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Iraq: Second Day Of War Brings Heavy Air Assault

  • Andrew Tully

Washington, 21 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-led war against Iraq entered a new phase tonight, with missile and aircraft attacks lighting up Baghdad and allied forces pushing deep into the desert of southern Iraqi.

On the second day of fighting, the United States said Iraqi Saddam Hussein had begun to lose control of his country.

Television broadcasts from the Iraqi capital showed the sky lit up in red and yellow and thick plumes of smoke and dust as satellite-guided missiles, fired from warships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, struck what U.S. officials called military targets in Baghdad.

Later in the evening, warplanes from aircraft carriers in the Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea joined in the attack. The United States has deployed B-52, B-1, and B-2 "stealth" bombers, plus fighter-bombers, for use against Iraq.

U.S. officials have called the heavy bombardment "shock and awe," a relentless pounding meant to break the spirit of Iraqi forces and lead them to surrender rather than resist.

American military leaders initially planned to begin the war with the heavy bombardment, but instead decided to open hostilities early Thursday, making a more limited strike near Baghdad on a building believed to be housing Saddam Hussein. It now appears that the Iraqi president may have survived that attack.

To the south, meanwhile, British and American forces took the Iraqi Gulf port city of Umm Qasr and pressed on to nearby Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. It was in the battle for Umm Qasr that the United States suffered it first combat death, a Marine. Meanwhile, eight British soldiers and four U.S. troops were killed in a helicopter accident in Kuwait.

Elsewhere in the south, allied mechanized forces rolled about 250 kilometers into the Iraqi desert on their way to Baghdad. Reports from the front say they occasionally met resistance from Iraqi forces, and occasionally accepted the surrender of other enemy troops. In northern Iraq, allied forces on the ground also met resistance in some cases, and surrender in others.

In Washington, U.S. Air Force General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, welcomed the Iraqi defections. He told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon: "Some Iraqi soldiers are surrendering and abandoning their positions in the south and also in the north. Clearly, many Iraqi military are heeding our message that it is better to fight for the future of Iraq than to fight for Saddam Hussein."

At the same briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it appears that Saddam and his senior aides no longer controlled the Iraqi military infrastructure as tightly as they once did.

"The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces, and to control their country is slipping away. They are beginning to realize, I suspect, that the regime is history [finished]," Rumsfeld said.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British forces finally got easier access to a northern front in their drive toward Baghdad. Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said in Ankara that his government has agreed to open its air space to allied warplanes.

Turkey had earlier delayed allowing overflights of U.S. warplanes despite parliamentary approval for them. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had insisted that the United States agree to allow Turkish troops into northern Iraq to deal with an expected flood of Kurdish refugees from the region.

Gonul did not say how the issue was settled, but said, "In conclusion, it was determined that opening airspace [to U.S. planes] was in Turkey's interests."

Around the world, tens of thousands of protesters denounced the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Demonstrations were held in Australia, China, Japan, Jordan, India, Malaysia, Thailand, and elsewhere to give voice to a growing antiwar sentiment worldwide.

There was even a demonstration involving about 500 people in Washington, outside the White House.

Some of the demonstrations in the Middle East turned violent as Muslims stormed through the streets after Friday prayers, shouting "Death to America!" In Yemen, two people were killed by police who fired on protesters near the U.S. Embassy in San'a.

In Amman, Jordan's capital, riot police were called out to keep order as protesters burned American and Israeli flags.

There were even demonstrations in Tokyo, where at least 11,000 people marched for peace. The protests came hours after U.S. President George W. Bush called Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to thank him for supporting his Iraq policy. Koizumi has promised aid for refugees after the war and financing to rebuild Iraq.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials were preparing for new protests in Muslim nations, such as Indonesia and Pakistan. Muslim antiwar activists say the U.S. strikes show Washington's desire to carve out colonies in the Middle East.