Iraq Invasion

Troops meet light resistance with push north

War In Iraq

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. objective.

Further west along the border, 200 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the U.S. 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit just over an hour after it crossed the border into Iraq from northern Kuwait, according to the Associated Press.

One group of 40 Iraqis marched in formation down a two-lane road toward the Americans and gave up, the AP reported. They were told to lie face down on the ground and were searched by the Marines. At the same time, Marines cleared bunkers, emerging from one with two Iraqis with bound wrists. One had a dark gray uniform, the other was barefoot. Abandoned weapons were spread over a large area.

Elsewhere, the 7th Marine Infantry's 3rd Battalion apparently had to delay its foray into Iraq after -- according to military radios -- a large number of previously unknown tanks was sighted on the Iraqi side of the border.

The unit took small arms and artillery fire, and at one point a U.S. Cobra helicopter accidentally fired a missile at a U.S. M1 Abrams tank, injuring one soldier and forcing abandonment of the smoldering tank. This morning, the unit opened a massive artillery barrage across the border.

Earlier, 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.

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