1) Guardian News Summary (3/21, Guardian,
2) Robert Fisk in Baghdad (3/20, Independent, UK)
3) Is Saddam Still Alive? (3/20, AP)
4) Annan, Blix regret Iraq conflict (3/20: BBC)
5) UN tries to halt staff protest against attack (3/20: Guardian, UK)
1) Guardian News Summary
Friday March 21, 2003
Britain and America today suffered their first casualties of the war in Iraq, when 12 servicemen died in a helicopter crash in the Kuwaiti desert.
The accident happened as coalition troops were pushing towards the Iraqi capital Baghdad and seeking to secure Basra, the border port town of Umm Qasr and the strategic Al Faw peninsula on the Persian Gulf.
12 die in helicopter crash
Eight British and four American servicemen died when their American CH-46 Sea Knight aircraft crashed in Kuwait.
The aircraft was part of the invading force of allied troops involved in seizing oilfields on the Al Faw peninsula.
Lt Col Ben Curry, a Royal Marines spokesman in Kuwait, said: "Regrettably
during the deployment phase a US helicopter crashed. There were eight UK
servicemen from 3 Commando Brigade and four US air crew. None survived the
Al Faw peninsula
Royal Marines commandos have stormed the Al Faw peninsula to capture key oil facilities.
Their lightning offensive began at about 1925 GMT yesterday with heavy artillery shelling before elite troops stormed numerous installations.
Six Iraqis were said to have been killed, 16 captured and one vehicle destroyed but there were no reports of any US or British casualties.
Some parts of the Al Faw complex had been set alight, but Group Capt Lockwood said they had secured the oil facilities and were now moving up the Al Faw peninsula.
The troops met only "light resistance" and suffered no casualties, he said, adding: "They have secured the beachhead and moved up along the peninsula to secure the oil infrastructure."
Lt Col Curry said: "At 7pm GMT last night, combat units from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines in conjunction with Naval Special Warfare teams from the United States Navy launched a heliborne assault in the Al Faw peninsula in southern Iraq.
"The aim of the assault was to capture intact an oil pumping station and pipeline valve in order to prevent their destruction by Iraqi forces and the subsequent environmental pollution of the Persian Gulf.
"The mission has been successful. All objectives have been captured intact. Iraqi resistance has been light and there have been enemy casualties and prisoners.
"The combat units on the Al Faw peninsula are continuing to secure the area and more combat units from the 3 Commando Brigade are deploying."
To the west of Basra, troops from the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery helped US soldiers securing oilfields from possible sabotage.
Early today oil wells were reported to be on fire at Iraq's valuable al-Rumeila field, west of Basra and just north of the Kuwaiti border. Reports suggested that Iraqis have rigged their wells with explosives, hoping to slow the attack and making the country's oil wealth worthless for any new government.
The port town of Umm Qasr, south of Basra, was likely to be secured today, according to military officials.
Coalition forces in northern Kuwait were maintaining their heavy bombardment in the direction of the port.
British submarines also fired Tomahawk cruise missiles while RAF Tornados were used against military targets.
Securing Umm Qasr would set the stage for the capture of Basra, which lies just 20 miles from the Kuwait border.
Push towards Baghdad
Elsewhere on the ground, coalition forces were reported to be meeting little resistance as they pushed across the desert towards Baghdad.
The 7th US Cavalry in Abrams main battle tanks and Bradley personnel carriers were "charging to Baghdad", in the words of CNN TV reporter Walter Rodgers, who is travelling with them.
After an initial skirmish with Iraqi troops when they burst out of Kuwait, the Apache and Crazy Horse troops of the cavalry raced across the desert at 25mph for hours without meeting any opposition.
Waiting to follow them was the 3rd Infantry Division.
However, Rodgers said the US troops were "realistic" that they would have to fight nearer to Baghdad, particularly the Iraqi Republican Guard.
Iraq fights back
Some units, such as the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, have already met resistance.
The troops were pinned down by Iraqi anti-tank rockets and small arms fire just yards after crossing the border, according to BBC News 24's correspondent Adam Mynott.
He said the convoy he was in had been forced to retreat and it was unclear whether one vehicle had been hit. British artillery fire had been called in.
Involvement of British troops
Group Captain Al Lockwood, a spokesman for British forces in the Gulf, said : "One division crossed the border last night and 3 Commando Brigade landed on Al Faw peninsula. They secured oil equipment on the peninsula so there would be no risk of oil pollution into the Gulf.
"There was limited contact [with the enemy] and no British casualties.
"There was light resistance."
He would not be drawn on whether there were any any Iraqi casualties.
British troops were supported by artillery fire.
The Royal Marines made an amphibious landing and made quick progress, taking the beach and moving up to the oil facilities.
He said: "The other British land forces crossed the point of departure and have entered Iraq.
"UK submarines contributed cruise missiles against very important targets in Iraq."
He said mine countermeasures were deployed by British ships to clear the waterways into the port of Umm Qasr.
He said: "The aim is to allow humanitarian assistance and shipping to get in."
The RAF were involved in a wide range of operations, he said.
