The sources are reported as saying that five key Iraqi commanders had been located and that President Bush ordered air and cruise missile attacks against them.

Reporters say that the attacks are believed to have been carried out by F117 Stealth fighters and involved cruise missiles launched from four warships and two submarines.

A US Defence Department spokesman implied in a press briefing on 20 March following the overnight attacks against Iraq that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his senior colleagues are a target.

‘If we can take Saddam Hussein and his key leadership out early it radically changes the paradigm and whole nature of this operation,’ the spokesman said.