Iraq war diary: 3 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...


Yesterday was the best day for US forces since the invasion began. They appear to have broken through Iraqi lines at two key points outside Baghdad.


In the south-west, the 3rd Infantry Division passed Karbala to come within 19 miles of the Iraqi capital. This was made possible by sealing off the exit routes from Karbala to forestall Iraqi resistance, rather than attempting a much longer operation to seize control of the city itself.

Further east, US forces reportedly "destroyed" the 12,000-strong Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard near Kut, seized a strategic bridge across the Tigris river, and moved up the Tigris valley to within 40 miles of the capital.

This morning, there are reports that two of Iraq's northernmost Republican Guard elements, the Adnan and Nebuchadnezzar divisions, are moving south towards Baghdad, apparently to assist other Iraqi forces which are under attack.

Further reports suggest that US forces are now within six miles of Baghdad, with Republican Guards advancing towards them as the long-anticipated ground battle for the capital approaches.

Overnight, for the first time during the war, Iraq shot down an American jet fighter – a naval F/A-18C Hornet operating from the USS Kitty Hawk. It has previously shot down several helicopters and unmanned drones.

An US helicopter went down in southern Iraq, though contradictory accounts of what happened have been given. Centcom says that the aircraft crashed, while the Pentagon says that it was shot down. At least six people on board are reported to have died.

These losses aside, developments around Baghdad mean that the US generally has a more positive story to tell than during the first two weeks of the war. However, that could shortly change again, depending on how it approaches the conquest of Baghdad.

The UK has also recovered its balance on the propaganda front. Essentially, the British line involves distancing itself from the more extreme elements of US policy. It is opposing US threats to Syria and Iran, proposing more UN involvement in a post-war Iraq, and differentiating British troops on the ground from the Americans by portraying them as approachable people who are doing the best to make friends with ordinary Iraqis.

The British army has begun publicising the "community relations" training given to every soldier, a relic of empire and the conflict in Northern Ireland. One interesting detail in this is that British troops in Iraq are forbidden to wear sunglasses, because that would prevent them from making normal eye contact with Iraqi citizens.

One British officer, interviewed on BBC radio last night, painted a glowing picture of the army's community relations, and said that he had never known a war in which some of his troops had not ended up marrying local women.

Iraq, meanwhile, scored a disastrous propaganda own goal yesterday by expelling one of al-Jazeera's two correspondents in Baghdad, and telling the other, an Iraqi citizen, that he could no longer report for the Qatar-based TV channel.

It appears that one of the reporters caused offence by trying to interview ordinary Iraqis without having a government "minder" present. Al-Jazeera reacted by saying that it would withdraw all its correspondents from Baghdad, Basra and Mosul (although it will continue to show film from those areas).

The Arabic channel had previously been accused by the US of acting as a mouthpiece for the Baghdad regime, but the Iraqi government's move is likely to enhance its reputation for independent reporting.

The most important battle of the war, over the future shape of Iraq, continues to rage behind the scenes in Washington and in a cluster of beachside villas in Kuwait, where the government-in-waiting is being assembled.

Moves to replace the Ba'athists with a Pentagon regime dominated by American neo-conservatives (nicknamed "Wolfie's people", as they are protegees of deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz) are being resisted by the state department, virtually the whole of the Iraqi opposition movement and, to some extent, Britain. Detailed articles on this theme appear this morning in the New York Times and the Financial Times.

So far, beside Jay Garner, the former US general who is notionally in charge of the future government, a number of names have emerged. They include:

  • James Woolsey: the former CIA director is favoured by Mr Wolfowitz to head the information ministry, although the White House says he is unsuitable for that. He is likely to be offered an alternative post.

  • Robert Reilly: former head of Voice of America radio. Currently working on post-Saddam broadcasts.

  • Timothy Carney: former US ambassador to Sudan, scheduled to run the industry ministry. Mr Wolfowitz invited him to join, but has since turned against him.

  • Barbara Bodine: former US ambassador to Yemen. She is due to become governor of Baghdad, and has started work in Kuwait, but is opposed by the Pentagon. While in Yemen, she alienated US hardliners by advocating a "sensitive" approach following the attack on the USS Cole.

  • Robin Raphel: former US ambassador to Tunisia, scheduled to run the trade ministry. He is held back in Washington following opposition from the Pentagon.

  • Kenton Keith: former US ambassador to Qatar, scheduled to run the foreign ministry. Also held back in Washington following opposition from the Pentagon.

  • Buck Walters: retired US general, scheduled to take charge of southern Iraq.

  • George Ward: former US Marine and ambassador to Namibia, due to take charge of coordinating humanitarian assistance.

  • Lewis Lucke: veteran of USAID, due to take charge of reconstruction.

  • Michael Mobbs: lawyer and close associate of Douglas Feith, the under secretary for defence policy; due to take charge of civil administration.


Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Wednesday, 3 April 2013