"Tornados were used against military targets to shape the battle space. Harrier GR7s have also been involved in close air support missions to support land forces."
Unite behind troops, Blair urges Britons
Tony Blair last night called on a deeply divided Britain to unite behind the country's armed forces as they joined the US-led war in Iraq "from air, land and sea".
The choice for the world was clear, he said: "back down and leave
Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might
give us a moment of respite but years of repentance at our weakness would
I believe follow. "
In Yasser Arafat Street, at the Sana Nimr al-Ibrahim
pharmacy, Riad offered to give me two rolls of bandages
free. I told him I'd better pay, since I thought the
RAF was going to bomb him in a few hours time. "I think
they are,'' he said. Then he shot me the kind of grin I
As a Brit, buying emergency rations in the shops of
Baghdad yesterday evening was an instructive
experience. Riad's pharmacy was crowded, his customers
buying up not just bandages but splints, painkillers,
tweezers, cotton wool, disinfectant and rubbing
alcohol. It had been the same on Tuesday night, from
5pm right up to 10pm.
Yet in all Yasser Arafat Street, there wasn't a curse
or a bad word for a Brit. I was told always that I was
"welcome in Iraq''--the few journalists here must
fervently hope this remains the case when the blitz
begins --and that it was pleasant to see a sahafa, a
journalist, taking the same risks as the people in the
street. This was not, of course, the moment to remind
them that I had a flak jacket when they did not, that I
had a gas mask, which they have not, that I even have a
helmet that would fit any of their heads but is likely
to be only on mine.
At the Alastrabak grocery store, I bought 25 loo rolls,
a mountain of biscuits and a stack of red and green
candles. Abbas, the proprietor, told me I was his 200th
customer of the evening. Usually, fewer than 100 visit
his shop in an entire day.
At the Tabarak store--in English, the "God Bless You"
store--I put 24 bags of crisps, boxes of long-life
cheese and 30 cans of the most tasteless soft drink in
the whole world on the counter. After a siege or two--
the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut was my first--you
develop an uncanny knack of knowing what to hunt for.
I bought two electrical adaptors from Sami's little
store for my computer leads, though they won't be any
use if the Americans bomb the Iraqi power grid. Meat
and vegetables of any kind are a waste of money, unless
the meat is canned. And that's what Baghdad residents
were buying yesterday. Dr Mohammed of the Karameh
Hospital was buying razor blades, so he could shave in
cold water--if there is electricity to drive the pumps.
The most popular food at one store was tamaniya, an
Iraqi sweet made out of date palms, so long-lasting
that it's reputed to be edible for a decade and so
sticky that it can wrench out the weakest molars.
Tamaniya doesn't go off in the heat.
Most of the shops in Yasser Arafat Street have already
been shuttered by their owners for fear of thieves and
the pavements were scattered last night with a gloomy
mixture of last-minute shoppers and soldiers. A
uniformed and bearded member of the Republican Guard
crossed the road with his arm round his small son on a
last visit home before the war.
Yet even last night, it was still difficult to grasp
the reality of what was in store for us. Two old
Soviet-made anti-aircraft guns sat on top of the
ornamental gates of a palace, brilliantly illuminated
by the floodlights below. There were piles of sandbags
at street corners, the soldiers behind them chatting to
shoppers. Is this what constant war does to people?
Does it turn them into men and women who know they will
survive for the simple reason that they survived last
At Baalbek Nuts I bought pistachios from the Lebanese
owners, who answered my request for their thoughts on
the war with the typically Lebanese response of "no
problem". It's a lie, as we all knew.
After all, Dr Mohammed invited me to his hospital
because we both assumed there would be civilian
casualties. On Iraqi television, they were replaying
this morning's theatre at the National Assembly, where
parliament members dutifully chanted their undying
loyalty to Saddam and routinely offered their blood and
souls to the same gentleman.
The Iraqi Minister of Information had told foreign
journalists earlier that this war would be "no picnic''
and added that the Americans and British would be
killed. Which may be true, although the Iraqis, it has
to be said, were more interested last night to know how
many of them would be killed by the Americans and the
WASHINGTON (March 20) - Intelligence reports indicated Iraq's forces were in disarray following a strike aimed at killing President Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials said Thursday. There was no evidence that Saddam, or anyone else, was in overall command of Iraq's security or military operations, they said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no definitive word whether Saddam was caught in the pre-dawn attack, nor were they certain whether he was alive or dead.
The attack, which involved ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and bombs dropped from stealth fighters, was aimed at a residential complex where U.S. intelligence believed Saddam, and possibly his sons, were sleeping.
Naval missile strikes in Baghdad also were aimed at the headquarters of the Special Republican Guard, a paramilitary force that was expected to defend Baghdad from any U.S. assault, and other security organizations.
After the attack, intelligence reports indicated Iraq's leaders were not organizing any coordinated response in Baghdad or in the rest of the country, suggesting the leadership might be in chaos or cut off from communicating with field commanders.
Also, the anti-aircraft fire above Baghdad during the strikes was lighter than seen in previous conflicts.
