The leads show-and-tell the beginning of the much-anticipated “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq, with each paper fronting a photo of massive fireballs lighting the night sky over Baghdad.
About 1,500 bombs and missiles hit targets including Saddam’s palaces, entire rows of government buildings in Baghdad, and the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, and Tikrit. The bombardment was aimed at command and control and communications installations and at the headquarters of the Special Security Service and housing of the elite Republic Guard troops. If you didn’t see the video of the attack on Baghdad on television, read the account of the “almost biblical power” of the American strikes described by the New York Times’ John Burns. The Los Angeles Times cites senior U.S. officials to report that even heavier bombardment is scheduled for today.
American forces are about 100 miles into Iraq, as the papers went to press, and Marines have taken control of the port of Umm Qasr and nearby oil sources. Everyone notes that civilians in an Iraqi village on the border greeted the Americans excitedly and helped them rip down posters of Saddam.
Two marines became the first combat casualties of the war, one trying to take Umm Qasr and the other at the Rumaila oil field.
The papers say the commander of a division guarding the approach to the city of Basra surrendered and so did many of his troops. More surrenders could be on the way: American military officials say they think that the Iraqi command is losing control. “Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country, is slipping away,” said Rumsfeld. The Washington Post reports that the Americans have designated secret safe havens in Baghdad that won’t be bombed for Iraqi defectors to shelter in. Twenty percent of the Republican Guard has defected or will defect, an official at U.S. Central Command told the LAT, basing his estimate on conversations between the Guard commanders and coalition forces. Some Guard commanders are being offered a role in rebuilding the country.
Don’t take those claims at face value, former CIA analyst and advocate of attacking Iraq, Kenneth Pollack, warns the WP. U.S. officials’ emphasis on expected Iraqi defections may be a “gigantic disinformation campaign” to convince Iraqis, including Saddam, that their command structures are falling apart.
Iraq claims it’s in control of the situation: “You will see in the next few days that our victory is certain, certain, certain,” said Iraq’s interior minister in the LAT.
Chair of the Joint Chiefs General Myers said the invasion has been going pretty much according to plan, and so far there’ve been no worst-case scenarios, the WP says. Only 10 out of 1,000 oil wells have been lighted on fire, and no dams have been blown up to slow the U.S. march.
U.S. officials also tell the WP that the Americans have gotten promises from some Iraqi commanders to not use chemical weapons—but not from a Republican Guard unit that the U.S. thinks has them.
Special Operations soldiers took two strategic airfields in western Iraq.
Turkey has sent 1,000-1,500 troops over the border, despite U.S. insistence that it not do so, the papers say. Bush officials say they never gave Turkey the go-ahead to send in troops, says the WP, but Turkey says Powell told them it was OK. The WP wonders if the move is a routine maneuver, since Turkey already maintains up to 5,000 troops in northern Iraq, or something bigger, and the LAT bets that it’s the beginning of a full-scale deployment because the Turkish government said a much larger force was headed in.
The U.S. still can’t confirm what happened to Saddam and his sons. But the NYT today reports what the WP did yesterday, that “United States officials” are “fairly certain” that Saddam and his sons were in the bunker that was hit “during the first hours of the attack” on Thursday morning in Baghdad. Other unnamed countries told the U.S. they have reports that Saddam is dead, says an official in the LAT.
An NYT/CBS poll taken 24 hours after President Bush announced war had begun finds that the president is enjoying a “rally ‘round the flag” effect in the first days of war. Seventy percent of Americans approve of his Iraq policy, up 19 points in 10 days. Ninety-three percent of Republicans said they approved of how Bush is handling Iraq, and only 50 percent of Democrats did.
The papers pick up an AP dispatch saying that two British Navy helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf, and all seven on board, one American and the rest British, are dead. It’s unclear what went wrong, but they weren’t hit by enemy fire.
The papers note that the Dow has high hopes for the Iraq conflict and posted its biggest weekly gain in 20 years, up 8.4 percent.
The only non-Iraq story to make any front (the WP’s): The Senate voted to pass Bush’s tax cut but knocked $100 billion off the $726 billion cut proposal. The House had already passed the president’s tax cut and now it goes to conference.