Iraq war diary: 30 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

30 March 2003: First suicide bombing. 

Four American soldiers died yesterday near Najaf in the first suicide bombing of the war.

At a press conference afterwards, Iraq's vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, named the bomber as Ali Jaafar al-Nuamani, a non-commissioned officer in the Iraqi army – and indicated that suicide bombings will now become "routine military policy".

He also repeated the threat to carry out attacks in the US and Britain: "We will use any means ... and we will follow the enemy into its land," the vice-president said.

In an article in the Sunday Mirror this morning, Britain's former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, denounces the invasion as "bloody and unnecessary", and calls for British troops to be brought home because of the risk of stoking up a "long-term legacy of hatred" for the west throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

Mr Cook, who earlier resigned from the government in protest, says President Bush and his defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, seem to have no idea what to do now that their hopes that Iraq would swiftly capitulate have proved unfounded.

In the US, Mr Rumsfeld is increasingly being blamed for the military quagmire. The latest issue of the New Yorker magazine accuses him of repeatedly rejecting advice from his advisers about the number of troops that would be needed.

He was so convinced that the Iraqi regime would fall apart that he insisted at least six times on sharply reducing the number of ground troops that the military planners wanted to send, the article says.

It also reveals that he overruled advice from the war commander, General Tommy Franks, to delay the invasion until troops who had been denied access through Turkey could be brought in by another route.

Mr Rumsfeld, who on Friday threatened to drag Syria and Iran into the war, is due to give interviews for the Fox and ABC television channels later today.

The bodies of the first British casualties arrived back in Britain yesterday, in coffins draped with the union flag.

According to the latest figures from Reuters, 23 Britons and 36 Americans have been killed so far, with a further 15 Americans missing. Most deaths have been the result of accidents or "friendly fire".

Overnight, the US said two more marines had been killed in accidents. One drowned when his vehicle rolled into a canal and the other was hit by a vehicle during a firefight with Iraqi soldiers.

On the Iraqi side, reliable casualty figures are difficult to obtain. The official estimate is 589 killed and 4,582 injured, but there are suspicions that many other deaths are not being disclosed by the Iraqi authorities because of the possible effect on morale.

Early this morning, British forces said they had captured five Iraqi officers and killed a colonel of the Republican Guard in village near Basra.

There are also reports of numerous "explosions" in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. In southern Iraq, the US says it has placed troops from US army's 82nd Airborne Division placed near Nassiriya to protect supply lines. Meanwhile, artillery fire has been heard just north of Umm Qasr, the Iraqi port that has frequently but wrongly been declared secure.

In the north, Iraqi troops have been bombarding areas near Chamchamal, which they earlier gave up to a Kurdish advance. Kurdish militias, in turn, say they have pushed about 16 miles into Iraqi government territory north of Kirkuk.

Citing military strategists, the Observer reports this morning that a full-scale assault on the Republican Guards could begin within three days and last for 10 days. That would be followed by a battle for Baghdad itself, lasting up to five weeks - taking the campaign into mid-May.

The British government yesterday repeated its view that the war will end once Saddam Hussein is removed, but there are growing signs that this will only mark the end of the first phase. The next stage – making Iraq secure and establishing a stable government – is likely to be longer and more even more difficult.

"A prolonged stay of US and British forces may turn the country into a magnet for militants seeking a new jihad," according to a report by Associated Press, which says thousands of Muslim militants who say they are ready for martyrdom have flocked to Iraq since the war began.

It quotes a warning by John Voll, an Islamic affairs expert at Georgetown University in the United States: "If there is an American occupation, then Iraq will definitely move to the top of the list of jihad for the international network of Islamists."


Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Saturday, 30 March 2013