IRAQ INVASION

THE BALTIMORE SUN

On the ground

Oil wells burn, Scuds fail, howitzers reply in Kuwait

In the air

Cruise missiles, bombs hit Baghdad palace, ministry

At home

Threat to nuclear plant in Arizona; ports on alert

WASHINGTON -- The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq got under way yesterday as American ground forces crossed from Kuwait into southern Iraq and began rolling toward the port city of Basra and aimed farther north toward Baghdad.

Elements of the U.S. Army and Marines met only scattered resistance as convoys rumbled across the lightly defended desert. Heavy artillery rounds fired into southern Iraq paved the way for advancing American helicopters and troops, signaling the start of the ground war.

Iraq retaliated for Wednesday night's missile strike on Baghdad by launching a small number of short-range missiles toward U.S. and British military units massed near the border in northern Kuwait.

A U.S. Patriot missile battery shot down at least one and possibly two of the incoming ballistic missiles, officials said. No American casualties were reported in the attacks.

But later in the evening, a U.S. Marine transport helicopter crashed in Kuwait, killing all four American Marines and 12 British commandos on board. The crash occurred nine miles from the Iraqi border, but was not believed to have been caused by hostile fire.

Meanwhile, U.S. government officials in Washington said last night that Saddam Hussein and possibly his two sons, Odai and Qusai, were inside a suburban Baghdad compound when it was struck by U.S. missiles and bombs and that medical attention was summoned afterward.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said intelligence agencies have not made any determination yet whether Hussein or his sons were injured or killed in the attacks, according to the Associated Press.

But U.S. officials said, there was no evidence that Hussein, or anyone else, was in overall command of Iraq's security or military operations in the aftermath of the attack.

After the attack, intelligence reports indicated Iraq's leaders were not organizing any coordinated response in Baghdad or in the rest of the country, suggesting the leadership might be in chaos or cut off from communicating with field commanders.

Also, the anti-aircraft fire above Baghdad during the strikes was lighter than seen in previous conflicts.

"It's little things here and there. Some individual commanders are hunkering down while others are launching small attacks and setting fires," one official said.

Yesterday's earlier missile attacks may have led U.S. commanders to speed up their plans for moving into southern Iraq.

Under a bright moon, tanks, gasoline trucks, Humvees and other vehicles of the 101st Airborne Division headed north into enemy territory. British marines were meanwhile reported to have gained a foothold on the Faw peninsula, on Iraq's Persian Gulf coastline, about 75 miles southeast of Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

There were unconfirmed reports that U.S. forces had seized the port of Umm Qasr, south of Basra. There were also sounds of explosions near Basra, whose capture is a key U.S. objective.

Further west along the border, 200 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the U.S. 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit just over an hour after it crossed the border into Iraq from northern Kuwait, according to the Associated Press.

One group of 40 Iraqis marched in formation down a two-lane road toward the Americans and gave up, the AP reported. They were told to lie face down on the ground and were searched by the Marines. At the same time, Marines cleared bunkers, emerging from one with two Iraqis with bound wrists. One had a dark gray uniform, the other was barefoot. Abandoned weapons were spread over a large area.

Elsewhere, the 7th Marine Infantry's 3rd Battalion apparently had to delay its foray into Iraq after -- according to military radios -- a large number of previously unknown tanks was sighted on the Iraqi side of the border.

The unit took small arms and artillery fire, and at one point a U.S. Cobra helicopter accidentally fired a missile at a U.S. M1 Abrams tank, injuring one soldier and forcing abandonment of the smoldering tank. This morning, the unit opened a massive artillery barrage across the border.

Earlier, for the second day in a row, American cruise missiles struck targets in and around Baghdad. Sea-launched British missiles were also used for the first time.

Among the sites reported hit was the building near the bank of the Tigris River that contains the offices of Hussein's younger son, Qusai, who was chosen by his father to head the Baghdad military district.

Strikes still small

Two relatively brief waves of airstrikes occurred about 9 p.m., Baghdad time. Missiles fired from American and British vessels took part in the attack. But the massive show of air power that U.S. commanders had said would signal the start of an all-out war did not materialize.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said U.S. commanders would continue to adapt their war plans to changing circumstances on the battlefield. He added that the battle to come would be unlike any in the history of warfare.

