Iraq war diary: 9 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...


Chaos and jubilation broke out in Baghdad this morning amid signs that Saddam Hussein's regime has lost control of the city.


Television showed scenes of citizens attacking images of the Iraqi leader, while others cheerfully made off with whatever they could grab from shops and other buildings.

Overnight, US marines fanned out through Saddam city, the Shia suburb, where they were greeted by smiling Iraqis.

Some feeble resistance was reported in the city centre, but the people of Baghdad had clearly decided Saddam cannot threaten them again.

Reuters reported that in one Baghdad street a white-haired man used his shoe to beat a picture of the fallen president while a younger man spat on the portrait.

"Come see, this is freedom ... this is the criminal, this is the infidel," he said. "This is the destiny of every traitor ... he killed millions of us. Oh people this is freedom."

Elsewhere, people emerged from buildings with looted electronic equipment, furniture, clocks, and even bunches of flowers. Some loaded them into cars and drove off.

Near the Palestine hotel about two dozen Arab volunteers, who had come to help defend Baghdad from the US-led invasion, pleaded desperately with taxi drivers to take them back to Syria.

In Qatar, however, a US military spokesman cautioned that it was too early to say the war was over. "I think it's premature to talk about the end of this operation yet," Captain Frank Thorp said.

"There may be many more fierce fighting days in front of us as coalition forces continue to move within Baghdad and within the country."

He added that the half of the country north of Baghdad had not yet been occupied by the US-led forces – including Saddam's home town, Tikrit, 110 miles north of the capital.

The apparent collapse of the regime followed an attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein on Monday, when a building in the Mansour district of Baghdad was hit by four 2,000lb bombs. The building is said to have incorporated a restaurant with a secret bunker at the back.

However, several reports citing British intelligences sources say the Iraqi leader probably survived.

Some 40 Iraqi officials are believed to have been meeting Saddam and his two sons in the building, though they may have left a few minutes before the attack.

Yesterday, American forces launched two separate attacks on international media centres in Baghdad, killing three journalists.

Amnesty International and the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists have both called for an investigation.

In one attack, an American tank fired a shell at the 15th floor of the Palestine hotel, where most of the "non-embedded" journalists in the Iraqi capital are staying.

Central command in Qatar initially said there had been "significant enemy fire" from the hotel and "consistent with the inherent right of self-defence, coalition forces returned fire".

Numerous journalists on the spot dismissed Centcom's claim as untrue and said there had been no firing from the hotel.

Centcom spokesman Vincent Brooks also implied the hotel was a legitimate target by saying it was used for "other regime purposes" – an apparent reference to press conferences given in the hotel by the Iraqi information minister.

Earlier in the day, two bombs hit the offices of al-Jazeera television during an American air raid. Abu Dhabi television nearby, whose identity is spelt out in large letters on the roof, also came under fire.

Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi are the only international TV stations with a permanent presence in Iraq. Al-Jazeera had previously sent the georgaphical coordinates of its office to the Pentagon in the hope of avoiding an American attack similar to the one that destroyed its office in Kabul during the Afghan war – but apparently to no avail.

Centcom claimed that US forces had come under fire from al-Jazeera's building.

Although media organisations do not claim special protection during wars, these well-publicised attacks highlight a more general concern about the invasion forces' attitude towards civilians, especially in Baghdad.

Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, has allegedly received an enthusiastic welcome in southern Iraq.

The controversial Mr Chalabi, who wants to be prime minister, was flown to Nassiriya by the US military on Sunday, despite objections from the CIA and state department that he is not a credible leader.

His spokesman, Francis Brooke, told Reuters yesterday: "We have been receiving delegation upon delegation [of local Iraqis]. We don't have time to meet them all. We are inundated."

But the US is reportedly annoyed by some freelance military activity from Abu Hatem Mohammed Ali, a guerilla leader associated with the INC.

Abu Hatem, along with several thousand armed men, is said to have "captured" the headquarters of Amara governorate, 230 miles southeast of Baghdad, without American support.

According to Reuters, he then left the building when the CIA threatened to have it bombed if he stayed.

Tony Blair – his eyes flashing like an American evangelist – and President Bush – his eyes suggesting it was well past his bedtime – concluded their two-day meeting in northern Ireland yesterday.

Mr Blair's main task was to persuade Mr Bush to accept more UN involvement in postwar Iraq. (Britain, of course, always opposed any UN involvement in the northern Ireland conflict.)

The outcome was a joint statement that the UN has a "vital role" to play in the reconstruction of Iraq.

This was slightly reminiscent of the way British governments tell nurses, firefighters, roadsweepers, etc, that they are playing a vital role but, sorry, they can't have any more money just at the moment.

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Tuesday, 9 April 2013