'Shock and Awe' Begins
The U.S.-led campaign to destroy Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq escalated dramatically yesterday, both on the ground and in the air.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, missiles and bombs began to rain down at about 9 p.m. (1 p.m. EST). The three-hour strike, which dwarfed the more surgical air attacks on Thursday, devastated symbols and centers of the Hussein government. U.S. warplanes also struck the key northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk and Hussein's home town of Tikrit.
The Ground War
On the ground, British and American troops pushed toward Baghdad from the south. They also seized the Persian Gulf city of Umm Qasr, Iraq's only important port. Although British and U.S. forces reported the surrender of about 850 Iraqi troops in the far southeast of the country, other Iraqi forces in the south have chosen to fight rather than quit. Two Marines were killed-one in a gun battle as his unit advanced on an oil field, the other near Umm Qasr.
In the west, special operations troops captured two key airfields about 50 miles east of the border with Jordan. By controlling the airfields, U.S. and British forces opened a possible second jumping-off point for the anticipated attack on Baghdad.
The Northern Front
The United States had hoped to open a northern front by attacking from Turkey, but the Turkish government refused to allow the U.S. to deploy troops there. Finally yesterday the Turkish government opened its airspace to US. Warplanes but it also said it would send troops into Kurdish-occupied northern Iraq, an action the United States strongly opposes. U.S. officials fear any Turkish incursion would spawn fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces and complicate the effort to bring down the Hussein regime.
Chaos at the Top
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that U.S. and British forces are breaking down Iraq's military structure.
In Baghdad there were still some questions about the fate of Hussein, although U.S. analysts say they are assuming that he survived a Thursday morning attack on his bunker.
U.S. officials said they are in contact with military commanders and are promising them safety in return for vows not to use chemical or biological weapons and to minimize resistance.
But the official government posture in Baghdad was defiant. Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf called the United States a "superpower of villains" and denied Iraq lost any territory, including Umm Qasr.
Meanwhile, protests against the war continued. In Yemen, an 11-year-old boy and another protester were killed in a clash with police. There were protest-some angry, some subdued-across the Arab world and Europe. Antiwar demonstrators also held marches, vigils and, in some instances, they blockaded streets across the United States.
James L. Rowe Jr.