Baghdad Feels the Power of ′Shock and Awe′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.03.2003
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Baghdad Feels the Power of 'Shock and Awe'

The U.S. military unleashed a barrage of 320 cruise missiles on the Iraqi capital on Friday night. The attack left city residents dazed and worried.


Direct hit: A building explodes on Friday night in Baghdad.

The U.S.military kept its promise to Saddam Hussein on Friday night.

"So this is what they meant by shock and awe," a hotel driver said on Saturday. "It is shocking and awesome. They meant what they said."

He was referring to the rain of earth-shaking explosives that hit the Iraqi capital throughout the night during the most devastating attack yet of the three-day war. In all, allied ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea fired 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles in the strike. The Pentagon said the raids were one element in its much-publicized "shock- and-awe" campaign, a series of attacks that was to include several hundred targets hit by as many as 1,500 bombs and missiles.

The attacks destroyed two Iraqi palaces and the intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, reportedly injured 200 people, and left Baghdad residents wondering about their fate. "What have we done to deserve all this? We have been living in wars for over 20 years," said Jihad Hashem, a technician. "We have paid dearly for something we haven't done."

Troops rushing toward Baghdad

The air punch was delivered as the ground war unfolded in two separate areas.

U.S. armored columns had pushed up to 125 miles (200 km)north in their drive toward Baghdad by Saturday morning, Reuters journalists with U.S. forces said. One armored column headed through the western desert and another ran into opposition near Nassiriya, a city on the Euphrates River.

"Everything has gone according to plan. We're on schedule for what we want to do," a U.S. Marine officer said.

USA Panzer in der Wüste an der Grenze zu Irak

Bradley fighting vehicles

The Marines have taken a large swathe of southern Iraq to the west of the Euphrates River. They are working together with elements of the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division, which had surged 100 miles (160 km) through the desert heading straight for the elite Republican Guard around Baghdad.

Some of the Marines said the trip had been the most arduous journey they had undertaken. Crammed 15 to 20 in the back of tracked, armored vehicles, they had to sit for hours coated in dust swirling through the hatches from the desert outside.

"It was long and rough, very rough. My feet fell asleep every two minutes and I had to keep standing up and sitting down to bring them back to life," said Lance Corporal Nathan Magnus.

Forces try to secure port

To the south, coalition forces focused on the region's biggest city, Basra, and the port of Umm Qasr.

U.S. Marines said on Saturday that their tanks were battling Iraqi forces defending Basra, Iraq's principal access to the Persian Gulf. "We are attacking Iraqi forces, all of which are west of Basra," Capt. Andrew Bergen said. "I would certainly say it's a major battle."

But a British military spokesman said the U.S.-led forces were attempting to negotiate a surrender of the city. "We would rather use negotiation rather than military muscle to achieve any success," said Group Capt. Al Lockwood, the main spokesman at the Qatar command headquarters of U.S. and British forces in the Gulf.

Along the roadside near Basra, a few children waved; others patted their stomachs or lifted their hands to their mouths, signaling hunger.

U.S. and British commanders said their troops had captured many key facilities in Iraq's southern oil fields during the push, saving them from possible sabotage and ensuring their use for the country's postwar reconstruction. Iraq sabotaged nine oil wells of about 500 in a southern area of Rumaila as U.S.-led forces invaded on Thursday, Gen. Vince Brooks said on Saturday.

"On the whole, the oil infrastructure appears pretty much intact, beyond the odd bit where they managed to do some damage," said Maj. Charlie Eastwood of the British 7th Armored Brigade.

Fighting also continued in Umm Qasr. A British military spokesman said the city was largely under coalition control but there was "still resistance in some parts."

Umm Qasr has been handling vessels carrying in food and other vital necessities under the UN-administered oil-for-food program. Lockwood called it "a big stepping stone in our humanitarian effort to bring supplies of food and medicine to the people of Iraq."

Iraqi soldiers giving up

Irakische Soldaten kapitulieren

Iraqi soldiers surrender

The drive proceeded as Iraqi forces began to disintegrate. The commander of Iraq's 51st Division surrendered in the Basra area on Friday, U.S. officials said. Then, about 8,000 of his troops laid down their weapons and turned over their 200 tanks. The surrendering soldiers were not the fabled Republican Guardsmen who anchor Saddam's defense. For the most part, these were rag-tag soldiers, many of them draftees, often in T-shirts. Their small arms could accomplish little against opposing forces wielding 21st century weaponry.

The 3rd Infantry Division had similar success, said Capt. Andrew Valles, a spokesman. Thousands of soldiers from Iraq's 11th Division gave up after a fight near the Euphrates, he said.

The British newspaper The Times also reported on Saturday that some Iraqi soldiers had shot their officers in order to surrender.

Turkey creates a complication

While the U.S.-led war proceeded in the south, it faced a possible complication in the north. News agencies reported that about 1,500 Turkish troops entered into northern Iraq just before midnight, a move made against the will of the Bush administration. Just a few hours earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül warned that Turkish troops would soon be entering Iraq in order to prevent a flood of refugees and to prevent "terrorist activities."

On Saturday, Kurdish sources in the area said they could not confirm the troop movements.

Northern Iraq is populated mostly by autonomous Kurds, and Turkey fears they may attempt to create a Kurdish state that could destabilize parts of Turkey.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he was pleased with the course of the war. "The confusion of the Iraqi officials is growing," he said on Friday. "Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away."

Nonetheless, Saddam has not given up the fight. According to Iraqi television, Saddam has promised coalition soldiers that they will be treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions if they are captured. He also has promised to pay rewards to soldiers who join the fight. Any soldier who downs a coalition plane stands to gain 100 million dinar (about €31,000 on the black market). A soldier who captures an enemy soldier will get 50 million dinar and one who kills an enemy solider 25 million.

Second crash kills seven British troops

The latest attack came as the coalition suffered another fatal helicopter accident, its most serious source of casualties since the conflict began early Thursday. Two British Sea King helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf early Saturday, killing seven crewmembers, British officials said. The Sea King is a multi-purpose helicopter that can be used to track submarines, haul cargo or provide search and rescue support.

On Friday, eight British and four U.S. Marines died when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed about nine miles south of the Iraqi border town of Umm Qasr. Military officials said no hostile fire was reported in the area. The Marines use the Sea Knight to provide all-weather, day-or-night assault transport of combat troops, supplies and equipment.

Two other U.S. Marines were killed in action on Friday.

In other developments:

  • Turkey opened its airspace to U.S. military aircraft on Friday evening.
  • The United States will allow the opposition to rule Iraq after Saddam is deposed rather than installing a U.S. military administration, according to the main Shiite Muslim opposition group.
  • Saudi newspapers hit out Saturday at a "handful of maniacs" in the United States and Britain who ordered a war of destruction against Iraq.

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