President George W. Bush’s ultimatum for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq reached its deadline at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Slightly more than 90 minutes later, war began. Just after 9:30 p.m., air raid sirens sounded over Baghdad and were followed quickly by a spattering of firework-like anti-aircraft fire. Minutes later, jets could be heard overhead, and reports surfaced that American cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs were falling on the city. It was unknown what targets were hit.
At 10:15 p.m., Bush appeared on national television to deliver an address lasting less than five minutes. Bush confirmed that hostilities had begun, and said the attacks were against selected targets and intended to “reduce (Iraq’s) ability to make war,” meaning they are precursors to a full-scale invasion.
Bush quickly turned his attention toward American troops in the field. Again refuting accusations from Hussein that the United States is the aggressor, Bush said the entire coalition is acting in the “common defense” of the world.
“The peace of a troubled world and the hope of an oppressed people rest on you,” Bush said to soldiers.
Bush said he believes Hussein will use Iraqi citizens as human shields during the conflict. He described the tactic as “a final atrocity against his people.”
“Coalition forces will make every effort to spare (the innocent) from harm,” Bush said.
Bush said he has begun to fight with reluctance. He said the attack is not directed at Iraqi citizens. He promised to liberate those citizens and said the United States has respect for Iraqi religion and culture.
“(The United States) has no ambition in Iraq except to remove the threat and restore (governmental control) to its citizens,” Bush said. “We will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime.”
Bush warned that the war may not be as quick as some have speculated. He said forces may have to remain in the country for some time. But, Bush said, he will accept no outcome short of a full victory.
“We will prevail,” he said.
At about 12:30 a.m., Hussein responded to Bush. He encouraged Iraqis to “draw your sword” and “keep the fire on.
“The criminal junior Bush comitted, he and his aides, this … shameful crime against Iraq,” Hussein said.
Hussein told Iraqis that this war is their chance at dignity.
“You notice how Bush, the careless, underestimated your values … he committed this shameful crime today,” Hussein said. “Your enemies will be in humiliation and defeat, God willing.”
Wednesday’s attacks were carried out by Air Force stealth bombers. An unknown number of explosions were reported, highlighted by a fireball that appeared in the southern part of the city. Reports varied in the number of missiles launched at Baghdad, most putting the figure between 30 and 40.
Plane activity was also reported in northern Iraq near Kurdish territory. The attacks in Baghdad ended quickly, before the president came on the air.
Questions immediately surfaced as to the timing of Wednesday’s attacks. Baghdad did not come under attack until minutes before daylight, an unusual time for strikes to begin. Also, the initial attack was not a sustained pounding, as had been anticipated.
The reason, reports say, is that “time-sensitive” targets were struck, meaning that they were directed at specific people or targets that may be moved from their current locations. Reportedly the attacks were directed at Hussein.
Reports say that traffic in Baghdad is light and many businesses are closed. After the attack, Iraqi television broadcast the message, “It’s an inferno that awaits them.” Numerous troops have reportedly taken up defensive positions throughout the city.
Meanwhile, some 300,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft are poised for invasion.