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Massive firestorm targets Iraqi leadership

Iraqi division commander surrenders to Marines

Truman
A fighter plane launches Friday from the USS Harry S. Truman en route to a strike against Iraq.

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'A-Day' begins in Baghdad on Friday with a massive bombing campaign.
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Video from Iraqi Television of rubble from Saddam's destroyed 'Peace Palace.'
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Coalition troops liberate Iraqis in Safwan, southern Iraq (March 21)
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CNN's Martin Savidge reports on crossing into southern Iraq with the U.S. Marines.
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PENTAGON BRIEFING

Campaign to hit several hundred military targets

More than 1,000 sorties flown

Campaign to involve more than 1,500 bombs and missiles

U.S. Marines secure the port city of Umm Qasr

Source: Pentagon

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. forces plan to drop more than 1,500 bombs and missiles across Iraq in the first 24 hours of its "shock and awe" campaign that began Friday, Pentagon officials said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the air campaign had shaken up the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which he said is "starting to lose control of their country."

"The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing. "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 the bombing was stepped up Friday after senior Iraqi officers failed to turn against Saddam following initial U.S. airstrikes Thursday, including one aimed at Saddam himself, and a U.S. and British invasion of southern Iraq.

"What we've done so far has not been sufficiently persuasive," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said he did not know the fate of Saddam or whether leadership had changed hands, saying he only had "scraps of information."

A top Iraqi military commander along with his top deputy and thousands of their troops surrendered Friday to U.S. troops, Pentagon officials said.

The commander was in charge of Iraq's 51st Division, a regular army unit deployed in southern Iraq directly in the path of the allied invasion. (Full story)

CNN has learned that CIA operatives, U.S. military officials and senior members of the Iraq Republican Guard are involved in negotiations aimed at achieving a peaceful Iraqi surrender. (Full story)

In the first strike against Iraq Wednesday night, coalition forces targeted a residential compound in Baghdad where Saddam, his sons and other top officials may have been hiding, according to U.S. officials. An intelligence service headquarters and Republican Guard facility in the city were also hit.

"There's no question but that strike on that leadership headquarters was successful," Rumsfeld said. "We have photographs of what took place. The question is, What was in there."

In an attempt to convince the world that Saddam survived the bombing, Iraqi state television broadcast pictures of what it said was the Iraqi leader meeting Friday with his son Qusay. (Full story)

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, however, the U.S. has "no concrete facts" to indicate Saddam or his sons survived the airstrikes.

Punishing air attacks

The punishing air attacks rocked the Baghdad night Friday with thunderous explosions that filled the skies with flames and huge clouds of smoke.

The massive Republican Palace complex along the winding Tigris River apparently took the brunt of the first wave.

Heavy bombing also hit Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's ancestral home, and shook the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. At least 20 major blasts were heard in the Kirkuk area alone.

Senior Defense Department officials said the campaign is using exclusively satellite precision-guided munitions. One of the weapons is a new 2,000-pound bomb designed to limit collateral damage for optimal use in an urban environment.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said coalition warplanes had flown more than 1,000 sorties and "dropped scores of precision-guided munitions" on Iraqi military targets so far.

Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf said Friday night's airstrikes had seriously damaged Baghdad's "Peace Palace" and called the U.S.-led coalition arrayed against Iraq "mercenaries."

The Peace Palace is used for visiting dignitaries. Al-Sahaf said the "Flowers Palace" -- a museum that once was a palace for the king during the days of royal rule -- also was hit.

'A huge wave of steel'

Meanwhile, coalition forces continued to make gains on the ground. Meyers said coalition troops already had traveled 100 miles inside Iraq from Kuwait.

One caravan of Bradley fighting vehicles and M1A1 Abrams and other vehicles was heading unimpeded toward Baghdad in what CNN Correspondent Walter Rodgers described as "a huge wave of steel" that stretched for 20 miles.

