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War in Iraq: SADDAM TARGETED IN CRUISE STRIKES.

Byline: Laura Nicklin, Sian Harris, Anna Hammond and Louise Day

PRESIDENT George Bush launched his war on Iraq today with an attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein.

As dawn rose on Baghdad, more than 40 cruise missiles began raining down on the city, heralding the start of a conflict the US President said would result in the end of the Iraqi dictatorship.

In response, reports from Kuwait said two Iraqi missiles - ``not carrying any unconventional warheads'' - had struck the border area.

Just hours before the attack, it has been claimed the CIA told President Bush that it had a fix on Saddam Hussein's location.

The claim has been supported by Britain's Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

Interviewed on GMTV, Mr Hoon said that the missile strikes were only the ``preliminary stages'' of military operations.

When asked whether Saddam was the specific target of the attacks, Mr Hoon said: ``What I can confirm is that the leadership of Iraq are clearly part of the reason why Iraq is a threat to the wider world.

``It is the leadership in Iraq which controls Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. And that is what we are trying to deal with.''

Air raid sirens followed by a series of explosions were heard in Baghdad just after 2.30am UK time, some 90 minutes after President Bush's deadline for Saddam to leave Iraq expired.

The Iraqi dictator refused to leave the country despite being offered asylum in Saudi Arabia yesterday. British military commanders reporting from the Gulf today said there had been no order for British troops to begin attacks.

Forty-five minutes after the attack began, President Bush made a television address to the American people. He said: ``I assure you this will not be a campaign of half-measures and we will accept no outcome but victory.''

US officials said the initial attack, involving cruise missiles and F-117 stealth fighter bombers armed with precision bombs, was aimed directly at the Iraqi leadership.

President Bush had previously warned Saddam to flee Iraq or face the consequences by 1am today.

While they waited for President Bush and Tony Blair to give the orders to attack, many of Saddam's soldiers appeared to be ready to give up without a fight.

Intelligence reports from inside Iraq spoke of mass desertions, with many thousands of troops planning to surrender when the war started. Prime Minister Tony Blair was today briefing the War Cabinet on the start of long-awaited military action.

Mr Blair was chairing a pre-planned 8.30am meeting of Cabinet ministers most closely concerned with the Iraqi crisis - Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, International Development Secretary Clare Short and Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Britons around the world have been warned they face a heightened risk of terrorist attacks during military action against Iraq and the Foreign Office issued urgent new travel advice.''

Ray Davies, Chairman of Stop the War Coalition in South Wales, said: ``History will condemn Tony Blair and the Labour government for taking this country down the illlegal path to war.

``The South Wales coalition is calling on every man woman and child to add their voices to the protests against the war.''

CAPTION(S):

CONTACT A BBC camera captures the moment one of the American Tomahawk cruise missiles explodes on a
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Mar 20, 2003
Words:550
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Next Article:War in Iraq: Bush acts: `Decapitation' blow for Saddam.


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