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(AP) -- American and British combat units rumbled across the desert into Iraq from the south Thursday and bombed limited targets in Baghdad. But military commanders withheld the massive onslaught that would signal all-out war as U.S. officials tried to talk the Iraqi regime into giving up.
"The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld predicted, although he also said there was "no need for a broader conflict" if Iraqi leaders surrender.
Rumsfeld hinted that talks with Iraqi military elements, including some in the elite Republican Guard, may have been behind a delayed start to a planned massive aerial assault.
"We still hope" the Iraqi leadership can be replaced "without the full force and fury of a war," Rumsfeld said after meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
On the second day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, American officials held out the tantalizing possibility that Saddam had been killed in the mission, personally approved by President Bush at the White House. "We've reached no conclusion" said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, as intelligence analysts tried to determine whether a man in military garb shown on state-run television was the Iraqi leader or a double.
State-run Iraqi television said Saddam survived, and met with his top aides to counter the U.S.-led attack.
"We are resolved to teach the criminal invaders hard lessons and make them taste painful punishment," declared the Iraqi military.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's staunchest ally in the war effort, went on television to tell his country that British forces were "engaged from air, land and sea. Their mission: to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," he said in the recorded address.
It was the second straight night that cruise missiles and bombs penetrated Baghdad.
This time, officials said the targets included facilities of the Special Republican Guard and the Special Security Organization. The organization, run by Saddam's younger son, Qusai, oversees most security and intelligence activities in Iraq.
Red and white anti-aircraft tracers lit the night sky and a huge plume of smoke rose from the west bank of the Tigris River in central Baghdad. A senior defense official with direct knowledge of the operation said about two dozen Tomahawk missiles were fired from two American and two British submarines, plus one American surface ship. The vessels were in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
But two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the night strikes were not the beginning of the massive air assault that Pentagon officials have said they plan to unleash.
In southern Iraq, white light glowed in the desert sky, and the sound of explosions could be heard from across the Kuwait-Iraq frontier as the 3rd Infantry Division unleashed an artillery barrage. Troops eager to cross the border into Iraq cheered -- and units were soon on their way.
The 101st Airborne Division rumbled across the desert in a vast convoy -- trucks, tankers, humvees and more rolling along under a round white moon.
Iraq sent missiles toward Kuwait in retaliation for the pre-dawn attack against Saddam, and American officials said they had set fire to some of their own oil wells. Protecting the oil-rich Basra region was one of the American military's goals as Marines and Army special forces headed into Iraq.
The Iraqi missiles landed harmlessly in the Kuwaiti desert. Officials said none of the Iraqi missiles caused injuries, and one was intercepted by a Patriot missile. Thousands of American and British troops donned protective gear, but there was no evidence the missiles carried chemical or biological weapons.
The onset of war sparked anti-war demonstrations across the country and at U.S. embassies around the world. The State Department warned U.S. citizens abroad of an increased danger of terrorism.
In Washington, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution supporting U.S. military forces, while protesters briefly blocked one of the Potomac River bridges carrying traffic into the capital. Outside the White House, demonstrators shouted, "No blood for oil." San Francisco police arrested more than 1,000 demonstrators and there were peace rallies in many other U.S. cities.
In an unusual diplomatic move, the Bush administration called Thursday for the expulsion of Iraqi diplomats by all countries that recognize and deal with the government in Baghdad.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the diplomats represented a "corrupt and ruthless regime."
The Bush administration seized $1.75 billion in Iraqi assets already frozen in the Gulf War, saying the money would be used for humanitarian purposes in Iraq.
Bush arrived in the Oval Office before 7 a.m., and summoned his Cabinet to a mid-afternoon meeting to discuss the war. He planned to leave the White House early Friday afternoon for his customary weekend at Camp David.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)