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U.S., Britain pummel Iraq as `shock and awe' phase begins

SHORISH, Iraq—The United States and Britain pummeled Iraq with fusillades of missiles and waves of bombs Friday as the Pentagon's "shock and awe" phase of the war blasted hundreds of targets with immense force.

On the ground, an entire division of Iraqi soldiers—at least 6,000 regular army troops—surrendered to the U.S. Marines in southern Iraq, officials said.

As "shock and awe" began, explosions rocked Baghdad, a city of 5 million people, and the northern cities of Kirkuk, Tikrit and Mosul. Thunderous air strikes stunned other cities. Iraq's elite Republican Guard forces reportedly suffered casualties.

The Pentagon said more than 1,500 missiles and bombs rained down. "I'd like to put my name on one of them," said a crew member on the USS Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier that launched warplanes.

Much of central Baghdad's governmental sector—including Saddam Hussein's sprawling presidential palace compound along the Tigris River—was ablaze, and huge columns of smoke rose over the city.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British ground forces plowed deeper through southern Iraq, meeting sporadic resistance as they pushed more than 100 miles beyond the Kuwait border, according to the Pentagon. They captured the rich Rumeila oil field, the key port of Umm Qasr and two important airfields in western Iraq.

They also seized the strategic crossroads town of Safwan, where U.S. Marines stripped huge posters of Saddam off the sides of buildings as some residents cheered.

U.S. officials said Marine commanders accepted the surrender of the 51st Iraqi Infantry Division near the southern city of Basra. An Iraqi division usually has 6,000 to 8,000 troops.

"Clearly, we're moving towards our objectives, but we must not get too comfortable," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon. "We're basically on our plan and moving towards Baghdad, but there are still many unknowns out there."

The advances came at a cost, as the first American combat casualties were reported: Two Marines were killed Friday in the battle for control of the southern Iraq oil fields.

The U.S.-led coalition also opened its assault on northern Iraq, striking Mosul, Dohuk and the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. A Knight Ridder reporter in Shorish, 20 miles north of Kirkuk, heard explosions echo from the hills and saw the streaking red tracers of antiaircraft fire.

"We will stay on target until we achieve our mission, which is to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and free the Iraqi people," President Bush said before he left Washington to spend the weekend at Camp David.

The Pentagon described "shock and awe" as one of the most ferocious barrages in history—and the most precise. Planners called Friday "A-Day," the real start of the air war, and it began shortly before 9 p.m. in Iraq (1 p.m. EST).

"This is not an attack on the Iraqi people," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "It's not an attack on the country of Iraq. It's an attack on a regime that has refused to disarm peacefully."

He said Saddam and his top aides were "starting to lose control of their country."

No new word emerged on the fate of Saddam, who was believed to have been inside a presidential compound struck by missiles during the war's opening round. Some analysts speculated that he was incapacitated or even dead; others doubted it.

At least one of Saddam's main palaces was blasted by Friday's attacks. Other Baghdad targets included the prime minister's office and the cabinet's building.

Rumsfeld said he does not know if Saddam remains in control of Iraq, but signs suggest the Iraqi leadership is in disarray.

"Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away," Rumsfeld said. "They're beginning to realize, I suspect, that the regime is history. "

The beginning of the much-anticipated "shock and awe" campaign was partially intended to reinforce ongoing U.S. efforts to arrange the surrender of Republican Guard commanders, according to Bush administration officials.

"We have been issuing, through a variety of methods, communications urging the Iraq military to surrender, and apparently what we have done thus far has not been sufficiently persuasive," Rumsfeld said.

In southern Iraq, long columns of Abrams tanks, armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles and support trucks raised huge clouds of sand that browned the sky. Many Iraqi soldiers surrendered to allied forces or were captured.

"A lot of people just leave and melt into the countryside," Rumsfeld said.

Coalition ships intercepted and boarded three Iraqi tugboats in the Khawr Abd Allah, a waterway near the southeast port of Umm Qasr. They found weapons, uniforms and more than 130 mines, Myers said.

