‘This is part of a preliminary campaign,’ Hoon said. ‘There was an opportunity to deal with part of the command and control operations [of the Iraqi army].’ He said that the attack was part of the preparations for a more substantial campaign

Hoon refused to say whether UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had been woken to be told that the overnight attacks had been launched. ‘I was well aware it was going to happen,’ he said. ‘I was involved in discussions about these operations well before they occurred.’

Cruise missiles and F117 Stealth fighter attacks were launched against targets in Baghdad at 5:34 am GMT. An exchange of artillery fire between Iraq and US-led coalition forces across the Kuwaiti border took place later in the day, Kuwaiti military sources have confirmed.