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Front Page: Iraq, March 20, 2003

The following is a compilation of today's newspaper reports about the Iraq crisis from around the country and around the world. It is just a sampling of different perspectives, designed to offer additional context into the conflict. Compiled by's Andrew Cohen.

From around the country:

  • The Chicago Tribune's Michael Kilian offers this analysis: "The U.S. and British assault under way is designed to accomplish a few early objectives: attacking Iraqi leadership targets, seizing the key port city of Basra, securing the major highway leading from Basra to Baghdad and then surrounding the Iraqi capital. As they pursue these strategic aims, coalition forces are expected to focus on knocking out Iraq's Scud missile launchers, seizing airfields and other key points in western Iraq and taking control of the oil fields in the north to prevent Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from burning them. Unlike the first Persian Gulf War, when weeks of bombing preceded the ground attack, the ground action is designed to begin within a day or two of the aerial assault, and possibly within hours, so that the attacks will have maximum shock value and Saddam can be prevented from organizing an effective defense."
  • The Detroit Free Press included this editorial: "The folks who founded this country argued incessantly about what it ought to be and how best to get it there. Their successors argued about how to keep it free, hold it together and make the wisest use of its ever-growing prosperity and power. America has always been better for the arguments, which the authors of the Constitution recognized in adopting the First Amendment. Americans should never feel intimidated about expressing their beliefs. Questioning the government is a perfectly American thing to do, absolutely patriotic in terms of wanting what's best for the country. That questioning is, at times, going to take forms that other Americans find offensive. But the answer to such an exercise of free speech is not suppression, but persuasion — the further exercise of free speech. There has been and will continue to be an ongoing national argument about the wisdom of waging war in Iraq, and the decision to do so without broad international support. It's an argument worth having, because the circumstances leading to this first-strike war are likely to come up again. Iraq's not the only rogue state out there with bad intentions. The protesters and their critics need to keep some things in mind: In a lot of places in this world, too many, in fact, such arguments are not possible. The less civil they become here, the more an increasingly uptight government — still reeling from 9/11 — may feel inclined to suppress the arguments for the sake of order. That's a dangerous attitude and decidedly not what the founding folks had in mind. So let us argue, as we always have. And let us remain protective of our invaluable right to do so."
  • The San-Jose Mercury News offered this editorial perspective: "And now, the war. George W. Bush's unswerving battle march has reached its inevitable destination, and the might of the United States war machine is being unleashed on Iraq. The world watched Wednesday night as the first cruise missiles and smart bombs slammed into Baghdad. Even while images of anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad flashed across television screens — reminiscent of the 1991 Persian Gulf War — it was clear how much America's place in the world has changed since that time. There are moments when the world pivots, when it's clear that we can never go back. This is one of those moments. Americans have gone bravely into battle before, but never under the banner of 'pre-emptive defense.' In the last century, we overcame our natural isolationism to join coalitions of nations in faraway battles against totalitarianism. We saw ourselves as the world's enforcer of peace, avenger of wrongs, defender of democracy. Though President Bush says he is fighting this war in the name of those lofty goals, it is clear that we are in Iraq for one purpose: to depose a ruler we consider a potential threat to us."
  • U.S.A Today's Vivienne Walt reported this from Baghdad: Baghdadis awoke today to the explosions of U.S. missiles and bombs striking their city, and then a voice on Iraqi radio. 'This is the day you have been waiting for,' the voice said. The U.S. military apparently had infiltrated Iraqi state radio. Its message was clear: the United States invasion to liberate their country and destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein had begun. In the dawn sky, yellow and white anti-aircraft tracers streaked cross the city. No bombers could be seen. 'Many, many missiles have hit us,' said Iraqi engineer Saif al-Kaid. 'Maybe 40 or 50. They are hitting areas where (Saddam) is hiding. We know this is the beginning.' Strong explosions rumbled through the city. Most detonated at locations outside Baghdad, but one fireball rose up after a hit in the southern part of the capital. The strikes were aimed at locations where the Iraqi leadership was thought to be, U.S. officials said."
  • The Washington Post ends its house editorial headlined 'First Strike' with these words: 'Yet, even if the operation does not go smoothly or fast, it must go forward. Saddam Hussein has threatened his neighbors, and the United States, with war and weapons of mass destruction for two decades; he has violated the cease-fire that ended the Persian Gulf War and defied multiple disarmament orders from the United Nations Security Council. The war that has now begun stands to end the single greatest threat to peace in the Middle East; it will help establish that rogue states will not be allowed to stockpile chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community. It will also free the long-suffering Iraqi people, who have endured one of the cruelest and most murderous dictatorships of the past half-century. The days and weeks ahead may be difficult, and the costs high, both for Americans and for Iraqis. But the reward, if America and its allies can sustain their commitment, will also be great: the end of a despot who has haunted a people, and the world, far too long."

