Sometime after 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the U.S. military began an unprovoked attack on Iraq. Air raid sirens sounded throughout Baghdad just before the sun rose. Anti-aircraft fire filled the sky, and explosions shook the city. Pentagon officials said over 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from warships. Two stealth bombers each dropped two one-ton bombs. It’s not clear what has been hit or the extent of the casualties. The Iraqi News Agency is reporting there are 14 injured and one dead.
We go now live to Baghdad to Gazwan al-Mukhtar, a retired engineer who was educated in the U.S. In a few minutes, we’ll also hear from a retired Iraqi official, who spoke to us just before the broadcast from his home in Baghdad and was extremely distraught.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephan Smith, singing “The Bell,” here on Democracy Now!'s _War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, joined by correspondent Jeremy Scahill, who has just returned from Iraq. Welcome, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Thank you, Amy. And actually, we’ve just managed to make contact with an Iraqi resident named Gazwan al-Mukhtar. I know him well and have known him for a number of years. He is a retired engineer, was educated in the United States at Marquette University, has retired because of the U.S. sanctions. His business was not able to function because of the U.S. sanctions. His house also was searched five years ago by U.N. weapons inspectors. And we can go directly now to Gazwan al-Mukhtar, a resident of Baghdad.
Gazwan, welcome to Democracy Now!
GAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: Thank you very much, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Gazwan, tell us: What is the latest situation on the ground? What is happening right now in the capital city?
GAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: Jeremy, I just traveled from Baghdad, to the north, to the south, north of Baghdad, all across Baghdad. I saw the town is very quiet. There is no panic. I looked at the petrol station, and there was a queue, but an acceptable queue of five cars each, gas stations. Some of the stores are [inaudible], but buses are running. Taxis are running. People are fewer on the street, but there are people on the street. There are kids playing on the street. People are shopping. It’s not a panicky situation yet. I saw at the intersections [inaudible] posts manned by armed people, but that’s a normal thing under the circumstances [inaudible] by anything. Otherwise, it’s quiet right now. We are anticipating a very heavy bombardment tonight. This is going to be one of the — or, according to what the TV is saying, it’s going to be a horrendous night.
AMY GOODMAN: How are you preparing yourself, Gazwan al-Mukhtar?
GAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: Well, I’m preparing myself. I made a room. I selected a room where all my family is going to gather. I have put something up against the windows, some [inaudible], what have you, against the windows. I can’t really do very much. I draw the well. This is a funny thing, because I am 60 years old, and I haven’t drunk water from the well in my life. And after 60 years, I have to go out so I can drink water from it, in case the U.S. will bomb the electrical or water supply, like they did in ’91 and created a health problem.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. military — the U.S. military says it struck several areas in Baghdad, including a residential area. Did you see any of this destruction? Reports are 14 people injured,. One, we believe a Jordanian man, at a fuel depot on the road between Amman and Baghdad was killed. Any signs of any of this?
GAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: In fact, I wasn’t in Baghdad when the bombing started. I was on the western part of Iraq, which is on the Jordanian road, partly on the Jordanian road, and I didn’t see anything. I was on the — however, early in the morning at about 8:00 our time, which is after — two hours or something after the start of the attack, I heard aircraft in the area flying very high. And actually there were aircraft in the western part of Iraq, where I was. I didn’t witness the attack in Baghdad, because I wasn’t there. I just got back to Baghdad about an hour ago.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Gazwan, we are hearing reports from the Pentagon and from the White House that what happened yesterday was an attempt to assassinate the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. The U.S. is saying that they targeted a place where senior Iraqi leadership was meeting. And the U.S. media is saying it’s unknown whether Saddam Hussein is alive or dead. What information do you have on this?
GAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: He appeared on television, although the transmission in Baghdad was distorted. But I was outside Baghdad, where the signal, the video signal, was transmitted to a substation via a cable, so the picture was very clear. It was Saddam Hussein. But I heard also from the radio station in the morning that the U.S. have jammed the television signal in Baghdad while [inaudible]. But where I was in the western part of Iraq, the picture was clear, because we are receiving [inaudible] transmitter.
