Iraq war diary: 13 April, 2003

To mark the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war, I am re-posting diary entries that I wrote at the time for the Guardian's website...



An Iraqi general who was in charge of liaison with United Nations weapons inspectors before the war gave himself up to American forces in Baghdad yesterday after discovering that he was on a list of the 55 "most wanted" officials.

General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, who has a German wife, was accompanied by a German television crew whom he had invited to film the surrender, apparently to ensure his safety.

US secretary of state Colin Powell singled out General Saadi for criticism in his speech to the UN security council last February.

"It was General Saadi who last [autumn] publicly pledged that Iraq was prepared to cooperate unconditionally with inspectors," Mr Powell said. "Quite the contrary, Saadi's job is not to cooperate; it is to deceive, not to disarm, but to undermine the inspectors; not to support them, but to frustrate them and to make sure they learn nothing."

In contrast, the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, described General Saadi as "extremely knowledgeable and businesslike", adding that unlike the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, he did not constantly inject politics in discussions about the inspections. However, Mr Blix also said General Saadi's claim that Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons in the summer of 1991 "had no credibility".

General Saadi, a chemist who was trained in Britain and Germany, worked on Iraq’s chemical weapons programme in the 1980s and 1990s.

Whether he will now lead the US to the elusive "smoking gun" remains to be seen. Yesterday he told the German TV station, ZDF, that he had been honest in his dealings with weapons inspectors and felt in "no way guilty". He continued to insist that Iraq did not possess chemical or biological weapons.

Amid scenes of vigilantes beating up suspected looters and threatening them with guns, Iraqi demonstrators yesterday vented their wrath at the Sheraton hotel in Baghdad where the US Marines now have their headquarters. "Where is the law?" one of them complained. "This is democracy in Baghdad?"

Eyewitnesses say American troops have been standing aside as looters go about their plundering and in some cases have even waved booty-laden cars through checkpoints.

Three Malaysian journalists were ambushed and kidnapped by unidentified gunmen shortly after leaving the Sheraton hotel yesterday. An Iraqi interpreter accompanying them was shot dead. They were among a group of 28 journalists sent to Baghdad last week at the expense of the Malaysian government which had complained of biased reporting by western news media in Iraq.

Efforts to reinstate Saddam Hussein’s police force have so far met with limited success. About 80 officers have reported for duty and last night a token police car with three officers inside was said to be patrolling the city.

This morning the US began its first air patrols over Baghdad in an effort to improve security.

The state department last week awarded a multi-million dollar contract for private police work in Iraq to DynCorp, a security firm which has donated more than £100,000 to the Republican party.

A report in today’s Observer says the company, which has branch offices in the British military town of Aldershot, has already begun recruiting in Britain with offers of one-year employment contracts at a salary of £51,000 plus "hazard bonuses".

The paper reveals that DynCorp was recently ordered by a British employment tribunal to pay £110,000 to a UN police officer in Bosnia who was unfairly sacked for blowing the whistle on colleagues involved in an illegal sex ring.

Expectations that the Baathists will make a bloody "last stand" in Tikrit – Saddam Hussein’s birthplace – are unlikely to be fulfilled, judging by reports this morning.

Tikrit has previously been subjected to heavy bombing and, according to the US military, Iraqi reinforcements were seen digging in around the town. But live pictures this morning from CNN correspondent Brent Sadler, who drove into the northern outskirts unopposed, showed no sign of Iraqi fighters or armour. A military base five miles from the centre was derelict, with destroyed artillery and empty tanks along the roads around Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad.

"I've not seen one single symbol of [Iraqi] authority in the last hour of transmission," Mr Sadler said.

Later, however, the CNN crew left in a hurry after coming under small arms fire – though it was unclear who was responsible for the shooting. One of the drivers suffered a head wound and a vehicle was badly damaged.

In a further sign of the Kurds’ assertiveness, Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas also came within two miles of Tikrit last night before pulling back. Again, there was little sign of resistance apart from minor skirmishes.

This seems to demolish the theory that the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard have retreated to Tikrit, though it only adds to the mystery of what has happened to them.

The US yesterday continued its verbal onslaught against Syria when Colin Powell called on Iraq’s neighbour to detain any Iraqi officials seeking refuge. President Bush had earlier said the Syrian authorities should "turn them over to the proper folks".

Tension was exacerbated yesterday when the US military said a man who shot dead a Marine outside a hospital in Baghdad was a Syrian national. In the early stages of the war a number of Arab volunteers crossed into Iraq from Syria.

US forces in Iraq have now sealed off the roads leading to and from Syria.

The Syrian foreign minister, Farouq al-Sharaa, yesterday described the American accusations as baseless and challenged Washington to provide evidence. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, on a visit to Damascus, called for an end to the war of words. "Now is the time for a display of responsibility, not polemics," he said.

Syrian television reported that President Bashar al-Asad received a phone call on Friday evening from the British prime minister, Tony Blair. It gave no details beyond saying they "discussed developments in Iraq and their repercussions".

The British foreign office confirmed last week that at present Syria has no legal obligation to hand over any Iraqi fugitives, since none have yet been formally indicted or charged with crimes.

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Saturday, 13 April 2013