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US Launches Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' - 2003-03-20

The United States launched a limited air strike near Baghdad early Thursday, signaling the start of the military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein from power.

First came the sirens and then the explosions that shattered the early morning calm in Baghdad. U.S. Stealth fighter-bombers and cruise missiles carried the opening salvos in the long-threatened war to disarm Iraq.

President Bush announced the opening of hostilities in a nationally televised address two hours after the U.S. deadline passed for Saddam Hussein and his two sons to go into exile. "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," he said. "We will meet that threat now."

Military officials at the coalition headquarters in the Gulf described the missile strikes on the Baghdad area as an attempt to take advantage of what they called a window of opportunity, based on intelligence reports. A spokesman for British forces in Qatar says the strike was on "a convoy of vehicles somewhere in Baghdad."

Sometime later, Iraqi television carried a statement from Saddam Hussein, though it was not possible to determine whether it was live or recorded. "Iraq will be victorious," he said. "Our nation and humanity will triumph."

In Northern Kuwait, U.S. and British troops are poised to move into Iraq if the order is given. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu is among scores of journalists traveling with the troops. The [U.S. Army] 3rd Infantry Division, mechanized division, is at the border," she said. "They are in attack formation and they are ready to go in [to Iraq]. We just don't know when that order for the ground attack is going to come."

In his speech, President Bush said the United States has no ambition In Iraq except to remove a threat and restore control of the country to its own people. The president said the war will not, in his words, be a campaign of half measures, and he added, "we will accept no outcome but victory."