    From around the world:

  • The Japan Times focused today on security at home: "The National Police Agency set up an emergency terrorism task force, beefing up security around U.S.-related installations and some 50 key infrastructure facilities, including nuclear power plants and airports. In the largest security measures ever taken to counter possible terror attacks, the agency also ordered police forces to tighten security near landmark facilities and any place people congregate in large numbers. It also ordered police to work closely with immigration authorities and reinforce patrols along coastlines to prevent incursions, while intensifying exchanges of intelligence with concerned agencies of other governments. 'We have received no information pointing to a concrete terrorist threat,' a police agency official said. The Metropolitan Police Department set up a command office to deal with security threats, deploying 5,000 officers to guard against terrorist and guerrilla attacks against possible targets, including the U.S. Air Force Yokota base and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo."
  • The Jerusalem Post has this front-page news: "The Israeli Air Force has been put on a high state of alert, the head of Israel's air defense command said today. Brig. Gen. Yair Dori spoke to reporters at the Palmachim air base as the U.S. pounded targets in Iraq, hours after having launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, which is aimed at ousting the country's dictator, Saddam Hussein. As Iraqi Al-Samud missiles were reported crashing into Kuwait, Dori said the Air Force here remains 'very confident,' of its ability to neutralize incoming missiles should Israel be targeted in the coming hours or days. The Israeli Air Force and its Air Defense Command are 'fully prepared,' having lurched into their highest level of alert on Tuesday morning, in anticipation of the U.S. offensive, Dori said."
  • The Jordan (Amman) Times reported this: "Bahrain's King Hamad offered asylum to President Saddam Hussein Wednesday, just hours before the expiry of a U.S. ultimatum for the Iraqi leader to leave his country or face war. Hamad 'has expressed Bahrain's readiness to host Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should he wish to live here in all dignity and respect without this in any way undermining Iraq's capacities and status,' said a statement issued after an emergency cabinet meeting chaired by the king. Hamad expressed hope that his initiative would 'meet a (positive) response, since it would no longer be practicable if the war takes an irreversible course,' according to the statement, carried by the official BNA news agency. The agency quoted the king as saying the alternative to war was for 'the Iraqi president to hand over responsibility (authority) to sides capable of handling the situation in such a way as to safeguard the dignity of Iraq and the standing of the Iraqi leader.' Bahrain, which currently chairs the Arab League, made the offer as the clock ticked toward the 0100 GMT Thursday deadline given by U.S. President George W. Bush to Saddam."
  • London's Daily Telegraph published this message from Queen Elizabeth II to British troops: "'May your mission be swift and decisive, your courage steady and true, and your conduct in the highest traditions of your service both in waging war and bringing peace. My thoughts are with you all, and with your families and friends who wait at home for news and pray for your safe return.' The Queen's message to troops, signed 'Elizabeth R,' also said: 'At this moment in our nation's history, I would like to express my pride in you, the British service and civilian personnel deployed in the Gulf and in the vital supporting roles in this country and further afield. I have every confidence in your professionalism and commitment as you face the challenges before you.' In support of those involved in the Iraq deployment and their families, the Queen and other members of the Royal Family are set to make a series of visits to military bases in Britain. The Queen also sent a message of support to Australian troops serving in the Gulf."
  • Russia's Tass News Agency offered its readers this assessment from the country's leader: "President Vladimir Putin made a statement in connection with the U.S. armed operation against Iraq, speaking at a meeting with heads of the army, the police and the security services in the Kremlin on Thursday. He said: 'The United States has started an armed operation against Iraq. There has been loss of life and destruction. The whole region is facing the threat of a major humanitarian and ecological catastrophe. I would like to stress from the very beginning that the combat operation is being staged contrary to world public opinion, contrary to the principles and norms of international law and the U.N. Charter. The armed action cannot be justified in any way — neither by accusations that Iraq supports international terrorism (we have never had any information about it), nor by the desire to change a political regime in Iraq, because it is very much at variance with international law. This should be done only by the people of this or that country. And, finally, there was no need to stage an armed operation for giving an answer to the main question, which was put directly by the world community: whether or not Iraq possesses mass destruction weapons, and if so, what should be done for their liquidation, and how much time will be needed for that.'"

    Compiled by Andrew Cohen