Iraq war diary: 8 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...



There is new speculation about the fate of Saddam Hussein today after the US destroyed a house in Baghdad in an attempt to assassinate him.

A single B-1 warplane dropped four 2,000lb bombs on the house, in the middle-class Mansour district of the city, yesterday afternoon but the purpose of the mission was not revealed by the Pentagon until 12 hours later.

One of the bunker-busting bombs left a crater 30ft deep and 50ft wide in the road. Witnesses said two houses were flattened and four other buildings badly damaged. Various reports put the number of Iraqi dead at between eight and 16.

US officials say they believe Saddam Hussein and his sons, Qusay and Uday, were in the building at the time. They say the attack was the result of intelligence from three "credible" sources, including a listening device planted in the building. A voice similar to that of Saddam had allegedly been heard discussing routes out of the city.

During the 1991 Gulf war, the Iraqi leader spent much of his time in ordinary houses, believing them to be less prone to attack than his palaces and bunkers.

A group of American soldiers have spent their first night in central Baghdad, as uninvited guests at one of the presidential palaces. Pictures from inside the palace, showing a mixture of opulence and destruction, figure strongly in the newspapers this morning. Predictably, one of the marble-clad bathrooms was found to have gold taps.

Renewed fighting was reported from around the palace early today, though it was unclear whether the building had come under attack from Iraqi forces or whether the Americans were trying to extend their area of control.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, troops and some civilians have been removing the most visible symbols of Saddam's power. In Zawra Park, according to CNN, a 40ft statue of the Iraqi leader mounted on horseback crashed to the ground when American soldiers shot the legs off.

The information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who is now Iraq's most celebrated TV personality, gave another cheerful press conference from the roof of the Palestine Hotel yesterday, announcing that "Baghdad is safe" as smoke wafted across the sky behind him and Iraqi troops on the opposite bank of the river ran for cover.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that hospitals in Baghdad are being overwhelmed by new patients, are running out of medicine and are short of water and electricity.

An ICRC spokesman said surgeons at al-Kindi hospital in north-eastern Baghdad "have been working round the clock for the past two days and most are exhausted. Conditions are terrible".

In Basra, British troops were seen on television yesterday patrolling streets of the old city on foot – a sign that the security situation is improving. But there is also extensive looting of official buildings (including a further education college) for furniture, computers, electrical items and even floorboards. A BBC correspondent reported seeing a grand piano stolen from a hotel being wheeled along the street.

British forces say their priority in Basra at the moment is to deal with "pockets" of military resistance rather than to maintain civilian law and order.

US forces said yesterday that they may have found stores of the nerve agent sarin and other biological and chemical weapons at a camp near Hindiyah in central Iraq. Throughout the war the US has been seeking proof of its claim that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Several "finds" have been reported but none has been confirmed. Tests on material in the latest discovery are expected to take several days.

President George Bush and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, are continuing their talks in northern Ireland today. A key issue is differences of opinion between the two leaders on the rebuilding and future government of Iraq.

Jay Garner, the former US general who is setting up the "transitional" Pentagon-controlled government of Iraq from his base in Kuwait, was due to give a press conference yesterday but it was cancelled at the last minute. No reason was given, though continued behind-the-scenes wrangling is the most likely explanation.

The Guardian reports today that Britain hopes to appoint Major General Tim Cross, a logistics expert, as Mr Garner's deputy. General Cross, who previously organised refugee camps in Macedonia and Kosovo, has been coordinating humanitarian aid to the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

Al-Jazeera television channel said this morning that its Baghdad office had been hit by American bombing. One cameraman was injured and another member of the team is missing, the station said.

The Kabul office of the Qatar-based channel, which has often incurred the wrath of the US, was hit by American "smart" bombs during the war in Afghanistan. Before the invasion of Iraq began, al-Jazeera said it would be supplying the geographical coordinates of its Baghdad office to the US military, so there would be no excuse this time for hitting it by mistake.

Al-Jazeera's new English-language website has also been shut down several times in the past fortnight by cyber attacks that some believe are officially organised.

More details have emerged of American propaganda broadcasting to Iraq, some of which comes from aircraft operating out of a small US base known as Camp Snoopy, at Doha airport in Qatar. Mika Makelainen, a Finnish radio enthusiast, has published a full report on his website.

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Monday, 8 April 2013