JEREMY SCAHILL: We’ve seen these reports, Gazwan, over the past several weeks that there are U.S. Special Forces in the west of Iraq. Did you see any evidence of acts of sabotage or any presence of U.S. Special Forces in the west of Iraq where you just were yesterday?
GAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: None. If there were, you know, I haven’t seen them. I cannot say there aren’t any, because I have no information. But evidently, from the people I talk to, there is no known fact that they are there. They are probably searching or whatever, but they haven’t found any.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gazwan al-Mukhtar, we want to thank you for being with us, a Baghdad resident, an engineer educated in the United States, 60 years old, with his family now in Baghdad. We want to thank you for being with us, as we prepare now to move on with the program.
Again, sometime after 9:30 Eastern Standard Time last night, U.S. military began an unprovoked attack on Iraq. Air raid sirens sounded throughout Baghdad just before the sun rose. Anti-aircraft fire filled the sky. Explosions shook the city. Pentagon officials said over 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from warships. Two stealth bombers each dropped two one-ton bombs.
The attack was not the beginning of the expected, what the U.S. government is calling “shock and awe” campaign. Instead, it was a targeted strike on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But the Pentagon and the White House evidently had not intended to start the war this way. This is based on a piece in The Washington Post by Dana Priest. It says around 4:00 yesterday, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General Richard Myers, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice met for nearly four hours. The Washington Post says CIA Director George Tenet offered President Bush the prospect, improbable to the point of fantasy yet somehow at hand, that the war against Iraq might be transformed with its opening shots. Tenet said the CIA believed Saddam Hussein and the most senior levels of the Iraqi leadership had fallen under U.S. surveillance. The unforeseen glimpse of the enemy, The Washington Post said, was not expected to last, and so presented what one administration official called a rare target of opportunity. The Post reports Bush and his senior advisers tore up the carefully orchestrated schedule of violence that the U.S. Central Command had honed for months. They decided to attempt to assassinate Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and much of the Iraqi leadership in a single blow.
President Bush addressed the nation live at 10:15 Eastern Standard Time last night. This is an excerpt of what he had to say.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.
More than 35 countries are giving crucial support, from the use of naval and air bases, to help with intelligence and logistics, to the deployment of combat units. Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of serving in our common defense.
To all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed. The enemies you confront will come to know your skill and bravery. The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military. In this conflict, America faces an enemy who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President George Bush speaking last night at 10:15 Eastern Standard Time, announcing that the attack on Iraq had begun.
A senior Bush administration official today questioned the authenticity of a videotape showing Saddam Hussein speaking a few hours after the cruise missile strikes. The Washington Post quotes the administration official saying, “We reached no conclusions about who that was or when it was taped or anything like that. It does not lend itself to immediate conclusions.” State-run Iraqi television broadcast a seven-minute statement in which the official identified as Saddam Hussein, wearing a military uniform, vowed to resist the invaders and wear down U.S. patience. This is an excerpt.
PRESIDENT SADDAM HUSSEIN: [translated] The criminal, the criminal, Junior Bush, committed, he and his aides, his crime that he was threatening Iraq with, and humanity, as well. His criminal act comes from — and the act of those who helped him, and his followers, this is added to the series of their shameful crimes against Iraq and the humanity. This is a start for other additional crimes.
All Iraqis and those who care in our nation, sacrificing for you and for the values of our nation and the banners of fighting and for its religion and for the soul, the family, the son. And here, I will not repeat what should be said — or, it is a duty of all people, good people, you — repeat what has to be done to protect and defend this dear nation and the values and sacreds. But I will say to each, this is a must on all of us. But I say, on any of us, on each of us, in the family of Iraq, the believing the honest family that is being treated unjustly by its enemies. On all of us, on each of us, we have to remember what was said and what was pledged. And these days will go as God’s wills.
AMY GOODMAN: The tape identified on Iraqi television as Saddam Hussein. You are listening to Democracy Now! When we return, we go to New Delhi, India, to get response to the beginning of the U.S. invasion by the author Arundhati Roy. Stay with us.