Washington, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S.-led forces pounded Baghdad for the second night tonight, setting off powerful explosions in the Iraqi capital as U.S. Marines and other forces crossed from Kuwait into Iraq as an advance force.
The marines are part of a combined force of more than 150,000 U.S. and British troops massed in northern Kuwait on the Iraq border.
Traveling with U.S. forces in Kuwait near the Iraqi border, RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reported that the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division's artillery opened fire Thursday on Iraqi troops. Synovitz said the infantry used self-propelled howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems in the first stage of the ground war. The division is reported to be more than one kilometer in Iraq.
A building in President Saddam Hussein's main presidential compound erupted into flames following the bombardment of Baghdad. The presidential compound on the west bank of the Tigris River is the official seat of power in Iraq, but is rarely used by Hussein.
There were no reliable reports of casualties. The exact whereabouts of Hussein and his chief lieutenants are not known. Earlier, Iraqi television showed what appeared to be Hussein speaking on television. He called on the Iraqi people to defend their country.
"Today, March 20, 2003, the criminal and thoughtless [U.S. President George W.] Bush Junior committed the crime against humanity that he had long threatened us with."
In Kuwait City, sirens wailed and people ran for shelter as Iraq fired missiles over the border. U.S. military officials said the Iraqis shot at least three missiles toward American and British troops in the Kuwaiti desert and toward Kuwait City. No injuries or damage were reported, and there was no evidence the missiles had chemical or biological warheads.
At the White House, President Bush consulted with his national security and military advisers. He spoke briefly with reporters and thanked U.S. troops for putting their lives on the line.
Bush also expressed appreciation for coalition forces assisting American troops in their effort to dislodge the regime in Baghdad and to disarm Iraq.
"Over 40 nations now support our efforts. We are grateful for their determination, we appreciate their vision, and we welcome their support."
At the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned the Iraqi leadership that coalition forces are prepared to launch a massive operation.
"What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict. It will be of a force and scope and scale beyond what has been seen before. "
Rumsfeld also said Iraq may have set alight three or four oil wells, but that information could not be immediately confirmed.
World reaction to the conflict was swift. There was support from Australia and Britain, which have troops in the Gulf awaiting orders to advance, and from Japan and South Korea. Also, the Turkish parliament voted to allow U.S. planes access to Turkish airspace. Criticism for the attack came from France, Germany, China, and Russia.