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First strike targeted Saddam

A flash is seen on the horizon shortly before dawn in Baghdad Thursday.
A flash is seen on the horizon shortly before dawn in Baghdad Thursday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The first move of the U.S.-led attack against Iraq early Thursday was a "decapitation strike" using Tomahawk cruise missiles intended to kill Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Pentagon sources told CNN.

Administration sources said the decision to strike came after a nearly four-hour meeting in the White House Oval Office in which CIA Director George Tenet and Pentagon officials told President Bush they could lose the "target of opportunity" if they didn't act quick; Bush then gave the green light.

Whether the mission succeeded is not known. But Pentagon officials said it is very difficult to successfully target a single person on the ground in such a bombing.

More than 40 satellite-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from U.S. warships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, military officials said.

F117 stealth fighters, which carry two 2,000-pound bombs apiece, also were involved in strikes apparently on a target other than Saddam.

Air raid sirens were heard in Baghdad at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday (9:30 p.m. Wednesday ET) about 90 minutes after the U.S. deadline for Saddam to step down or face a U.S.-led military attack.

Bush, in a brief address from the White House less than an hour after the strike began, said the attack was aimed at "selected targets of military importance."

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