'SHOCK AND AWE!'
American Reporter Staff
Los Angeles, Calif.
BAGHDAD, March 22, 2003, 2:45am -- In a blinding series of bomb blasts the Gulf War II coalition unleashed the promised "shock and awe" campaign Friday morning, even as the U.S. reported its first in-combat casualties, encountered the first significant resistance, and an Iraqi division leader surrendered to the Marines as they pushed towards Iraq's capital.
"This is 'shock and awe,' Tom. Shock and awe!" exclaimed Peter Arnett of National Geographic in Baghdad to NBC's Tom Brokaw in New York.
"It was a spectacular light show, but grounded in the fact that they are shooting at you," said one pilot interviewed by CNN aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln as he returned from a bombing run.
The bombs started falling about 9pm Baghdad time, and the barrage lasted for about five minutes. There was "heavy fire" from anti-aircraft batteries on the ground but all U.S. F-117E Stealth bombers, B-52s and other coalition aircraft returned safely ground bases in Britain and to U.S. carriers in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
The planes launched from two carriers in the Mediterranean were forced to return to their ships, however, as confusion broke out over what overflight rights had been granted by Turkey yesterday to coalition aircraft that might use its air space. That issue was clarified to all sides' satisfaction later Friday evening.
More than 1,500 bombs were loosed on the Iraqi capital and the cities of Kirkuk, Mosul and Tikrit, striking mostly military and government targets for a second day but with far more intensity tonight. In an angry press conference by its information minister, Iraqi officials charged that dozens of civilians had been hospitalized with burns and other injuries by Thursday's bombs. Some 320 Cruise missiles rained down on targests including the Foreign Ministry and the new presidential palace, which "disintegrated" under the impact, one well-known observer said.
Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett, assigned to Baghdad by National Geographic, said the bombing was far greater than in the 1991 Gulf War he famously reported from a Baghdad hotel rooftop.
"It's like an action movie, but this is real," Arnett told millions of viewers across the globe, again from a rooftop in the city as he watched "huge explosions" strike presdential palace and other government buildings on the western bank of the Tigris River.
"It's bigger than the Gulf War, Tom," the former CNN correspondent told NBC's Tom Brokaw, who has been anchoring continuous the netweork's news coverage of the war.
Those words were later scrawled across hundreds of millions of television screens as other networks picked up the quote and broadcast it around the world, making it the byword of the day.
The first combat casualties on the coalition side were also reported, with at least two Marines fatally wounded by Iraqi fighters as elements of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force rolled into southern Iraq at high speed. In a statement, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush expressed their regrets and sent condolences to the families of the fallen Marines.
On the ground, U.S. television showed joyous Iraqis celebrating as locals and U.S. forces tore down posters of Saddam Hussein in towns the coalition has "liberated" in southeastern Iraq along the road to Baghdad.
Meanwhile, coalition commanders expressed satisfaction that the entire Ramallah oil fields in Southern Iraq has been captured without incident and that troops are now approaching the second major oil region near Basra. Oil prices plunged on world markets as traders discounted Iraqi attempts to destroy wells in the valuable fields that many say are the ultimate object of the war.
In New York, the Dow Jones Average and the NASDAQ index both soared as investors consolidated the eighth straight day of gains anmid growing optimism that the war will end quickly.
News reports said that at least one Iraqi division commander and his top deputy had surrendered to advancing coalition troops. The New York Times said the commander of Iraq's 51st Division, a Regular Army unit "directly in the path of the allied invasion," gave up as most of the division's ground troops "melted away."
Stiffer resistance is expected when advancing coalition troops meet Republican Guards, the elite Iraqi units that are defending Baghdad. There was no indication yet of surrenders by those units, which have been hinted at by coalition commanders since the onset of hostilities on Wednesday.
Indeed, as Saturday morning wore on, CBS anchor Dan Rather reported that coalition forces advancing acorss the desert had begun to encounter "fierce resistance," including a pitched tank battle, from Iraqi forces. There was little else reported about that clash, however.
The coalition is dropping millions of leaflets promising decent treatment to Iraqi soldiers who do not resist as the coalition's U.S., British and Australian troops approach.
Two air bases designated H1 amd H2 were also taken by coalition forces that penetrated deep into western Iraq to 200 miles west of Baghdad and not far from its Jordanian and Syrian borders.