the ruling Baath party will have the stomach to continue a fight they do not expect to win.

The Iraqi leader appeared on TV after the strikes, although his message appeared to have been recorded before military action had started.

There were also reports that two-thirds of the Iraqi conscripted army had approached Allied troops and told them they wanted to lay down their arms.

A quick surrender would spare the nearly 300,000 British and American troops poised to invade Iraq from battle and dramatically reduce the civilian casualties and destruction of Iraqi infrastructure the war is expected to cause.

Elite US Delta Force commandos are believed to be hunting down Saddam in an attempt to bring a swift conclusion to the war. Small teams are expected to enter Baghdad ready to storm the dictator's presidential palaces and attack his convoys.

They have been ordered to capture or kill Saddam, his sons, and 12 of Iraq's top military and political leaders "within days'', said a senior Pentagon official with knowledge of the mission. But finding the Iraqi dictator is expected to be one of the toughest tasks facing allied forces.

The dictator will probably move underground during the bombing, using a network of tunnels and bunkers in Baghdad to escape allied troops and missiles.

In the 1991 Gulf War he moved daily to avoid more than 250 allied air strikes on "leadership targets''.

Saddam is also protected by nearly 30,000 security forces and is thought to have at least three body doubles to deceive pursuers. US officials hope monitoring his use of satellite and mobile phones will provide clues to his whereabouts.A British military source at US Central Command in the Qatar desert said: "Although hostilities have commenced this is not the start of the war.''

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