Iraq war diary: 24 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

24 March 2003: 

It is day five, and suddenly the clinical, precision war talked about by General Tommy Franks at the Centcom press conference on Saturday is looking very messy.

Five US soldiers from a maintenance unit, including a woman, were paraded on Iraqi television yesterday afternoon, looking battered and confused. They had been taken prisoner after their vehicle lost its way in Suq al-Shuyukh, near Nassiriya.

The Arab satellite channel, al-Jazeera, also showed pictures of the corpses of several US soldiers who were killed in the same area.

Terry Lloyd, a reporter with the British television news channel ITN, was confirmed dead yesterday. Two of his colleagues are still missing in the Basra area.

Evidence of civilian casualties on the Iraqi side emerged over the weekend, when al-Jazeera broadcast horrific pictures from both Basra, in the south, and the area in which the Ansar al-Islam group was bombed, in the north. One showed a child's head split open.

Although some of the invasion forces have sped on towards Baghdad, others have been left behind to mop up local resistance, a job which is proving a lot more difficult than reports had at first suggested.

Umm Qasr, the port town just across the border from Kuwait, has been reported as having been "secured" several times, but it is still not certain whether the invasion forces have total control there.

The Iraqi vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, yesterday gave an upbeat press conference, claiming that "operations are going on in an excellent and comfortable manner for Iraq".

He continued ominously: "They say that they are heading towards Baghdad, and that they covered more than 160 or 180km towards Baghdad.

"I would like to tell them that, in the course that they are following, let them continue up to 300km and let them mobilise all the tanks and marines they have, and we will not clash with them soon. We will give them enough time.

"However, in any contact with any Iraqi village or city, they [the invasion forces] will find what they are now witnessing in Umm Qasr and Suq al-Shuyukh."

This morning, two British soldiers were reported missing after their vehicle came under fire in southern Iraq. The defence ministry in London gave no further details.

Over the weekend, a British Tornado warplane returning from a mission in Iraq was mistaken for an incoming missile, and was shot down by Patriot rockets in Kuwait. The crew of two died.

In a bizarre incident on Saturday, one US soldier died and 15 more were injured when one of their colleagues threw grenades into tents at a camp in Kuwait.

This was at first reported as a terrorist attack, but it seems more reminiscent of the "fragging" phenomenon witnessed during the Vietnam war, when disaffected soldiers attacked their officers with fragmentation grenades on several occasions.

So far, most of the confirmed deaths among the invasion forces have not come as a result of combat with Iraqis. Fourteen British and six US personnel have died in accidents, two Britons have been killed by friendly fire, and one American died in the grenade incident.

A crisis is also brewing on the northern border, where Turkish forces appear to have defied the US by entering the Kurdish area of Iraq. Adopting the same line of argument used by the US to justify its own invasion, Turkey says that it is merely 
taking "pre-emptive action".

An exclusive report in the Jerusalem Post this morning says that US forces are investigating a large factory in southern Iraq that could be connected with chemical weapons. If this turns out to be true, it would provide a huge boost to those who favoured military action rather than continued weapons inspections.

As yet, however, there is no confirmation, but more details may emerge during the course of the day.

Meanwhile, in a televised address to the country, the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, promised triumph over the coalition forces. He hailed Iraqi resistance and said: "Be patient, victory is coming."

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Sunday, 24 March 2013