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US-Led Troops Enter Iraq - 2003-03-21

U.S. and coalition forces have invaded Iraq as a second night of air strikes have continued over the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Witnesses report huge explosions in or near the Iraqi cities of Basra and Mosul. Meanwhile, a U.S. Marine helicopter has crashed in Kuwait, killing all 16 British and American personnel on board.

Baghdad echoes with the sounds of heavy explosions from cruise missile strikes, the night sky lit up by retaliatory anti-aircraft fire coming from Iraqi sites. Reports from the Iraqi capital say some of the explosions were heard near two of Saddam Hussein's palaces, as well ministries and other government buildings.

All this followed by long periods of quiet, ahead of what U.S. defense officials are promising will be a massive "shock and awe" barrage of air strikes.

Kuwaiti-based American ground troops along with tanks and armor have rolled across Iraq's southern border. Journalists accompanying them, including VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu, report U.S. troops and tanks are now striking at Iraqi forces in heavy artillery barrages, pushing deeper into Iraq, encountering minor skirmishes but no reports of significant Iraqi opposition.

"The third infantry division has started its ground attack using artillery. We've been hearing heavy detonations where I am," he said. "The night sky sort of lighting up with the explosions."

One American reporter embedded with coalition troops says more Iraqi soldiers have been surrendering rather than fight against invading forces.

Here in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is looking into reports that Iraq is setting fire to oil wells in an apparent effort to stop advancing coalition forces.

"I have seen indication and reports from people that the Iraqi regime may have set fire to as many as three or four of the oil wells in the south," he said.

In neighboring Kuwait, air raid warnings sounded repeatedly Thursday and the country was hit by several missiles fired from Iraq, sending people scurrying indoors and forcing those outside to don gas masks. None of the missiles appeared to be armed with chemical or biological warheads and no injuries were reported.

One of the first U.S. airstrikes on Iraq was described as a senior leadership compound where Defense Secretary Rumsfeld believes President Saddam Hussein may have been meeting with his top leadership.

"We had what I would characterize very good intelligence that it was a senior Iraqi leadership compound. We do not know what the battle damage assessment will be," he said.

Nearly 24 hours after that air strike, U.S. intelligence officials still had not said whether a man who appeared to be Saddam Hussein and went on Iraqi television after the raid to denounce President Bush was in fact the Iraqi leader. They spent Thursday analyzing the footage to determine it was him, knowing he has several body doubles.

At the same time, the Pentagon, which for weeks now has been using various means including e-mail to contact elements of the Iraqi military, suggests its message to Iraqi commanders that Saddam Hussein is about to be ousted and that they should surrender, may be paying off.

"We see evidence of military personnel, some have already surrendered in Kuwait," he said. "We are in communication with still more people who are officials of the military at various levels, the regular army, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, who are increasingly aware that it's going to happen, he's going to be gone," he said.

Even though President Bush's deadline for Saddam Hussein to go into exile expired on Wednesday, the White House says it is not too late for him to leave Iraq.