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Cruise missiles target Saddam

The first of a volley of cruise missiles is launched from the USS Bunker Hill in the Persian Gulf.
The first of a volley of cruise missiles is launched from the USS Bunker Hill in the Persian Gulf.

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U.S. President George W. Bush announces the U.S. and coalition forces opening strike on Iraq.
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USS Donald Cook launches Tomahawk missiles toward Baghdad from its position in the Red Sea.
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Anti-aircraft fire lights up the skies of Baghdad.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN ) -- The U.S.-led attack on Iraq has begun with a volley of cruise missiles that officials say was intended as a "decapitation strike" to take out Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Hours later, Iraqi state TV broadcast a defiant address from the Iraqi leader describing the U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq as "criminal acts," saying his countrymen would be victorious and its enemies humiliated.

Saddam retaliated firing Al Samoud "or other types" of missiles at Kuwait City, the Pentagon said on Thursday. Patriot anti-missile batteries shot down two of the missiles and a small aircraft crossed the Kuwait border from Iraq and went down in line of site of a U.S. Marine unit. (Full story)

Dressed in a military uniform, Saddam said that it was the "duty of all good people ... to protect and defend this dear nation." (Full story)

Saddam gave Thursday's date, March 20, as a sign that his address was recorded after the first attack, although there was no indication as to whether it was taped before or after the cruise missile strike.

Announcing the start of the military campaign shortly after the first strikes, U.S. President George W. Bush said the initial action early Thursday morning was against "selected targets of military importance." (Full story)

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said that one civilian was killed and several more were wounded. Calling the U.S. and Britain, the "international gang of low-lifes," he vowed to turn Iraq into "hell'' for invading American and British forces.

Iraq's information ministry had earlier said 10 Iraqis were killed in the attack but did not specify whether they were military or civilian casualties.

The initial U.S. attack involved more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, as well as F-117 stealth fighters. (Full story)

However, sources have told CNN that a large-scale U.S.-led military operation may still be several hours away.

In his address from the White House, Bush said every effort would be made to safeguard innocent life although the U.S. would use the full force of its military might.

The campaign would be "broad and concerted" he said, and the U.S. would "accept no outcome but victory."

He said the military operation would disarm Iraq, free its people and "defend the world from grave danger."

The first strikes came less than two hours after Bush's deadline expired for Saddam to quit Iraq or face a U.S.-led attack.

Explosions

At around 5:30 a.m. Thursday (0230 GMT), air raid sirens blared throughout the Iraqi capital and were followed by loud bursts of anti-aircraft gunfire and several explosions.

White House sources said the decision to strike came after a nearly four-hour meeting in the Oval Office in which CIA Director George Tenet and Pentagon officials told Bush they could lose the "target of opportunity" if they didn't act quickly; Bush then gave the green light.

An explosion is seen in Baghdad early Thursday.
An explosion is seen in Baghdad early Thursday.

In other developments:

• Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the U.S. to end hostilities against Iraq because it was unjustified and a big political error. If the world submitted to the right of might then no country would be safe, he said.(Full story)

• Turkey's government plans to ask its parliament Thursday to let the United States use Turkish airspace in a war against Iraq. (Full story)

• U.S. military officials tell CNN that Iraqi Republican Guard military units south of Baghdad may be in possession of chemical munitions filled with a form of VX nerve agent as well as mustard gas. (Full story)

• Washington and London have pledged millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to ease the impact of a war with Iraq but faced criticism at the U.N. for abandoning diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. (Full story)

• Seventeen Iraqi soldiers surrendered to U.S. troops Wednesday. They were believed to be the first of their countrymen to give up -- a move the U.S. Air Force has been actively encouraging by showering the Iraqi landscape with more than 2 million leaflets in anticipation of a ground war. (Full story)

• On another front in the U.S. war against terror, about 1,000 U.S. soldiers launched a full-scale operation in southeast Afghanistan, targeting suspected al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists. As the world watched events unfold in Iraq early Thursday morning, "Operation Valiant," began with an air assault just east of Kandahar, army officials confirmed on Thursday. (Full story)

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk


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