Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S., Britain Unleash Airstrikes on Iraq

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Britain launched a wave of airstrikes against Iraq, following up the first attack in the early hours of Thursday with another round of cruise missile and bombing raids Thursday night.

U.S. defense officials said the first round had severely damaged some targets. Iraq said cruise missiles from the first wave of attacks hit several military, police, industrial and civilian targets, causing heavy casualties.

"Among the government buildings, they attacked the security police. ...They bombarded also the military intelligence services headquarters," Iraq's Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said at a Baghdad news conference.

Sahaf said both the security and intelligence sites had been visited by UN weapons inspectors, who evacuated abruptly from Baghdad hours before the start of the heaviest U.S.-British military strikes since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The United States and Britain said the attacks were launched after Baghdad refused to cooperate with the inspectors, who are charged with ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said the strikes' goal was to reduce Iraq's capability to threaten neighbors with chemical or biological weapons.

President Bill Clinton rejected criticism that the timing of strikes was designed to deflect the Republican drive to impeach him over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

An impeachment debate in the House of Representatives, planned for Thursday, was rescheduled for Friday.

Missiles exploded in Baghdad on Thursday night, provoking a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. Ambulances raced through the city with sirens sounding.

The United States and Britain had said earlier that a second round of air strikes had begun, led by B-52 bombers, American Navy jets and British Tornado bombers.

There was no immediate word of casualties or damage, but at least one missile was seen heading toward that part of the city where the Military Industrial Corporation has its premises.

A thick column of white smoke rose in the sky from the area near the military corporation. The skyline in that part of the city glowed orange as if buildings were on fire.

Two powerful explosions occurred not far from the Information Ministry building, from where foreign correspondents operate.

In Thursday morning's attacks, warships fired more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and Navy EA-6B attack planes struck Iraqi air defense radars, Pentagon officials said.

Saddam visited some of the targeted sites Thursday, including the house of his daughter Hala, Baghdad Radio reported. Hala, the youngest of his three daughters, was safe, but the house was demolished, it said.

Saddam taunted the United States and Britain in a radio address, saying they are cowards for not fighting "face to face" but "depending on a long technological arm."

At least one missile fell in an area near Saddam's biggest palace in Baghdad, but his whereabouts were not known at the time of the attack.

Clinton, meeting in the Oval Office with top military and foreign policy advisers Thursday morning, expressed regret that there would inevitably be "unintended casualties."

An Iraqi doctor reported five people killed and 30 wounded in the first wave of bombings.

U.S. and British officials have not said how long the bombing campaign would last. Cohen said that there was still a lot to do and there would be more action over the next few days.

In announcing the strikes, Clinton said he had acted when he did in part to avoid launching an attack once the Moslem fasting month of Ramadan begins this weekend.

There have been some official hints that the military campaign could end before Ramadan to avoid further angering regional and other Moslem allies at a time when religious fervor is at its peak.

Clinton said the military operation would not be affected by the impeachment drama on Capitol Hill, saying, "We're going to complete this mission."

The House, which had been scheduled to begin debating four articles of impeachment, instead convened to approve, by a vote of 417-5, a resolution of support for American forces involved in the Iraqi operation.

Outgoing House Speaker Newt Gingrich told legislators: "No matter what our debates at home, we are as a nation prepared to lead the world." Clinton, for his part, brushed aside criticism from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and other Republicans skeptical about his motives for the attack. "I am convinced the decision I made ... though difficult was absolutely the right thing to do," he said.

As to whether the attack was a diversionary tactic against impeachment, Clinton said, "I don't believe any serious person would believe any president would do such a thing."

The delay in impeachment proceedings was not to last long. Republican leaders decided Thursday to begin the House impeachment debate Friday and finish action against Clinton by Saturday even if U.S. attacks against Iraq were ongoing, congressional sources said.

While Lott and others questioned the attack, Clinton said he was gratified by support from other senior Republicans.

Clinton said Republican leaders would have to decide when they are going to proceed with the impeachment vote.

Americans strongly supported the military action, according to polls by CBS and ABC. In the CBS poll, about 80 percent said they favored the strike. According to the ABC survey, 62 percent said attacking Iraq was the right thing to do.