War on Iraq begins
Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 03:13 GMT
Several explosions rocked Baghdad at dawn on Thursday, signalling the start of the US-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.
Anti-aircraft artillery peppered the sky as deep, heavy thuds were heard in the outskirts of the city.
Minutes after the first blasts occurred at 0530 local time (0230 GMT), President Bush’s spokesman Ari Fleischer said: “The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun.”
President Bush is due to make an address at 2215 Washington time (0315 GMT).
After the first strike, a large pall of black smoke was seen in the south of Baghdad and the city fell silent.
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The attack began about 90 minutes after President Bush’s deadline for Saddam Hussein to go into exile or face war expired.
As the deadline approached, US-led combat troops in the Gulf – numbering about 150,000 – took up battle positions for an imminent invasion of Iraq.
Earlier, US aircraft attacked Iraqi surface-to-surface missile and artillery installations in the western and southern Iraq, but the Pentagon insisted this was still in support of the no-fly zones and was not the start of the war proper.
An air force colonel briefing reporters at the Pentagon said that the opening hours of the war would be devastating and that he did not believe the potential adversary had any idea what was coming.
With battle looming the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said his thoughts were with the ordinary people of Iraq as they faced the “disaster of war”.
He warned the US and UK that “under international law, the responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict falls on the belligerents”.
The BBC’s Paul Wood in the Iraqi capital says that Baghdad residents are hiding in fortified rooms in their houses or in public shelters beneath large buildings.
The majority of the city’s five million residents remain, unable to afford the $1,000 being charged on Wednesday for a seat in a taxi to flee to safer areas.
With their stockpiles of food around them they sit and wait with their families, our correspondent says.
In other developments:
Mr Bush sends formal notification of his justification for military action to the US Congress
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair holds a 20-minute phone call with Mr Bush
The people of Baghdad are preparing to defend their city
Germany expels four Iraqi diplomats for activities considered “incompatible with their diplomatic status”
Seventeen Iraqi soldiers surrender to American forces on the Kuwaiti border
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz appears on state television to refute rumours that he has fled the country or been killed
The Turkish Government is asking parliament to allow US planes to use its air space, with a vote expected on Thursday
Aircraft drop nearly two million leaflets on south-eastern Iraq, urging Iraqi troops to lay down their arms.
The BBC’s Jonathan Marcus in Qatar says General Tommy Franks, the overall US commander, could determine that the shock of the initial onslaught will be sufficient to allow his forces to advance even in daylight.
US aims for swift war
The city of Basra and the oilfields of southern Iraq will be among the first objectives.
The Pentagon has denied a report from Kuwaiti security sources that US troops had passed into the demilitarised zone that straddles the Kuwait-Iraq border.
The White House has said it hopes the war with Iraq will be swift, but has warned the American public to “be prepared for loss of life”.
“Americans ought to be prepared for the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein to protect the peace,” President Bush’s spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Earlier, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said Washington was lying to US troops about the number of casualties they could expect.
“To say that invading Iraq will be like a picnic is a stupid idea… they are [sending them to] definite death,” he warned.