Freedom fighters

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

The Associated Press

U.S. forces launched their long-awaited war against Saddam Hussein, targeting him personally with a barrage of cruise missiles and bombs as a prelude to invasion. Iraq responded hours later, firing missiles Thursday toward American troops positioned just across its border with Kuwait.

None of the Iraqi missiles caused injuries or damage, and one was intercepted by a Patriot missile, according to U.S. officers. American and British soldiers in the region briefly donned gas masks or protective suits, but officers later said the missiles apparently were not armed with chemical or biological weapons.

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Inside southern Iraq, a helicopter carrying U.S. special forces crashed hours before the U.S. missile strikes, but its crew escaped unharmed, U.S. officials said.

Air raid sirens wailed repeatedly in Kuwait City as officials warned that some Iraqi missiles might be aimed there. U.S. officers reported that a small plane flew from Iraq toward U.S. positions in Kuwait, but crashed en route.

The opening salvo against Saddam was not the expected all-out aerial bombardment, but instead a surgical strike seeking to eliminate the Iraqi leader and his inner circle even before an invasion. Saddam, in a TV appearance that U.S. officials said appeared to be delivered after the attack, assailed it as a "shameful crime," while President Bush said the world's security was at stake.

Bush was awake early, meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at 6 a.m. EST Thursday before heading to the Oval Office less than an hour later. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield planned a morning briefing for reporters.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said the U.S. strikes killed one person, hit a customs office and some empty Iraqi TV buildings, among other targets. There was no way to verify his report.

Fourteen people were treated at local hospitals, but none appeared linked to Saddam, Iraqi doctors said. The wounded reportedly included six members of a suburban Baghdad family who were eating breakfast and were hit by shrapnel, and an Iraqi television journalist.