Iraq war diary: 28 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

28 March 2003: Richard Perle resigns.

Amid admissions that Iraq has surprised the invasion forces with the strength of its resistance, and official predictions that the conflict will last longer than originally expected, there is news from Washington that Richard Perle, chief architect of the war, has resigned as chairman of the Pentagon's influential Defence Policy Board.

Mr Perle says he resigned to stop allegations about his business interests becoming a distraction from the "urgent challenge" of invading Iraq, but he apparently intends to stay on in a more minor role.

In 1996 Mr Perle, nicknamed the Prince of Darkness, was the main author of a report entitled "Clean Break" whose contents were revealed by the Guardian last September (Playing skittles with Saddam, September 3 2002). This set out a plan to protect Israel's strategic interests by reshaping the Middle East, starting with regime change in Iraq.

Last week, the Guardian disclosed Mr Perle's links to an intelligence-related computer firm that stands to profit from war with Iraq (Pentagon hawk linked to UK intelligence company, March 21 2003). Mr Perle has denied separate allegations published earlier this month in the New Yorker, and threatened to sue the magazine in Britain, where libel cases are much harder to defend than in the US.

According to a report to be published today by the US watchdog Center for Public Integrity, at least 10 out of 30 members of the Pentagon committee are executives or lobbyists with companies that have tens of billions of dollars' worth of contracts with the US defence department and other government agencies.

Britain's chief military officer in the Gulf, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, yesterday attacked American moves to hand over the running of Iraq's largest port to a company which has a history of bad industrial relations and has faced accusations of union-busting.

The firm, Stevedoring Services of American, has been awarded a £3m contract to manage Umm Qasr by the Bush administration. Britain argues that the port should be run by Iraqis once it has been made secure.

Another contract in Umm Qasr – for construction work – has gone to a subsidiary of Halliburton, Vice-President Dick Cheney's old firm.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the first ship carrying humanitarian aid to Umm Qasr has again been delayed because of the continuing risk from mines.

George Bush and Tony Blair ended their summit at Camp David yesterday with a joint press conference where they vowed to fight "for as long as it takes" to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But with growing perceptions in the Middle East that the invasion is aimed at conquering Iraq rather than liberating it, there is also a growing possibility that the removal of Saddam will not mark the end of the war.

From Camp David, Mr Blair went on to New York for talks with the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan. Discussions centred on plans for a new security council resolution to restart the oil-for-food programme on which 60% of Iraqis depend for their survival.

The bombing of Baghdad continued overnight and a BBC correspondent in the city said the explosions heard were among the most violent since the start of the war. Targets included an Iraqi communications centre which was hit by two 4,700-lb "bunker-busting" bombs, according to US officials.

Following the parachute landing by about 1,000 troops to secure an airfield in northern Iraq on Wednesday, US cargo planes have begun delivering military supplies there, along with 200 more troops.

One of the main difficulties facing the invasion forces almost everywhere in Iraq is distinguishing soldiers from civilians – and the Baghdad regime is clearly putting civilians at risk by deliberately confusing the picture.

A "pooled" (and apparently censored) report by a Reuters correspondent this morning describes an attack by US marines on a bus near Nassirya in which 20 Iraqis were killed. The dead were wearing some civilian clothing and were said to be carrying papers that identified them as members of the Republican Guard – though the report says that only two guns were found on the bus.

British and American rules of engagement normally require clear evidence that targets are armed and hostile before troops can open fire. But because of the Iraqi use of non-uniformed fighters, troops are finding themselves in the invidious position of having to make split-second judgments.

This bodes ill for any future attempt to capture Baghdad. The Iraqi defence minister, Sultan Hashem Ahmed, was quoted yesterday as saying the capital "cannot be taken as long as the citizens in it are still alive".


Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Tuesday, 28 March 2013