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U.S. Begins Invasion of Iraq in an Attempt to Assassinate Iraqi President Saddam Hussein: We Go Live to Baghdad with Kathy Kelly and Hear President Bush, Hussein

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At around 9:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time last night, 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 has just reported there are 14 injured and one dead. The U.S. military says Iraq responded by firing three missiles into northern Kuwait.

The attack was not the beginning of the expected massive “shock and awe” campaign. Instead, it was a targeted strike on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons. The Pentagon and the White House evidently had not intended to start the war this way.

Around 4 p.m. yesterday, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr., Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General Richard B. Myers and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice met for nearly four hours.

The Washington Post is reporting 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 was not expected to last, and so presented what one administration official called a rare “target of opportunity.”

The Washington 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.

We begin this broadcast of The War and Peace Report with special guest co-host Jeremy Scahill by listening to President Bush’s address to the nation broadcast live at 10:15 p.m. EST last night.

It’s not clear whether the assassination attempt was successful. Three hours after the attack began, Iraqi state television broadcast what it said was a live address by President Hussein. U.S. analysts are not yet sure whether that was in fact Saddam Hussein or whether he was speaking live after the attack. Saddam Hussein has several body doubles. The glasses he wore looked nothing like the ones he normally wears. The address did not specifically address the missile attacks.

The Arab TV network Al Jazeera reported that as the attack began, U.S. propaganda messages were broadcast on Iraqi airwaves saying, “This is the day you have been waiting for.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Sometime about 9:30 Eastern Standard Time last night, 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 has just reported there are 14 people injured and one dead. Iraq responded by firing three missiles into northern Kuwait.

The attack was not the beginning of the expected massive, what the U.S. government calls “shock and awe” campaign. Instead, it was a targeted strike on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The Pentagon and the White House evidently had not intended to start the war this way. Around 4:00 yesterday, in the afternoon, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General Richard Myers and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice met for nearly four hours.

The Washington Post is reporting that the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, offered President Bush the prospect — “improbable to the point of fantasy, yet somehow at hand,” The Washington Post wrote — 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 was not expected to last, The Washington Post writes, 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.

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. Saddam Hussein has placed Iraqi troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for his own military — a final atrocity against his people.

I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.

We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.

I know that the families of our military are praying that all those who serve will return safely and soon. Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent. For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done.

Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half-measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.

My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others. And we will prevail.

May God bless our country and all who defend her.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was President Bush at 10:15 Eastern Standard Time last night. It is not clear whether the U.S. government assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein was successful. Three hours after the attack began, Iraqi state television broadcast what it said was a live address by President Saddam Hussein.

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.

This will add — these days will add to your record, your bright record, all you male and female dignified people. This is your share of dignity and victory. And everything that will raise the status before God and will let infidels down, the enemies of humanity and God. And that you will be victorious, all Iraqis. And with you are — victorious will be with you are the people of — the sons of your nation. And you are victorious with the will of God. And your enemies will be in humiliation and defeat, God willing.

Go your sword. I’m not — draw your sword. And I’m not afraid. Draw your sword. The enemy is making a fuss, and the enemy will not be stopped except by — let the rains be let go anyway. But hope is there. Let thunderstorms go until the guidance appears and injustice goes away. And let dawn be the way to confront, to confront all bad, and pull your trigger and keep the fire on. Draw your sword. No one will be victorious unless he is a man and a brave man, and prepare a banner and call for the way of God that the wounds will heal quickly.

Dear friends, those who call for evil in the world — those who fight evil in the world, peace be upon him. You notice how Bush, the careless, underestimated your values that you declared against the war and your call, your honest call, for peace. And he committed this shameful crime, this day. We pledge, in our name and in the name of the command and leadership and the name of the people, the fighting people and its heroic army, in its history and record of civilization, we pledge that we will confront the invaders, And we will get to, God willing, to the limit where they will lose their patience and they will lose any hope in accomplishing what they were driven to by the Zionists, the criminal Zionists, and those who have agendas. They will go to the lowest levels, and they will be defeated, a defeat that we hope for them after they went far in injustice and evil.

We love peace, and we are working towards this, peace. Iraq will be victorious. We’ll win. And with Iraq, our nation and humanity will win. And evil will suffer from what makes it incapable of doing any evil or crime at a level similar to the American-Zionist alliance against nations. And at the forefront is our dignified nation, Arab nation. God is great. God is great.

At the beginning — at the forefront is our nation. God is great. God is great. And live long, Iraq and Palestine. God is great. God is great. And our Arab nation, dignified nation, let that nation live. And the human brotherhood, let it live with those who love peace and security and the right of people in freedom according to justice and equality. God is great. And let the losers lose. Let Iraq live. Long live jihad, and long live Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: And the voice you just heard, questions have been raised about whether in fact it was Saddam Hussein, whether he was speaking live after the attack. Saddam Hussein has several body doubles. The glasses he wore looked nothing like the ones he normally wears. The address did not specifically address the missile attacks.

