Iraq war diary: 31 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

31 March 2003:  Military chiefs accuse Rumsfeld. 

American leaders moved swiftly yesterday to prevent the opening up of another front in the war – this time between Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, and his military chiefs.

The fuss is over an article published today in the New Yorker magazine, which blames Mr Rumsfeld for many of the problems on the battlefield.

It says that in the planning stages of the war, the defence secretary and his team of civilian advisers repeatedly overruled the military experts because they thought they knew better.

Both Mr Rumsfeld and the war commander, General Tommy Franks, have denied the allegations – though it's an open secret that Mr Rumsfeld's style of management has annoyed many in the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, a sign of possible dissent in the British ranks is a report this morning that three unnamed soldiers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade have been sent home to face a court martial. They are understood to have complained about the way the war is being fought and the growing danger to civilians.

Following the first suicide bombing of the war, which killed four American soldiers on Saturday, Iraq has claimed for have more than 4,000 other volunteers ready to "martyr" themselves.

Although Saddam Hussein's regime is largely secular, religious militants throughout the region will probably make strenuous efforts over the coming months to "Islamise" the conflict – as happened during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group yesterday issued a statement announcing "the good news" that the first of its suicide bombers had arrived in Baghdad. Because of the extremely tight security in Israel, American and British troops in Iraq are likely to become an easier and more attractive target for the foreseeable future.

Angered by the TV images of civilian casualties and the feeble efforts of their own governments to prevent the war, Arabs from various countries have been volunteering to fight in Iraq. Reports mention 100 in Algeria and 50 in Egypt. In Lebanon, 20 volunteers are said to have already gone, while hundreds more have applied for Iraqi visas.

In northern Kuwait yesterday, 15 US soldiers were injured when a civilian charged at them in a pick-up truck just outside their base at Camp Udairi. The attacker, said to be an Egyptian migrant worker, was shot and critically injured.

Bombing in and around Baghdad continued relentlessly over the weekend – though the US says three-quarters of the attacks are aimed at weakening the Republican Guard, which has set up a protective cordon around the city. Early this morning the information ministry was in flames, having been targeted by Tomahawk cruise missiles to "reduce the command and control capabilities" of the Iraqi government, according to the US.

One of the ministry's main functions is to supervise foreign journalists working in Iraq, and normally they are required to file reports from the ministry building so that their activities can be monitored. Night-time scenes of Baghdad frequently shown by CNN came from a camera on the ministry's roof. Ahead of the attack, much of the media activity had been transferred to the Palestine Hotel.

Also this morning, there are reports of significant military activity around Nassiriya where, according to the BBC, 5,000 additional US troops, including special forces, are being sent in an effort to defeat continuing Iraqi resistance.

A dawn raid on Shatra, north of the Nassiriya, reportedly targeted Saddam's cousin, "Chemical Ali", and other senior Iraqi officials who are believed to be directing guerrilla attacks in the area.

In Nassiriya itself, the US says marines have found large quantities of gas masks and anti-nerve gas chemicals in an abandoned Iraqi camp. It is reported this morning that American troops are attempting to communicate with Iraqis in the field via a hand-held electronic box known as a Phrasealator, which was first tried out in Afghanistan.

The user points to one of 1,000 phrases on a menu – such as "come out with your hands up" – and the box squawks out the message in Pashtu, Dari, Urdu or, in this case, Arabic. Unfortunately, there is no way the Americans can understand what the Iraqis say in reply.


Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Sunday, 31 March 2013