War Watch

Claims and counter claims made during the media war over Iraq
8 aprile 2003
Annie Lawson, Lisa O'Carroll, Chris Tryhorn, Jason Deans
Fonte: The Guardian

Fonte: The Guardian - 4 aprile 2003

Friday April 4, 2003

Hoon: defended the use of cluster bombs in Iraq

"Fog" is the watchword of this war, with the lines between fact and propaganda being blurred on a daily basis. The demands of round-the-clock news means military claims are being relayed instantly to millions without being confirmed or verified only to be refuted later by reporters on the ground or by fresh military updates.

In due course, questions will be asked about the clashing interests of the military and the media and the role of war propaganda in the pursuit of a swift victory against Saddam Hussein's regime.

An early example of false claims relates to the battle to take control of Umm Qasr, the southern Iraqi deep-sea port and one of the key targets in the early war. By the first weekend of the conflict, it had been reported "taken" nine times, despite continued ugly skirmishes between coalition forces and irregulars loyal to Saddam operating out of the old town. Umm Qasr was not, in fact, taken until three days later.

Here MediaGuardian.co.uk charts the contradictory claims and counter claims made so far.

Anyone who can point to other war claims that don't bear scrutiny, please email editor@mediaguardian.co.uk .


Twenty miles from the city
Wednesday April 2 4.21pm
Early reports place the US troops within 20 miles of Baghdad from both the south-west and the south-east.

Still 20 miles away
Wednesday April 2 10.51pm
Advanced units of the US ground forces are still reportedly within 20 miles of the Iraqi capital.

Twenty-five miles away
Thursday April 3 8.56am
A military source with the Third Infantry reports units are just 20 miles from the southern edges of Baghdad. Forces heading up the Tigris valley from the south-east are reportedly as close as 25 miles to the city.

Six miles away
Thursday April 3, 10am
US troops are within six miles of the southern edge of Baghdad and meet less resistance than expected as they prepare to fight for control of the city's airport, US officials report.

Nowhere near
Thursday April 3 12.38pm
Iraq's information minister dismisses as "silly" reports that US troops are closing in on Baghdad and taking up positions near its airport. Asked about the progress of US soldiers, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf says: "They are nowhere near Baghdad."

Ten or four miles away?
Friday April 4 6.01am
US soldiers reportedly seize Baghdad airport, putting them 10 miles from the capital after a fierce battle with Iraqi fighters. But the number of miles between the forces and the city remains in dispute as other reports say the coalition's advance units are four miles from the edge of the capital.


Denial number one
Thursday April 3 12.43am
It is reported that B-52s have dropped cluster bombs on an Iraqi tank column guarding Baghdad, the first time such bombs have been used during the conflict. US and British commanders insist they would not drop cluster bombs, which spread a shower of "bomblets" that explode on impact or when they are touched on the ground. They are controversial because they can cause widespread injuries to civilians.

Denial number two
Thursday April 3 10.46am
British military commanders deny media reports that they are using cluster bombs in and around Basra. "I can categorically state that British forces are not using any type of cluster munitions, either from the air or with artillery," British military spokesman Colonel Chris Vernon tells a briefing at war headquarters in Qatar.

Thursday April 3 12.28pm
Iraq's information minister accuses US forces of using cluster bombs on Baghdad on Thursday, killing 14 people and wounding 66. "This morning, these criminals dropped cluster bombs on the Douri residential area of Baghdad and 14 people - men, women and children - were martyred and 66 were wounded," Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf tells a news conference.

Friday April 4 10.13am
The UK defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, defends the use of cluster bombs in Iraq and says ruling out their use would place British troops at risk. Coalition forces are anxious to minimise civilian casualties but cluster bombs are legal and play a legitimate role, he says. "The very strong military advice is that they are essential," he tells the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. "They fulfil a particular role on the battlefield and if we did not use them we would be putting our own forces at greater and, therefore, unnecessary risk."


