US, Britain race into Iraq, see war over soon
22 March 2003
SOUTHERN IRAQ: US and British officers predicted a swift victory overnight (NZT) after American armoured columns raced deep into Iraq and British marines seized vital oil facilities in the south.
With Iraq putting up only sporadic resistance, the United States said it hoped to achieve its war goal of toppling President Saddam Hussein without bringing all its firepower to bear.
Iraq ridiculed the claims of early successes and said the invaders would not leave the country alive. Victory was guaranteed for Iraq, Interior Minister Mahmoud Diyab al-Ahmed told a news conference as he brandished an assault rifle.
Reuters correspondent Luke Baker, with the US 3rd Infantry Division, had advanced at least 150km into Iraq from Kuwait by early yesterday, speeding north towards Baghdad, after the land war began on Thursday night (NZT).
British commandos, in a seaborne assault, captured the Faw peninsula on Iraq's southern tip and took control of key oil installations.
US Marines met tougher resistance at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, on the Kuwaiti border, Britain said.
The Marines, operating as part of a British-led force raised the Stars and Stripes over the new port area but were still fighting to secure the whole town.
Hundreds of Iraqis surrendered. Some were killed.
Eight Britons and four Americans also died in a helicopter crash in Kuwait - the invading forces' first casualties of the war. One US Marine was reported killed in combat.
US military vehicles rolled across the desert, passing oil fields where Reuters reporter Sean Maguire said he saw towering flames and smoke. British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon said Iraqi troops had set up to 30 oil wells ablaze.
"There was no gunfire. They had a clear path," Maguire said of the long column of military vehicles from the 1st Marine Regiment with which he was travelling. He passed the wrecks of Soviet-made Iraqi tanks destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War.
However correspondent Adrian Croft, attached to a different US Marine unit, said it was pinned down for two hours just inside Iraq by anti-tank missiles and small arms fire. It advanced again after calling in British artillery support.
Live television footage showed US tank units ploughing across the sand with no sign of Iraqi forces, in what appeared to be a flanking move across the western desert, bypassing the cities of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.
A top US commander predicted a swift victory.
"We're into this now, we're going to win it and we're going to win it fast," Rear Admiral John Kelly, commander of the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group, said.
A British spokesman, Group Captain Al Lockwood, asked when invading troops would be in the Iraqi capital, told reporters: "If I were a betting man, which I'm not - hopefully in the next three or four days."
At a Baghdad news conference, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf declared the invasion would fail.
"We will not let them leave the swamp they have entered. They will meet their fate," he said.
Baghdad was quiet yesterday, the Muslim holy day, after a second volley of US and British cruise missiles rained down overnight following the opening raid last morning.
One of the targets struck by the missile salvo was Saddam's vast Baghdad palace complex on the banks of the Tigris River. Another housed an office of Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.
The ruins of a compound used by Saddam's younger son and heir apparent Qusay was still smouldering after 24 hours. Sahaf said Saddam and his family were safe, dismissing speculation in the West they might have died in the attack.
In Washington, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States still hoped a full-scale war could be averted to oust Saddam and destroy suspected weapons of mass destruction.
"Pressure is continuing on the Iraqi regime," Rumsfeld said, saying Washington hoped it would fall "without the full force and fury of a war".
The widespread opposition to the war around the world showed no sign of abating. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had sought with French and German leaders to stop the conflict, called it a "potential source of instability for other regions".
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Australia, Egypt and Yemen following major protests in several countries on Thursday.
The invasion marked the first use of a new US strategic doctrine of pre-emptively attacking any country seen to pose a threat. Washington says Iraq has chemical and biological weapons and could give them to terrorist groups. Iraq denies this.
The British assault on Faw by Royal Marine commandos began before dawn with an airborne and amphibious assault on the coast to secure Iraq's main oil pipeline terminals.
Scores of Iraqis had surrendered.
"There's guys popping up all over the place," Colonel Steve Cox, commander of the landing force, told Reuters correspondent Peter Graff on the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.
Television footage showed demoralised Iraqis in civilian clothes, apparently troops, surrendering to British commandos on a road. A British commander said at least 250 others had surrendered to US Marines.
At Umm Qasr, Hoon said Iraq was putting up "stern resistance".
"The Iraqis are not simply giving up in the way that some commentators have suggested that they would, and our forces are fighting," he told British television.
British forces said their aim was to capture the port of Basra, Iraq's second city, to open it to aid supplies.
In northern Iraq, a reporter for Qatar's al-Jazeera television said the city of Mosul had been rocked by explosions, but there was no immediate confirmation of a BBC report that US special forces may have secured oil fields at Kirkuk.
In a further setback for US plans to enter northern Iraq, the use of Turkish airspace by US planes, although approved by the Ankara parliament, remained held up by disagreement over the terms of the deal, Turkish foreign ministry sources said.
how long do you think it will be before its over?