Iraq war diary: 27 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

27 March 2003: 

More than 1,000 members of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade landed in Kurdish-held northern Iraq overnight, with the aim of securing an airfield that can be used by cargo planes to land tanks and other equipment – thus opening up a northern front in the war.

The US military had originally hoped to send troops in over land, but failed to reach an agreement with Turkey, and so has resorted to air drops as a fall-back plan.

Activity on the northern front may divert some attention from southern Iraq, where the invasion forces are making slow headway. There are murmurings from some military experts that more troops are needed – which is just what the politicians don't want to hear.

At least 14 Iraqis were killed yesterday and dozens injured in a crowded marketplace in the Shaab district of northern Baghdad – apparently the result of American bombing.

The US military has so far given four different explanations: that one of its precision missiles might have gone astray; that the attack was aimed at Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles "positioned less than 300ft from homes"; that an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile hit the market; that an accurately-aimed US missile was deflected by Iraqi ground fire.

The gruesome scenes in the marketplace figured prominently in al-Jazeera's war coverage throughout the day, though the Iraqi deaths only made the third item in CNN's early morning news and largely vanished from American television after that.

The confused explanations given by the US military also raise questions about the competence of their information machine. As a source of information it's rapidly proving untrustworthy and as a source of propaganda it's equally ineffective.

Centcom's increasingly fraught press briefings in Qatar seem designed to provide junk news for the pliant American media while reporters from the rest of the world demand real answers to real questions.

The mystery over the "popular uprising" in Basra, announced by Britain on Tuesday, continues. British forces say they are getting a lot of information from inside the besieged city but still cannot give a coherent account of what is going on. One theory is that the "uprising" is/was a quarrel between different Ba'athist elements.

About 120 Iraqi tanks and armoured vehicles reportedly left Basra last night, heading south-east towards the Faw peninsula, and came under attack from the invasion forces. It is unclear how many have been destroyed.

Another overnight report, that a huge armoured column of Republican Guards was heading south from Baghdad, has been denied by the US military.

Other developments:

The US is investigating reports that 37 Marines were injured by "friendly fire" near Nasiriya.

British officials say that two dead soldiers, whose bodies were shown on al-Jazeera television yesterday, are "probably" two Britons who went missing near al-Zubayr on Sunday.

The first British ship bringing humanitarian aid (200 tonnes of food, water and blankets) to Iraq has been unable to dock at Umm Qasr because of mines. It is expected to be delayed for 24 hours.

An opinion poll by the Pew Research Centre says the number of Americans who believe the war is going well has fallen from 71% to 38% between last Friday and Monday.

The US Fourth Infantry Division, originally destined for the northern front via Turkey, will shortly begin deploying to Kuwait, though it will not be ready to fight for another two to three weeks – a sign, perhaps, that the war will not be over quickly.

George Bush and Tony Blair are meeting in Camp David today. An article in the Washington Post this morning pays glowing tribute to Mr Blair: "His stature is high, his agenda ambitious, his optimism seemingly boundless ... He even looks more robust – the wan, haunted demeanour of recent weeks as he fought off the flu and widespread popular opposition in Britain to war has been replaced with rosier cheeks and his old cherubic grin." Less reverentially, the visit gave rise to ribald jokes on a British TV show last night about the nature of the two men's "special relationship".

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Wednesday 27 March 2013