Monday March 31 10.55pm
US troops open fire on a car at checkpoint near Kerbala, killing seven Iraqi women and children and wounding two. Four other women or children were huddled in the vehicle, unhurt, according to a Central Command spokesman in Qatar. He claims the driver had ignored warning shots fired by troops at the checkpoint. "As a last resort the soldiers fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle," the spokesman said.

Tuesday April 1, 1.49am
Military officials insist driver failed to heed a signal to stop and that the soldiers had followed correct checkpoint procedures. In a statement released soon after the incident, US troops are said to be edgier following A suicide bomb attack that killed four soldiers at another checkpoint. "In light of recent terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the soldiers exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary loss of life," the statement said. Pentagon promises to investigate the incident.

Tuesday April 1, 4.45am
The Washington Post, whose reporter William Branigin is embedded with the 3rd Infantry, reports on its website that 15 people were in the car and 10 were killed, including five children under five. The report quotes 3rd Infantry Division Captain Ronny Johnson as saying the checkpoint crew did not fire warning shots quickly enough despite ordering them to do so earlier. Troops pepper the car with cannon fire shots after it failed to stop. Johnson orders them to cease firing and shouts to the platoon leader, "You just fucking killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough."

Tuesday April 1, 1.04pm
Pentagon officials insist their initial account of the incident is correct and that warning shots were fired. "I'm sure that these soldiers were doing a good job," said one official. "It's very tragic, but they acted in an appropriate way."


Tuesday April 1 12.52pm
Iraq reports that US warplanes attack two buses bringing American and European peace activists to Baghdad from neighbouring Jordan. The information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, tells a news conference the injured are being treated in a hospital near the Jordanian border. "Yesterday an American warplane attacked two buses on the highway between Amman and Baghdad with foreign passengers, among them Americans," Mr Sahaf says, adding Europeans had also been on board. "These were human shields who were coming to Baghdad to be deployed... many of them were injured and taken to hospital at Rutba," he adds. "The brave Americans start shooting Americans."

Counter claim
Tuesday April 1 3.05pm
US brigadier general Vincent Brooks claims he knows nothing of the attacks during a news conference at Qatar central command headquarters. Three Jordanian men at the Iraq-Jordan border, who said they had travelled from Baghdad on Tuesday, claim they had not seen any buses that had been hit recently. They say the only charred bus along the route was Syrian and had been bombed some time ago.


Thursday March 27 12.59am
US President George Bush says US troops had destroyed a terrorist camp in northern Iraq but fails to elaborate during a briefing about the progress of the Iraqi invasion. "Day by day, Saddam Hussein is losing his grip on Iraq," Bush said.

Claim reinforced
Sunday March 30 5.07pm
More reports that allied forces secure much of north of Iraq and overrun a notorious terrorist camp alleged to be a haven for al-Qaida militants. Washington accuses the Ansar al-Islam group, believed to be behind the camp, of working to make chemical weapons with help from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Claim amplified
Monday 31 March
Papers report that US forces seize the chemical weapons training camp in Ansar al-Islam, in northern Iraq. Sun splashes with the story and says war justified now that Saddam Hussein's weapons of horror had been discovered. Veteran UK intelligence expert Chris Dobson says the deadly poison ricin found recently in London most likely came from the camp and was evidence of Saddam's links with terrorists intent on striking Britain.

Admission claim never verified
Tuesday April 1 1.39pm
A US commander in the Gulf, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, tells a news conference that troops had yet to find any banned weapons of mass destruction in captured Iraqi territory. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Iraq's banned weapons are stockpiled in Baghdad and Tikrit.


Monday March 31 1.38pm
Chemical protection suits and decontamination equipment found among a large Iraqi arms cache seized near the city of Nassiriya. "The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force seized a large weapons cache, about 40 buildings worth, containing ammunition, chemical decontamination equipment...chemical suits and unidentified artillery munitions," Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told a central command briefing in Qatar.

Slight back-pedalling
Monday March 31, 4pm
British Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram forced to backtrack on claims. Queried about reports that troops had stumbled across firm evidence, he initially said: "We have discovered stocks of chemical weapons and other aspects related to nuclear, biological and chemical threats". Responding to concerned rumblings from MPs, he modified his claims to say he was referring to the discovery of protective suits left behind by Iraqi forces.