Smoke rises over Baghdad on Friday evening at about 9 p.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), amid a barrage of airstrikes.
Smoke rises over Baghdad on Friday evening at about 9 p.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), amid a barrage of airstrikes.

Rodgers, who is accompanying the 3rd Squadron of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, lead element of the 3rd Infantry Division, said the U.S. forces could reach Baghdad in two to four days. (Slide show, On the scene)

U.S. Navy SEALs and coalition special forces troops seized two major gas and oil terminals in the northern Persian Gulf, Myers said.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and coalition troops secured the port city of Umm Qasr in the Faw Peninsula and the main oil manifolds along the waterways there. (Full story)

Marines en route to the oil fields near Basra passed homes and office buildings displaying white flags and returned the friendly waves of villagers, according to a CNN reporter traveling with them. (On the Scene)

One U.S. Marine was killed during the oil field operation, becoming the first coalition combat fatality of the war, Marine officials said. The Marine was based at Camp Pendleton, California. A second Marine was killed during the fight for Umm Qasr.

Troops of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division followed other allied forces into Iraq, entering from Kuwait to little resistance Friday.

U.S. and British troops also seized two strategically important airfields in western Iraq during lightning raids, a senior U.S. military official said.

The two airfields, known as H-2 and H-3, are considered important to the continued military operation inside Iraq. U.S. intelligence suspects the H-3 field may be a weapons of mass destruction site, according to an informed official.

Other developments

Iraqi state television broadcast pictures of what it says is President Saddam Hussein meeting Friday with his son Qusay.
Iraqi state television broadcast pictures of what it says is President Saddam Hussein meeting Friday with his son Qusay.

More than 1,000 Turkish troops were reported late Friday crossing the border into northern Iraq. A Turkish military press attache would neither confirm nor deny the report. A senior U.S. State Department official said officials were not notified of any troop movements and considered the issue to be "still under discussion."

Tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo, Egypt, pelted police with rocks and vowed to burn down the U.S. Embassy and kick out the ambassador. Riot police used batons and water cannon to disperse the crowds. Protesters also hit the street in Jordan, Yemen and Lebanon, venting their rage against the United States and its allies. (Full story)

Australian-led coalition forces captured an Iraqi tugboat that apparently was preparing to lay sea mines in the Persian Gulf, said Brig. Maurie McNarn, the top Australian military official in the U.S.-led coalition. McNarn said Australian soldiers have been involved with several firefights with Iraqis. (Full story)

A U.S. Marine CH-46 helicopter crashed in northern Kuwait early Friday morning, killing all 12 people on board -- eight British military personnel and four American crew members, Pentagon officials said. The accident took place about nine miles south of the Iraqi border. (Full story)

Iraqi authorities Friday expelled CNN's four journalists from Baghdad effective immediately, said CNN Chief News Executive Eason Jordan. The CNN team planned to leave for the Jordanian border at the first opportunity, Jordan said.

U.S. military planners are devising strategies in case the Iraqi military triggers a flood of the Tigris River, the Pentagon said Friday. If the Iraqi military was to release water into the Tigris from upstream reservoirs, extensive flooding could occur between Baghdad and Kut, displacing thousands of Iraqis. (Full story)

Umm Qasr was a main port for the United Nations' oil for food program, which used proceeds from oil sales to provide food for Iraqis. The U.S.-led coalition expects to be able to start using the port to bring in humanitarian aid within a few days, officials said.

A rocket hit an oil refinery Friday in Iran close to its border with Iraq, injuring one person, but it was not known where the rocket came from, Iranian government sources told CNN.

CNN correspondents Walter Rodgers, Martin Savidge, Rym Brahimi, Ryan Chilcote, Christiane Amanpour, Diana Muriel David Ensor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, John King, Nic Robertson, Barbara Starr, Chris Plante, Jason Bellini and Lisa Rose Weaver, and CNN Radio Correspondent John Bisney contributed to this report.

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


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