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"Shock and Awe" Strikes Pound Iraq

Giant fireballs and deafening explosions rocked the Iraqi capital as American and British forces unleashed a crippling aerial assault on Baghdad Friday night. Ground troops have thrust deep into Iraqi territory.

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A government building in Baghdad blazes after heavy bombardment.

The Pentagon confirmed Friday that the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign on Iraq had started, as anti-aircraft fire was heard over Baghdad and huge explosions rocked the Iraqi capital and the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. Witnesses reported that fires were raging at Saddam Hussein's presidential palace on the banks of the Tigris River.

U.S. officials said Friday that several hundred targets would be hit in the coming hours with as many as 1,500 bombs and missiles. Up to this point, U.S. and British aircraft have flown more than 1,000 sorties, and more than 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been fired.

Washington's closest ally in the war, Britain, issued a statement through its Defense Ministry aimed at assuaging fears of civilian casualties through the massive bombardment. "It is carefully targeted to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure," the statement read.

Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the campaign was going well. "We're making progress," he said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the intent of the massive attack was to "end the regime of Saddam Hussein by striking with force on a scope and scale that make clear to Iraqis that he and his regime are finished." The Iraqi government, he said, was "starting to lose control of their country."

By early Saturday morning, ground forces had already pushed more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) into Iraq, facing little resistance along the way. Officials also confirmed that more than 8,000 soldiers had surrendered along with their commander from the Iraqi 51st Division as British and American troops approached Iraq's second-largest city in the south, Basra, which is protected by the elite soldiers of Saddam's Republican Guard.

Turkish troops enter Northern Iraq

But the war effort suffered an apparent setback on Friday after Turkish troops entered into Northern Iraq. Reuters and other news agencies reported that 1,500 Turkish troops entered into Northern Iraq just before midnight from the Turkish provinces of Silopi und Hakkari, a move made against the will of the Bush administration in Washington. 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." Northern Iraq is populated mostly by autonomous Kurds, and Turkey fears they may attempt to create a Kurdish state, which could destabilize parts of Turkey.

Unconfirmed reports of Iraqi leader's death

British and U.S. officials said they were unable to confirm a media report that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was killed or injured in the first air strike on Baghdad.

Britain's defense chief, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, told BBC Television: "I'm certainly unaware of Saddam Hussein's status at the moment." U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld said he wasn't sure whether Saddam was still in control of Iraq, although he maintained that the Iraqi regime was beginning to lose control. Sky News reported that American intelligence reports stated that the Iraqi leadership had begun to act strangely, fuelling the speculation.

Iraqi officials rebuffed speculation their leader had been killed, saying Hussein was safe after two nights of U.S.-led strikes on Baghdad aimed at Iraqi leaders. Hussein last appeared on Iraqi television early on Thursday as the strikes began.

As bombs rained down, Iraqi officials expelled the Atlanta-based Cable News Network, CNN, on Friday. An Iraqi official said the channel had been ordered to leave, "because they have become a propaganda tool to spread lies and rumors."

British aim for Basra

On the ground, British troops aimed to seize control of the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Friday night. Earlier, Marines from both the United States and Britain captured the port of Umm Qasr after a combined attack from air, sea and land. A large body of troops was continuing to push east towards Basra, leaving the Stars and Stripes flying over the occupied city.

In other developments:

  • Turkey opened its airspace to U.S. military aircraft late on Friday evening, enabling U.S. planes to fly over Turkey for operations in northern Iraq.
    • In the west, U.S. Marines have taken control of two important airfields and overrun a third, thought to be a suspected weapons of mass destruction site, according to a CNN report.
      • Troops also captured oil fields located to the west of Basra.
        • Coalition forces have taken hundreds of Iraqi soldiers prisoners and naval forces have seized Iraqi vessels carrying mines. Earlier, 200 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to U.S. Marines and British troops have begun to encounter groups of defectors carrying U.S leaflets urging them to surrender.
          • Coalition casualties rise to 18, after U.S. and British forces died when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Kuwait. Two marines, as yet unnamed, have also been killed in action.
            • Two protesters, including an 11-year-old boy, were killed by police as an anti-war demonstration near the U.S. embassy in Yemen grew violent. Mass demonstrations in support of Saddam and against the U.S. and British-led war efffort were also held in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria and in the West Bank.
              • International aid agencies say they are preparing to build two new camps in Syria to home Iraqis fleeing from the war.
                • The Pentagon released satellite images indicating that as many as three to four oil fields had been set on fire in Iraq near its border with Kuwait.

                  Compiled by DW-WORLD staff from newswire material.