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U.S. military officials told TIME that the barrage obliterated its intended targets and almost certainly killed some if not many of the key Iraqi leaders believed to be huddling inside. A senior U.S. official told TIME that the CIA received an intelligence report that one of Saddam's sons was either killed or seriously injured; a second intelligence report cited sources who saw Saddam carried out of the rubble on a stretcher. In the wake of the U.S. strike, Iraqi television broadcast what it claimed was a live statement from Saddam that purported to show he had survived. Some viewers wondered whether the haggard, bespectacled figure was actually the dictator or one of his body doubles, though intelligence experts concluded that it was probably Saddam. Still, that did not rule out the possibility that the speech may have been previously taped.
Lawmakers briefed by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice late last week say that the White House did not rule out the possibility that Saddam was dead or gravely injured. A U.S. intelligence official says that early Thursday morning, electronic intercepts picked up frantic calls for medical assistance from someone at the bombing site, though there was no indication which Iraqi leaders had been hit. Three days after the strike, U.S. strategists still didn't know exactly who had been taken out, but they were certain, says an intelligence official, that "we got somebody."
The allies' show of might and the possibility that the U.S. air strikes may have picked off Saddam initially raised hopes that a war so widely dreaded would come to a mercifully short end. Even some White House officials wondered aloud whether the opening-night salvo and the rapid advance of American ground forces might render the "shock and awe" of the Pentagon's planned assault unnecessary. But the battlefield picture remained too muddled for allied commanders to hold their fire for long.
The initial wave of U.S. ground forces, led by British marines and the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, swept into southern Iraq on Thursday night. Though limited to a few targets in Baghdad, the early bombardment had staggered the Iraqi regime, cutting it off from its field commanders, Pentagon officials asserted, and leaving much of its undermanned, underfed army on its own in the face of the allied onslaught. That may explain why U.S. and British troops encountered meager resistance as they pushed toward the oil-rich southern Iraqi city of Basra. One day into the ground war, allied forces secured the town of Safwan and the port city of Umm Qasr; Marines seized two vital oil fields that Saddam's forces may have been preparing to set ablaze. Iraqi forces managed to set fire to only nine of 1,000 oil wells. In western Iraq, special-operations forces secured a key airfield where U.S. officials thought Saddam was hiding Scud missiles that could hit Israel.