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Opening Salvo in Iraq War Took Advantage of 'Window of Opportunity'

The United States has launched the opening round of a military effort to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, firing cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs against selected targets near Baghdad. But a spokesman at the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters in Qatar says Thursday's strikes do not mean that a full-scale war has begun.

U.S. forces launched airstrikes against what President Bush called targets of military importance. He described the action as the opening salvo in an operation to disarm Iraq and free its people.

The initial strikes were carried out with Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs dropped by F-117 stealth fighter-bombers. Military officials say the aim of the strikes is to set the stage for future operations.

Flight Lieutenant Peter Darling, a British military spokesman at allied headquarters near Qatar's capital, Doha, says the strike was limited and based on specific intelligence. "There was a strike on a convoy of vehicles somewhere in Baghdad," he said. "Although hostilities have started, this is not the start of the war. These airstrikes were taking advantage of a window of opportunity based on intelligence reports."

Before Thursday's strikes, U.S. military officials had said that the beginning of the war would be characterized by a massive air assault, followed later by a large-scale ground invasion. But there have been only a few airstrikes so far, and officials say U.S. and British troops massed on the border between Kuwait and Iraq have not yet received orders to attack.

Some news reports suggested Thursday's strikes were aimed at Saddam Hussein, but a senior U.S. official in Washington appeared to cast doubt on those reports.