U.S. targets leaders in first strike on Iraq

Though not the “shock and awe” campaign touted by military planners, the United States began its war with Iraq by trying to kill senior Iraqi leaders last night (local time) in a raid by stealth aircraft and cruise missiles that President Bush said presaged a decisive war against an outlaw regime.

U.S. officials said the initial attack on Baghdad and its environs was aimed at the most senior elements of the Iraqi leadership who had been pinpointed by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Results of the strike were not immediately known.

“On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war,” Bush said in an address to the nation from the Oval Office. “These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.”

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, dressed in a military uniform for the first time since the Persian Gulf War of 1991, appeared on state television three hours after the raid, saying Bush had committed a crime against humanity.

It was unclear if the broadcast was live or taped, or even if it was actually Hussein, who is known to employ the use of body doubles.

A senior official said the limited raid had been planned all along.

Another official said one of the targets was a residence – not a palace – on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital.

“I would caution you against reporting that this was just a random target of opportunity” discovered at the last minute, the official said.

“There are a number of activities that will take place in the days ahead and some of them will not be visible,” said another officials.

An Iraqi official in Baghdad said the first wave of U.S. attacks had targeted “military positions and facilities.”

He declined to provide further information.

Developments at press time included reports of large explosions and anti-aircraft fire in Baghdad, oil wells on fire in southern Iraq and U.S. marines crossing the border from Kuwait into Iraq.

Just hours before the United States made its first military strike against Iraq, Washington Gov. Gary Locke Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to emergency preparedness, highlighting how the state’s security efforts dovetail with that of the Homeland Security Department.

“We remain vigilant in keeping our emergency preparedness levels high and our citizens protected,” Locke said at a news conference in Olympia. “As a state with foreign borders, accessible by various modes of transportation and with a number of critical facilities, we understand the preparedness efforts required by Operation Liberty Shield.”

In Tacoma, people can expect tightened security at government buildings such as the County-City Building and federal courthouse at Union Station, as well as the Port of Tacoma and nearby military installations, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base.

Unveiled Monday by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Operation Liberty Shield is a comprehensive national security plan designed to protect U.S. citizens and infrastructure.