Surgical Strike: War Has Begun

Tomahawk missile being fired from a destroyer.
Tomahawk missile being fired from a destroyer.

In what is being described as a surgical strike, explosions and antiaircraft fire have been reported in Baghdad. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced around 9:40pm EST, Wednesday, March 19, 2003, that the war against Iraq was underway. He said, "The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun."

The attack occurred just after 6am Iraq time, an unusual time for an air strike.

President Bush addressed the nation at 10:15pm, saying, "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."

The President said more than 35 countries are giving "crucial support" to the effort.

Reports are saying this is part of a plan for a surgical strike targeting Iraqi leadership, including using F-117 stealth bombers and a handful of cruise missiles, fired from Naval vessels.

Reports indicate the attack was aimed at high-ranking Iraqi leaders as a "target of opportunity." It was initiated with three dozen Tomahawk missiles and followed by 2,000-pound bombs delivered by F-117 stealth bombers.

"We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice," said Bush. "We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people."

The forces had information Iraqi leaders were in a certain area in a bunker, so they started with Tomahawk cruise missiles and followed with stealth bombers. The White House isn't saying who the leaders were, or if the attack was successful. The Iraqis sounded the alarm, their air raid sirens, and people saw antiaircraft fire streaking through the sky. They heard the explosions around Baghdad. Some report a ball of fire in the southern part of the capital.

CBS news reporter Jim Axelrod called in from near the Iraqi border. Axelrod says the Third Infantry camp was just waking up, and everything looked like normal, everyday life. Soldiers going about their morning routine, with no sense of urgency, no unusual activity.

"My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others. And we will prevail," promised the President.

At approximately 12:30am EST, Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi television to denounce the attack. He called the attack part of a series of "shameful crimes" by the US, telling his people they will be victorious and that their enemies will be defeated and humiliated.