The Arab TV network Al Jazeera reported that as the attack began, U.S. propaganda messages were broadcast on Iraqi airwaves saying, quote, “This is the day you have been waiting for.” But this did run on Iraqi TV as Saddam Hussein addressing the nation live. You’re listening to Democracy Now!’s War and Peace Report. We break and then come back and go directly to Baghdad, Iraq, with Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now!'s _War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, joined now live in our firehouse studio by Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent, who has just returned from Baghdad. And on the line with us in Baghdad, Iraq, is Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness.

I want to welcome you both to the airwaves of Pacifica Radio.

KATHY KELLY: Hello, Amy and Jeremy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us, Kathy and Jeremy. Kathy, you are at a hotel across the Tigris from the palace in Baghdad. Can you describe what’s happening now?

KATHY KELLY: Well, it’s a very quiet morning. And normally the streets would be congested, and all the shops would be open. Instead, it has more of the feel that happens when there’s a holiday or some religious observance. But, of course, what’s happening is that people are anticipating the waves of shock and awe that have been predicted. At 5:30 this morning, this building shook a bit, and we heard explosions from 5:30 to about 7:30 in the morning. And then air raid sirens wailed. And it’s been quiet since.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, what about how people are protecting themselves right now?

KATHY KELLY: Well, you know, there’s actually not very much sign of that, Amy. You know, windows were taped in this hotel late in the evening yesterday. There have been some efforts to dig wells in order to get potable water, but those haven’t really had much success in getting water that could be used for anything other than cleaning or laundering. I actually think people find a lot of refuge and protection in their families coming together as much as possible, in their prayer life. You know, when people know that a huge arsenal of explosives and depleted uranium are about to be rained down on them, and they have nothing with which to defend themselves, I mean, I think protection isn’t a very meaningful term. There’s no big military presence on the streets here. You don’t see military vehicles passing up and down the streets. I suppose there’s just the hope that somehow public opinion all around the world could influence the decision-makers to back off of this cruel plan to use shock and awe in order to destroy Iraq and to really take apart Mr. Bush’s speech. I mean, he’s behaving like a totally committed warlord and trying to sound like an altar boy.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy is in the studio with us. Jeremy, you’ve just come back from Baghdad last night. We watched as Bush gave his speech, and then the video identified as Saddam Hussein and the address we just listened to.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. Well, I think that the message is one that is — that easily can be traced to the kind of statements that Saddam Hussein has made in the past, and particularly when he has challenged verbally U.S. aggression against Iraq. But really, just to put it bluntly, it did not look like Saddam Hussein. He looked much heavier in the face. His shoulders were not as wide as they appear on Iraqi television normally. And he was wearing those very thick glasses. Now, also, clearly, from the image that we saw on Shabab TV, which is the TV station owned by his son, Uday Saddam Hussein, it was meant to appear live. Saddam Hussein was reading through a notebook, something that you don’t see often, if ever, the Iraqi leader doing. So I think that there is reason to question whether or not that actually was Saddam Hussein.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean that something has happened to Saddam Hussein. He may — we have to remember, this is his country. He has spent from 1979 to the present building up institutions that ultimately are aimed at keeping him in power and protecting him. So he’s in the best place he could possibly be to hide from any kind of an American attack. And I think that the Iraqis have assumed that the United States is going to bomb buildings where he has been in the past and has been very recently. And I think that we shouldn’t underestimate the ability of those people around Saddam Hussein — and, in fact, him, as the leader of Iraq — to avoid, at least in the opening days, being killed immediately from a U.S. strike. I mean, this is what he’s done since 1979.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, at the moment that the bombs started to hit Baghdad, what did you understand was happening? Were there ripples of fear that ran through you and the other people that you are with?

KATHY KELLY: Well, we actually were pretty grateful for being forewarned and had been anticipating that the bombing was going to come, so it didn’t come as a surprise. And we actually didn’t expect a limited attack; we thought that when the attack began, that would be the beginning of wave after wave of attacks. And so, the quiet and the calm of this city right now is actually more of a surprise to us.

