Iraq war diary: 19 March, 2003

To mark the tenth anniversary of the 2003 Iraq war, I am re-posting diary entries that I wrote at the time for the Guardian's website. They are posted here day by day and the full collection can be found here

19 March 2003: 

Tony Blair need not go into exile just yet. Last night his government won formal backing for war with Iraq when parliament voted 2-1 in favour. This was despite the biggest ever revolt by MPs. Among the ruling Labour party, 139 members rebelled, and 16 Conservatives, 53 Liberal Democrats and 11 others joined them. But because of Mr Blair's massive built-in majority, it was still well short of the total that might have forced regime change in Britain.

In other developments overnight, the Turkish government said it will try again to get permission from parliament for US warplanes to fly over its territory, and the White House suddenly changed the terms of its ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi leader had earlier been given 48 hours to avert war by fleeing Iraq along with his two appalling sons, but last night White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said US forces would invade "no matter what". The excuse, apparently, is that they need to hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

The official UN weapons inspectors, meanwhile, have all been evacuated from Iraq - several of them complaining about the curtailment of their work and the aspersions that have been cast on their professional abilities. What chance they'll sue President Bush for constructive dismissal?

Colin Powell claimed last night that 45 countries have now joined the "coalition of the willing" against Iraq. They include such key players as Afghanistan, Latvia, Lithuania, Nicaragua and Uzbekistan, but 15 of them have asked not to be named until they see which way the war is going.

In some cases, calling these countries supporters of the war would be extremely generous with the truth - a bit like describing concrete posts that hold up a football stadium as "supporters" of Manchester United. Spain, whose smiling little prime minister managed to get his photo taken next to George Bush and Mr Blair at the weekend, has confirmed that it won't actually be sending any troops.

Talking of support, an opinion poll this morning by the Washington-based Pew Research Center finds rapidly declining enthusiasm for the United States in Europe. In Italy, only 34% view the US favourably, compared with 70% in 2002. The current figure for Britain is 48%, Spain 14%, France 31% and Germany 25%.

The Iraqi parliament is meeting this morning, probably for the last time under its present management. Don't expect any surprises there - members do exactly what they're told, unlike MPs in Britain. It's just an exercise in spreading responsibility for Iraq's fate beyond Saddam and his immediate circle. The session began with the parliamentary speaker urging Iraqis to rally behind their leader.

At 1500 GMT foreign ministers will get together at the UN Security Council where the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, is due to give a report spelling out what Iraq should do to prove that it has disarmed. This is now totally irrelevant but France, Germany and Russia may seize the opportunity to denounce, once again, the coming invasion.

The American ultimatum to Iraq expires tonight at 0115 GMT (0415 in Baghdad), and war could come any time after that. President Bush might wait another day or two until Turkey sorts its position out or weather conditions are favourable, but it's probably still worth tuning in to CNN or al-Jazeera tonight in case he does launch the most expensive (and lethal) fireworks display the world has ever seen.

An Iraqi correspondent in Baghdad says everyone there is trying to buy earplugs, so as not to lose too much sleep, but the shops have run out. If anyone has ideas for DIY earplugs, let us know and we'll pass the message on.

Weather in Baghdad tonight: passing clouds, wind west-south-west at 11 mph, humidity 45%, visibility 17 miles. Minimum temperature 57 F (14 C), which the Lycos forecast describes as "refreshingly cool".

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Tuesday, 19 March 2013