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Limited Attack Launched Against Iraq - 2003-03-20

U.S.-led coalition forces have launched a limited surgical strike on Iraq. President Bush says it is the opening of an operation to disarm Iraq and free its people.

The official announcement came from White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun."

Less than half-an-hour later, as air raid sirens sounded over Baghdad, President Bush addressed the American people. He spoke of an attack on a "target of opportunity," and he made clear it was only the beginning. "Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force," he said. "And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures. And we will accept no outcome but victory."

The first wave of the attack took many by surprise. The U.S.-led coalition was expected to launch its assault under cover of darkness. Instead, the first bombs hit Baghdad as dawn was breaking over the Iraqi capital.

It was also a small attack, a forerunner to a major invasion, but far from an all-out assault. With about 300,000 U.S.-led troops ready to move into Iraq, the president vowed to prevail. "Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly. Yet our purpose is sure," Mr. Bush said. "The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."

His tone was somber as he talked of the task ahead. The president told the American people it will involve sacrifice, and it will not be easy. "A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict, and helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment," he said.

The first air strikes came less than two hours after a deadline expired for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq. Throughout the day Wednesday at the White House, officials refused to predict when military action might start, saying only that the president would act when he was ready.