Bombs over Baghdad |

Bombs over Baghdad

— The United States launched a ferocious, around-the-clock aerial assault on military targets in Baghdad and other cities on Friday and invading ground troops penetrated 100 miles into Iraq. Fires lit the night sky over the capital as bombs struck.

Coalition commanders accepted the surrender of the 8,000-member 51st Iraqi Infantry Division near the southern city of Basra, officials said, and U.S. and British troops encountered little resistance as they seized Iraq’s only port city and moved to secure key oil fields.

Other units moved into western airfield complexes where Iraq was believed to have Scud missiles capable of reaching Israel, and possibly weapons of mass destruction as well.

”We’re going at it hammer and tongs,” said Capt. Mark Fox, back aboard the USS Constellation after a bombing run that was part of a widely heralded Pentagon effort to ”shock and awe” the Iraqis.

Military commanders reported that two Marines were killed by enemy fire, the first coalition combat deaths in the 3-day old Operation Iraqi Freedom. One died trying to secure an oil pumping station; the other fell in the battle for Umm Qasr, the port city taken after a fight.

Iraqi troops surrendered in large numbers — some so eagerly that they turned themselves in to journalists accompanying American forces. But the regime gave no clear sign of quitting.

Asked whether Iraqis plan a counterattack, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said, ”Our leadership and our armed forces will decide this, in what guarantees the defeat of those mercenaries, God willing.”

”This criminal (Bush) in the White House is a stupid criminal,” he added.

There was continued debate among U.S. intelligence officials over the fate of Saddam, and whether he had been wounded or even killed in a Wednesday night strike on a building in Baghdad.

Whether or not Saddam was alive, U.S. intelligence officials said the Iraqi command and control system was in disarray, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, ”The regime is starting to lose control of their country.”

The aerial onslaught was designed to accelerate that.

The U.S. Central Command, which is running the war, said the targets included military command and control installations and buildings in and around Baghdad, as well as targets in the northern cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown.

One senior defense official said U.S. and British warplanes flying from more than 30 bases would fly about 1,500 strike missions during the first 24 hours of the accelerated campaign. Plans called for the launch of nearly 1,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

After weeks of delay, Turkey relented and agreed to let combat aircraft fly over their territory. At the same time, however, Turkey sent 1,000 troops into northern Iraq, and the government said it would send more to prevent Iraqi Kurds from creating an independent state.

The United States strongly opposes any unilateral move by Turkey into northern Iraq.

Explosions shook downtown Baghdad as cruise missiles found their targets and warplanes dropped bombs over the capital city.

Fires raged inside Saddam Hussein’s Old Palace compound and thick smoke from blossoming mushroom clouds enveloped the Iraqi capital.

In Washington, President Bush said, ”We’re making progress” toward the goal of liberating Iraq. Before heading to Camp David for the weekend.

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