Iraq war diary: 6 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...


With 25 Abrams tanks and 12 Bradley armoured vehicles, US forces made a three-hour tour through south-western Baghdad yesterday, reportedly killing up to 1,000 Iraqis and destroying 100 vehicles.

The purpose of the incursion was partly psychological and partly to test the strength of the city's internal defences. The route taken, which for a time cut off the Yarmuk district from the rest of the city, may indicate that the US favours the "segment and capture" option for conquering Baghdad (Daily briefing, April 4). The aim of this would be to pick off one district of the city at a time, starting with those that are least defended and most likely to welcome the Americans.

Inside Baghdad, defenders armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades have been reported taking up positions at road junctions. The sinister black-clad Fedayeen militia, controlled by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, have been seen on the streets for the first time since the war began.

Iraq television yesterday showed what it said was more footage of President Saddam – laughing and chatting with Uday, his younger son, Qusay, senior aides and commanders. It was unclear when the film was made.

The US says it now has 7,000 troops positioned at Baghdad airport and the next priority there is for military engineers to clear the debris, make repairs and prepare the runway for use. The US also says it has begun 24-hour surveillance of Baghdad from the air.

As an indication of the huge logistics operation that is taking place, AP reports that 2,500 or more supply vehicles travel north from Kuwait every day. Troops in the field drink 1.5m litres of water and eat 330,000 plastic-wrapped meals daily. A total of 65m gallons of fuel is also moving along the road, according to US central command.

Early this morning Iraqi television announced a night-time travel ban for entering and leaving Baghdad. This may be a safety measure because of shelling on the outskirts, but it followed reports yesterday that thousands of civilians were fleeing the city.

In northern Iraq, Kurdish forces are said to be continuing their advance towards Mosul and Kirkuk helped by US air cover.

The Kurds would like to capture both cities, but at some point soon the Americans may have to halt their advance, for fear of angering Turkey which does not want the Kurds to become too powerful.

There are suggestions this morning that the new Pentagon-run government of Iraq may start operating this week – possibly as early as Tuesday – in Umm Qasr, just across the border from Kuwait where it is currently getting ready for work in a cluster of seaside villas.

There is a growing debate in the US media about the secretive way the government is being assembled, about the sidelining of the Iraqi opposition and the UN, and the efforts by extreme neo-conservative elements in the Pentagon to seize control.

This issue is likely to be high on the agenda when the British prime minister, Tony Blair, meets the US president, George Bush, for a "war summit" in northern Ireland tomorrow.

Mr Blair reportedly wants extensive UN involvement but the Bush administration is divided. Mr Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, says that a UN role is not under discussion, while the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, says discussions have already begun.

The arguments are explored further by the Washington Post this morning.

The same paper also carries an article by two members of the US Senate foreign relations committee – Joseph Biden (Democrat) and Chuck Hagel (Republican) – calling for a sensitive and internationalist approach to "winning the peace" in Iraq.

Posted by Brian Whitaker 
Saturday, 6 April 2013