''It's little things here and there. Some individual commanders are hunkering down while others are launching small attacks and setting fires,'' one official said. A few oil wells in southern Iraq were burning Thursday; officials had suggested Iraqi troops would purposely light them to create an economic and ecological disaster.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said military planners had good reason to believe top Iraqi leaders were at the site of the first bombing.
''We are in communication with still more people who are officials of the military at various levels - the regular army, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard - who are increasingly aware that it's going to happen, he's going to be gone,'' Rumsfeld said.
U.S. intelligence suspected Saddam's sons, Qusai and Odai, might have been with him during the strike. Both hold high-level security positions. Qusai, the younger son, is believed to be Saddam's likely successor.
A defiant Saddam appeared on Iraqi television a few hours after the strike. However, officials said the taped message did not prove he was alive.
It appeared to be him and not a look-alike, officials said after initial analysis. A voice analysis was under way.
There was nothing in the tape that made specific reference to the attack, or other events, that would confirm it was made in the hours after the strike. Saddam's reading of the date could have been recorded earlier, officials said.
However, the fact that Saddam read the speech from a steno pad indicated a fairly impromptu production, suggesting it came after the strike, the officials said.
At a closed-door briefing in the Capitol, lawmakers asked top Pentagon officials if Saddam had been wounded.
''They frankly said, at this point in time, we have no definitive facts,'' said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
If Saddam survived, U.S. officials hoped the surprise attack at least would leave him distrustful of his inner circle and suspecting betrayal by one of his advisers, leaving him less able to command.
Officials said the surprise attack was the product of a complex operation that benefited from human intelligence, electronic spying, special military operations and changes in technology that permitted military chiefs to quickly reconfigure the cruise missiles for a pinpointed attack.
U.S. intelligence indicated the site had a reinforced bunker beneath the primary structures, and military officials designed a two-stage attack. The officials said the attack began with about three dozen naval cruise missiles that leveled the aboveground structures. Air Force F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighters then dropped a new 2,000-pound ''bunker buster'' bomb, called the EGBU-27.
The EGBU-27 warhead is specially designed to penetrate deep underground. It is guided by satellite signals.
His statement comes after former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, speaking to the BBC, criticised what he called American "impatience" to go to war with Iraq and suggested Washington had little interest in peaceful disarmament from the outset.
Mr Annan also spoke of the recent rift in the UN Security Council over military action saying it had shown the great importance that the people of the world attached to the legitimacy conveyed by the authority of the UN.
"The world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support, than is now the case," he said.
The secretary general added that the UN would do anything it could to offer "assistance and support" to the Iraqi people as the prospect of a humanitarian crisis loom.
"I hope that all parties will scrupulously observe the requirements of international humanitarian law, and will do everything in their power to shield the civilian population from the grim consequences of war," he said.
US 'lost patience'
Speaking on the BBC's Today Programme shortly before US-led operations in Iraq began, Mr Blix said that Resolution 1441 on Iraqi disarmament, adopted last autumn, had been unrealistic.
"The resolution (on Iraqi disarmament) that was adopted last autumn was extremely demanding and perhaps (the Americans) doubted that the Iraqis would go along with it and you would have a clash from the beginning," Mr Blix said.
Mr Blix, who headed the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic), said he was very disappointed that inspections were aborted.
"We had made rapid start," he said. "We did not have any obstacles from the Iraqi side in going anywhere. They gave us prompt access and we were in a great many places all over Iraq."
The former chief inspector also pointed out that his teams had secured
the destruction of some of Iraq's al-Samoud II missiles.
But the Americans "lost patience some time at the end of January or the beginning of February," Mr Blix said.
He suggested that Washington was "doubtful from the beginning" about the process.
"I somewhat doubt that when (the Security Council) got the resolution last November they really intended to give under three-and-a-half months for inspections," Mr Blix said.
However Mr Blix said the mission had showed that it was possible to have a UN inspection regime that was truly international and independent from the intelligence services of member states.
Kofi Annan's office has barred UN staff from open opposition to the war in
Mr Annan's chief of staff, Syed Iqbal Riza, has written to the heads of
UN agencies to halt attempts to organise protests against the attack by
publicly expressing support for the authority of the security council and
the secretary general's efforts to avoid conflict.
"United Nations staff are, of course, entitled to personal views and
political convictions and their desire to be of assistance to the secretary
general is appreciated," he wrote in the letter, headed "possible
initiatives by UN staff for peacefully resolving the Iraq crisis".
But it goes on to add that "international civil servants ... do not
the freedom of pri vate persons to take sides or to express their
convictions publicly on controversial matters, either individually or as
members of a group".
A senior UN official said there was considerable unhappiness within the
organisation at criticisms levelled by George Bush to justify bypassing the
"There is a feeling among many personnel that the US used the UN until
didn't suit them and then they trash it," one senior UN official said.
"We cannot openly campaign against the war but we wanted to make a
gesture - probably a petition - in support of Kofi Annan's efforts to
ensure the security council as a whole had the last word. But he does not
want a confrontation with the Americans on this."