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US, British Forces Pound Iraqi Targets - 2003-03-21

U.S. and British forces launched a major air campaign in Iraq Friday, pounding targets in Baghdad and two northern cities. U.S. officials also reported the first U.S. casualties of the ground war when two Marines were killed in southern Iraq.

The long-awaited intensive bombing campaign known in military parlance as "shock and awe" got under way late Friday, with coalition air strikes in and around Baghdad and the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

The Chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, briefed reporters at the defense department.

"Coalition forces have launched a massive air campaign throughout Iraq," General Myers explained. "Several hundred military targets will be hit over the coming hours."

Live television pictures from Baghdad showed a number of powerful explosions as well as Iraqi anti-aircraft fire.

U.S. and British forces seized territory in southern and western Iraq as ground troops moved toward Basra in the south and Baghdad in central Iraq.

Although there was resistance, many Iraqis chose to surrender instead of fight.

Coalition forces seized two airfields in western Iraq and also secured the southern port of Umm Qasr and oil facilities on the strategic Al-Faw peninsula along the Persian Gulf. British officials say the Iraqis set fire to seven oil wells.

Ground forces are moving quickly through southern Iraq and VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu was able to view a convoy of vehicles from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division making its way north.

"We saw a long, long, long column of vehicles - trucks, fuel tankers and all sorts of Jeeps - making a snaking line through the desert and into the northern part of Iraq," she said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.S. officials have opened channels of communication with Baghdad in hopes of persuading the Iraqis not to resist coalition forces:

"In order to prevent any loss of life beyond that which may have occurred already, it would be wise for Iraqi leaders to recognize that their day is over and that this is going to happen," secretary Powell said.

At the White House, President Bush met with congressional leaders only hours after both the House and Senate passed resolutions of support for U.S. forces fighting in Iraq.

"We will stay on task until we have achieved our objective, which is to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and free the Iraqi people so they can live in a society that is hopeful and democratic and at peace in this neighborhood," the president said.

Two new public opinion polls in the United States indicate that more than 70 percent of those people surveyed support military action in Iraq.