Iraq Invasion

Troops meet light resistance with push north

March 21, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON — On the ground

Oil wells burn, Scuds fail, howitzers reply in Kuwait

In the air

Cruise missiles, bombs hit Baghdad palace, ministry

At home

Threat to nuclear plant in Arizona; ports on alert

WASHINGTON - The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq got under way yesterday as American ground forces crossed from Kuwait into southern Iraq and began rolling toward the port city of Basra and aimed farther north toward Baghdad.

Elements of the U.S. Army and Marines met only scattered resistance as convoys rumbled across the lightly defended desert. Heavy artillery rounds fired into southern Iraq paved the way for advancing American helicopters and troops, signaling the start of the ground war.

Iraq retaliated for Wednesday night's missile strike on Baghdad by launching a small number of short-range missiles toward U.S. and British military units massed near the border in northern Kuwait.

A U.S. Patriot missile battery shot down at least one and possibly two of the incoming ballistic missiles, officials said. No American casualties were reported in the attacks.

But later in the evening, a U.S. Marine transport helicopter crashed in Kuwait, killing all four American Marines and 12 British commandos on board. The crash occurred nine miles from the Iraqi border, but was not believed to have been caused by hostile fire.

Meanwhile, U.S. government officials in Washington said last night that Saddam Hussein and possibly his two sons, Odai and Qusai, were inside a suburban Baghdad compound when it was struck by U.S. missiles and bombs and that medical attention was summoned afterward.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said intelligence agencies have not made any determination yet whether Hussein or his sons were injured or killed in the attacks, according to the Associated Press.

But U.S. officials said, there was no evidence that Hussein, or anyone else, was in overall command of Iraq's security or military operations in the aftermath of the attack.

After the attack, intelligence reports indicated Iraq's leaders were not organizing any coordinated response in Baghdad or in the rest of the country, suggesting the leadership might be in chaos or cut off from communicating with field commanders.

Also, the anti-aircraft fire above Baghdad during the strikes was lighter than seen in previous conflicts.

"It's little things here and there. Some individual commanders are hunkering down while others are launching small attacks and setting fires," one official said.

Yesterday's earlier missile attacks may have led U.S. commanders to speed up their plans for moving into southern Iraq.

Under a bright moon, tanks, gasoline trucks, Humvees and other vehicles of the 101st Airborne Division headed north into enemy territory. British marines were meanwhile reported to have gained a foothold on the Faw peninsula, on Iraq's Persian Gulf coastline, about 75 miles southeast of Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

There were unconfirmed reports that U.S. forces had seized the port of Umm Qasr, south of Basra. There were also sounds of explosions near Basra, whose capture is a key U.S. military objective.

For the second day in a row, American cruise missiles struck targets in and around Baghdad. Sea-launched British missiles were also used for the first time.

Among the sites reported hit was the building near the bank of the Tigris River that contains the offices of Hussein's younger son, Qusai, who was chosen by his father to head the Baghdad military district.

Strikes still small

Two relatively brief waves of airstrikes occurred about 9 p.m., Baghdad time. Missiles fired from American and British vessels took part in the attack. But the massive show of air power that U.S. commanders had said would signal the start of an all-out war did not materialize.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said U.S. commanders would continue to adapt their war plans to changing circumstances on the battlefield. He added that the battle to come would be unlike any in the history of warfare.

"It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before," he said.

Psychological combat has already emerged as a significant element of the U.S.-led effort, and Rumsfeld followed his warning of the unprecedented battle to come with another plea to Iraqi forces to lay down their arms. He noted that some Iraqi soldiers had already surrendered to U.S.-led forces in Kuwait.

Rumsfeld said the United States is in communication with Iraqi military officials, including those in Hussein's elite Special Republican Guard, in an effort to convince them that Hussein's "regime is history." He hinted there would be more defections in days ahead.

"Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime," Rumsfeld said. His message was relayed into Iraq via airborne radio transmitters, according to U.S. officials.

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