Now in allied hands, Umm Qasr processes 60 percent of Iraq's food imports and much of its oil exports.

When minesweepers clear the sea route to Umm Qasr, it will be used to bring in humanitarian aid. "Our naval vessels are being extra vigilant to ensure the Iraqi navy has not placed any mines in international waters," Myers said.

Military officials said one of the Marines who died Friday was killed during a firefight near Umm Qasr, the other as he was leading his platoon in a battle with Iraqi infantry to capture an oil-pumping station. The Pentagon withheld their names.

U.S. officials also lowered the death toll in an earlier crash of a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter in Kuwait. They said four U.S. and eight British Marines died in that crash, which was caused by mechanical failure. Originally, 16 were believed killed.

Military officials said Patriot missiles shot down two more Iraqi missiles over Kuwait, bringing to nine the missiles fired by Iraq. The missiles have caused no casualties and little damage.

No U.S. or British unit has reported any contact with chemical or biological weapons. About 300,000 allied forces—about 250,000 of them Americans—are participating in the war.

U.S. military officials had said they planned to unleash during the war's opening days 10 times the destructive power employed during the initial phase of the first Persian Gulf war in 1991. Residents of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities felt that power Friday night.

In northern Iraq, Barham Salih, a rebel leader of the Kurds, said the U.S. missile attack on Kirkuk struck the headquarters of an elite Republican Guard division.

"We have heard reports of significant casualties among Iraqi military personnel," he said.

About 1,000 Turkish troops moved into northern Iraq, despite U.S. opposition to such an incursion. The Turkish government said more troops would flow across the border to prevent Iraqi Kurds from creating an independent state.

The doctrine of shock and awe, as defined by one of its founders, former Under Secretary of Defense James P. Wade Jr., calls for unrelenting pressure on the enemy that escalates hour by hour, day by day.

The United States had to ratchet up the physical and psychological "stress" over a sustained period, Wade said.

The doctrine holds that the enemy eventually will become so confused, so worn out, so shell-shocked, that it will give up.

On the ground, U.S. forces seized two important airfields in far western Iraq, the only part of the country from which Iraqi missiles are capable of reaching Israel. Known as H-2 and H-3, the fields were taken without much resistance.

It was an important victory, largely because Saddam was believed to have based Scud missiles there.

Though many U.S. units reported little or no resistance, British officers said some Iraqi troops, recently reinforced with officers loyal to Saddam, offered considerable opposition. Tank battles and small weapons firefights flared in several places.

In other action, U.S. Navy SEALs seized an oil-pumping facility and two offshore tanker terminals in al Faw after 90 minutes of fighting to block Iraqi forces from opening the taps into the Persian Gulf.

In northern Iraq, it appeared that antiaircraft fire came not only from Kirkuk but also from oil fields northwest and southeast of the city.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops from the 1st Corps of the Iraqi Army and one Republic Guard division defend Kirkuk. Three concentric rings of Iraqi forces surround the city, their miles of trench lines and well-fortified bunkers bristling with antiaircraft artillery and mortars.

Kirkuk is a major target of the U.S. assault on northern Iraq because it sits atop one of the country's largest oil deposits. U.S. troops are expected to make an air assault on the oil fields to secure them against sabotage and to prevent ethnic fighting among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

On Friday, a Knight Ridder reporter and a group of rebel Kurdish fighters crept close to Iraqi lines. They saw Iraqi troops standing atop their bunkers and the berms around their fighting positions, relaxing and soaking up the sun.


(Landay reported from Shorish in northern Iraq, Infield and Merzer from Washington. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Sandy Bauers aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean; Drew Brown with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in southern Iraq; Jessica Guynn at the Pentagon; Diego Ibarguen at the White House; Carol Rosenberg in Jerusalem; Peter Smolowitz in Qatar; and Juan O. Tamayo with the Marines' 1st Expeditionary Force in southern Iraq contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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