I’d say the collective sentiment is one of grave dismay over the U.S. ability to more or less market and sell this war, and the fact that there hasn’t yet been the ability to restrain the warlords coming from different parts of the globe. And yet we also are very, very aware that it even seems possible that people could be reaching the critical mass necessary to say to leaders all around the world, “We won’t accept this foolish hurtling toward violence and destruction, that could be so catastrophic for the future of the entire world.” And so, we hear about demonstrations happening all around the globe, and that’s very, very heartening. It’s our hope that we can get that message out as far and wide here in the city as possible.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Kathy, you know, we’ve been watching over the past — over the night here in the United States the coverage on the corporate media outlets. And quite frankly, many of the anchors and correspondents seem like they’re just salivating for this heavy attack to begin. They’re showing the computer graphics, almost treating it at some points like a video game. And, in fact, you know, it’s one of the most violently ironic names for an attack, Operation Iraqi Freedom. And, in fact, Dan Rather last night just paused after saying “Iraqi Freedom,” and one couldn’t necessarily understand, if you didn’t know that was the name, that he was in fact telling the name of the Pentagon’s operation. But, you know, we’re seeing that this one strike has happened and that there perhaps have been a couple of other, but really the expected 3,000 missiles, that has not begun yet. What is the feeling right now? Are people aware that that is the reality, that the Bush administration has threatened to hit with those 3,000 missiles in the opening days of an attack?

KATHY KELLY: Yes, Jeremy, I think people are aware of that. They’ve been bracing themselves for just that, really for a long time, and then much more seriously during the last three days. It impressed me that each one of the families that I know that has a telephone called us to find out how we are. But I think also we’re feeling that concern for what’s to come. Nobody thought that this would be the beginning and the end of the operation that the United States had planned.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Kathy, I wanted to ask you — you’re in a hotel that I’m familiar with. As Amy said, it’s across the Tigris River from the Republican Presidential Palace. What has that hotel where you’re staying in — it’s a very — it’s a structure that has a great deal of glass in it. And as we know, when bombs hit, oftentimes glass explodes. What kind of immediate preparations are you taking at the place where you are right now to protect in any way you can against what is ahead?

UNIDENTIFIED: Just a minute, please.

KATHY KELLY: Jeremy, really, I haven’t been very involved in a whole lot of preparation to try to make this building —

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes.

KATHY KELLY: Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes.

KATHY KELLY: Hi. May I continue on this call?

UNIDENTIFIED: Who are you?

KATHY KELLY: [speaking in Arabic]

UNIDENTIFIED: [speaking in Arabic]

KATHY KELLY: Jeremy, are you still on the line?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yes, we’re here, Kathy.

KATHY KELLY: Hi. We’re working on shaking up the phone system, too. [speaking in Arabic]

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly is speaking from Baghdad. She is at a hotel along with other members of the Iraq Peace Team. She is co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness. She has been to Baghdad many times since 1996 and has twice been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Kathy, are you still there?

KATHY KELLY: Yes. Thank you. I think we’ve managed to recover this line. Yeah, the windows have been taped toward sunset yesterday. There was a more serious effort to tape the windows of the building. And a number of us have checked out the bomb shelter, and the workers here very kindly and tidily made up beds for us. But, you know, our feeling is that we don’t really have much inclination to create for ourselves more cover or shelter than average ordinary Iraqis have; otherwise, how can we try to be voices for the kind of precarity that they’re experiencing? You know, when you talk about the massive ordnance that the United States is planning to drop on this city, when we think about what it would mean for people to be mutilated, maimed without access to transportation to hospitals, for children to be orphaned, for families to be surrounded by rubble, trying to find some extra security and propping up plywood or better taping up the windows doesn’t feel so relevant, honestly.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Kathy, as we leave you in Baghdad right now, why you decided to stay in Iraq? General Colin Powell, the secretary of state, warned journalists and other internationals, foreigners, told them to get out of Iraq, yet you and a group of how many people in the Iraq Peace Team decided to stay, even as the U.S. government said they will drop more bombs in the first 48 hours than were dropped during the entire Persian Gulf War, and one of the bombs being discussed dropped, the largest bomb ever dropped, the MOAB, the massive ordnance air bomb, that Robert Fisk called the mother of all bombs?

KATHY KELLY: Amy, you know, if we would have the chance to survive this bombing and be voices for people whom we’ve gotten to know and care about, if we can bring some kind of comfort to some of those people, then that’s certainly where we belong. It’s a terrible irony that the economic sanctions that we’ve worked really quite hard to end might in fact be at an end right now, and that the reason might be so that the United States can use Iraq’s petrodollars in the future to pay for exactly the war you’re describing. People in Iraq deserve a voice. They deserve a chance to have their own situation, precarious as it is and innocent as it is, voiced beyond their borders. And we’re not confident that the U.S. media, and especially embedded media traveling with the Pentagon, would be able to accomplish that. We know that we have connections with very average people who have been only generous and kind toward us, and we want to remain here with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kathy, I want to thank you for being with us. Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, has chosen to stay behind in Baghdad as the U.S. invasion begins. Last night, just about 9:30, the first bombs dropped on Baghdad. Thanks for being with us, Kathy, and stay safe.

KATHY KELLY: Thank you, Amy and Jeremy. Bye now.

AMY GOODMAN: Bye bye. Kathy Kelly from Baghdad, Jeremy Scahill still with us in the firehouse studio.

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