Iraq war diary: 29 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

29 March 2003: Fifty dead in Baghdad market blast.

Iraq suffered another civilian tragedy and the invasion forces suffered another public relations disaster when an explosion in a crowded market area of Baghdad killed more than 50 people yesterday.

It was the second incident of its kind within two days. A similar blast killed 14 people in a marketplace on Wednesday.

In the midst of an almost round-the-clock blitz on the city, there were strong suspicions that this was another mis-aimed strike by an American missile.

Following Wednesday's explosion, US officials gave a range of conflicting explanations – including the suggestion that it was caused by an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile falling back to earth – but last night the Pentagon made no immediate comment on the latest incident.

Whatever the actual cause, the damage to the US in terms of public opinion has already been done and will not be easily undone. TV stations – particularly the Arab satellite channels – showed pictures of the victims throughout the day, reinforcing the impression that the US is a greater immediate threat than Saddam Hussein.

In a move that threatens to widen the conflict, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday issued a warning to two of Iraq's neighbours, Syria and Iran.

He claimed that "military supplies" had been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq – though the only item he specifically mentioned was night-vision goggles.

Mr Rumsfeld took care not to blame the Syrian government directly for the alleged trafficking but said the government would be held accountable for it.

He also complained about "activity" inside Iraq by the Iranian-based Badr Corps and said the Iranian government would be held responsible for that.

The American neo-conservatives regard war with Iraq as the first stage of their wider plan to reshape Israel's "strategic environment" by toppling various regimes in the Middle East.

During a visit to Israel last month, John Bolton, US undersecretary of state for arms control, discussed with prime minister Ariel Sharon which countries to "deal with" after Iraq. Syria and Iran emerged as the favourites.

Early this morning a missile caused damage in Souq Sharq, a shopping and leisure area on the seafront in Kuwait City. The missile is thought to have landed nearby in the sea.

Although damage was light and no serious casualties were reported, this appears to be the first time since the war began that an Iraqi missile – believed to be a Chinese-made Silkworm – has got through the protective cordon of Patriot batteries into the Kuwaiti capital.

One theory is that the missile was fired from the Faw peninsula in southern Iraq and skimmed low over the sea to evade Kuwait's radar system.

Also this morning, there is a report by Reuters – attributed to unnamed US officers – that an "operational pause" in the war lasting several days is being planned to allow for re-grouping and re-supply of the American forces around Baghdad. So far, US military officials have refused to comment on the report.

Meanwhile, British military officials say they have no evidence to back up claims that four or five British soldiers were kidnapped in Basra overnight.

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Tuesday, 29 March 2013