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Iraq: First Strikes By U.S. Target Top Officials

Baghdad, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has launched the opening strikes of a war aimed at toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and disarming his regime of weapons of mass destruction. U.S. officials said the opening attacks by cruise missiles and Stealth bombers early this morning on the outskirts of Baghdad were aimed at killing senior members of the Iraqi regime.

The outcome of the attacks was not immediately known.

U.S. officials have described the initial strikes as limited, with a more intense campaign to follow.

As the strikes were under way, Iraqi antiaircraft fire flashed in the sky above Baghdad, explosions were heard and warning sirens sounded in the Iraqi capital.

Shortly after the start of the attacks, President George W. Bush gave a brief address on television, saying military operations had begun to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and to free the Iraqi people from Saddam's rule.

"My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger," Bush said.

Bush warned that the military action -- which has been named Operation Iraqi Freedom -- could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted. But he said the United States would accept no outcome but its victory.

Iraqi President Hussein, in an appearance on Iraqi television shown a few hours after the U.S. attack began, called for Iraqis to resist U.S.-led forces and pledged Iraq will emerge victorious from the conflict.

Hussein, dressed in a military uniform, condemned the United States and Britain for what he called "shameful crimes" against Iraq and humanity. "Today, 20 March 2003, the criminal and thoughtless little Bush committed a crime against humanity that he had long threatened us with," he said.

It was not immediately clear if the address was presented live or had been prerecorded for broadcast.