"It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before," he said.

Psychological combat has already emerged as a significant element of the U.S.-led effort, and Rumsfeld followed his warning of the unprecedented battle to come with another plea to Iraqi forces to lay down their arms. He noted that some Iraqi soldiers had already surrendered to U.S.-led forces in Kuwait.

Rumsfeld said the United States is in communication with Iraqi military officials, including those in Hussein's elite Special Republican Guard, in an effort to convince them that Hussein's "regime is history." He hinted there would be more defections in days ahead.

"Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime," Rumsfeld said. His message was relayed into Iraq via airborne radio transmitters, according to U.S. officials.

The Americans are warning Iraqi civilians to stay home when hostilities begin in earnest and avoid any of the places where Hussein might have stashed military hardware or soldiers.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, characterized the first two days of the war as an effort to prepare the battlefield for large-scale combat operations.

"Our responsibility is to give the troops the best opportunity for success and to protect their lives as best as possible. There are military preparatory actions that need to be accomplished before any major attack," Myers said.

Iraq's government said that the opening round of bombing ordered by President Bush on Wednesday against a bunker where Saddam Hussein was thought to be hiding had hit a residence of Hussein's family in the Baghdad area. Other targets that were bombed included the homes of three of Hussein's daughters, Iraqi radio reported.

The Red Cross reported that one person had been killed and 14 injured in the opening attack.

U.S. officials refused to say publicly that the attempt on the lives of Hussein and members of his inner circle was a failure. Rumsfeld told reporters at a morning briefing that the post-attack assessment was incomplete, but Iraqi television said that Hussein had held meetings during the day with aides.

In any event, "his days are numbered," Rumsfeld said. He held out the possibility that an all-out war could still be avoided if Hussein chose to flee his country or was overthrown.

Rumsfeld said he had "good evidence" that there were Iraqis who would help U.S. forces "liberate the country." He refused to elaborate.

Reports of oil fires

In the southern oil fields, there were reports that Iraq had begun setting fire to oilfields. At least three rigs were burning, according to U.S. officials.

The threat of war in the Persian Gulf, and the potential for resulting supply shortages, had sent crude oil prices soaring. Yesterday, the price of oil, after initially rising on news of the oil fires, fell after traders concluded that the damage was minor.

On the diplomatic front, the United States scored a minor victory when Turkey's parliament agreed to allow American aircraft to use their airspace en route to targets in Iraq.

The Bush administration hailed the decision and added the Turkish government to a growing list of nations in the U.S. coalition. However, Turkey has thus far refused to grant a request to allow U.S. warplanes to fly missions from Turkish airbases or to permit some 60,000 American troops to cross Turkish territory and enter northern Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, by far Bush's staunchest ally, said the war that many in his own nation oppose is a necessary one.

"Some say if we act we become a target. The truth is all nations are targets. Bali was never in the front line of action against terrorism. America didn't attack al-Qaida; they attacked America," Blair said in a televised address.

'Ever-growing' coalition

Bush, who remained at the White House throughout the day, spoke briefly with reporters after an afternoon meeting with his Cabinet. He refused to answer questions, including whether he thought Hussein was alive.

The president said the U.S.-led coalition is "ever-growing. ... Over 40 nations now support our efforts."

Rumsfeld tried to rebut the notion that the U.S.-led coalition, known as Operation Iraq Freedom, was the "unilateral action as [it] is being characterized in the media." Instead, he contended, the new coalition "is larger than the coalition that existed during the gulf war in 1991."

But even White House spokesman Ari Fleischer conceded that Bush's father had a more diverse military coalition during Operation Desert Storm. Americans make up roughly 85 percent of the current military force of 300,000, compared with about 75 percent of the coalition in the last war against Iraq.

In addition, other countries, many of them Arab, contributed billions of dollars that largely paid for the U.S. effort in the 1991 gulf war. This time, American taxpayers are expected to foot the bill.

Supporting war

The White House says the number of countries publicly backing military action against Iraq has grown to at least 40. Here is a list of those countries:

Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Britain, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Singapore, Uganda and Uzbekistan

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