He said: "Well, OK, certainly chemical and biological threats in terms of those particular suits.

"He has the capability. That is why we're there in the first instance and it must remain our assessment that he has an intent to use those weapons he has," he said. The suits were dated September 2001, a date seized upon as evidence that Saddam was preparing for chemical warfare.

He was pressed by Labour's Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow), who asked: "How many sites identified by US or UK intelligence as having stocks of chemical weapons stored have so far been inspected and what has been found?"

Mr Ingram told him: "That type of verification is not yet available to us. I just hope you share my views on this that Saddam Hussein has been developing that capability. That was the conclusion of Hans Blix in the document he produced on March 7 ... it is only a matter of time before we find those weapons and verify accordingly."


Sunday March 30, 11.21am
British forces claim they have captured an Iraqi general following clashes with Iraqi units south of Basra. Group Captain Al Lockwood at central command war headquarters in Qatar confirms this on Sunday. "I don't know what unit [he was from]. I do know that we have a general," he said.

Sunday March 30, 1.05pm
Lockwood says the general, believed to be the highest ranking prisoner of war caught so far, will be pressed for strategic information. "We'll be asking him quite politely if he's willing assist us to continue our operations against the paramilitary forces in Basra," he said.

Sunday March 30, 6.39pm
Qatar-based satellite television channel al-Jazeera later quotes Lieutenant-General Walid Hamid Tawfiq, an Iraqi field commander in the Basra region, as denying that a general had been captured and a colonel killed.

Monday March 31, 12.55am
Military officials in Britain retract their earlier claims. "We do not have a prisoner of war of general rank," a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said. British military spokesman Major Will MacKinlay blames the confusion on "the fog of war" in an earlier interview on BBC television.

Monday March 31, 9.18am
A British military spokesman says the captured Iraqi was "just another officer" and was "misidentified as a general". Asked how the mistake was discovered, he said: "We just got feedback through the channel of command."


Wednesday March 26 6.54pm
Reports emerge that a column of up to 120 Iraqi tanks and armoured personnel carriers heading south out of the Iraqi city of Basra is attacked by US-led forces. Major Mick Green, the officer commanding the 40 Commandos' battle room, said: "We have no idea why this column has come out at the moment. Their intentions or motives are totally unclear but they have adopted an offensive posture and do not want to surrender, so we have attacked them." Click here for original report

Thursday March 27 6.55am
Newspapers including the Guardian are filled with graphic accounts of the battle between British tanks and Iraqi armour. A US forces official claims "a lot of the column was repelled and destroyed". The Guardian among others reports that the emergence of the column took British commanders by surprise.

More details and colour
Thursday March 27 8.51am
A BBC correspondent with British marines south of Basra estimates the size of the convoy is up to 120 vehicles and says the battle raged through the night. "Many tanks have been destroyed, many are on fire now," Clive Myrie reports. "Every now and again the area here shakes with the thud of missiles and bombs going into that column." Earlier British officials dismiss as erroneous reports that the column involved 120 Iraqi tanks.

Thursday March 27 14.11pm
All the Iraqi tanks were destroyed in the fighting that followed. A military source said: "It was 14-0." The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards also overran two Iraqi infantry positions, the sources said. One officer said of the contest between the T55 and Challenger 2: "It's like the bicycle against the motor car." Brigadier General Vince Brooks, the deputy director of operations, admits initial reports suggesting a convoy of up to 120 vehicles was erroneous. He put it down to a "classic example of the fog of war" resulting from a wrong radar signal.

Friday March 28
Daily Star splashes with the "14-0" comment. Several other papers including the Sun report the officers bicycle simile.


March 27, 2pm
Several hundred tribespeople are reported to have died at the hands of Iraqi forces in a village near Kirkuk, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

March 28
No further mention of the massacre - anywhere.


New challenge
Thursday March 27, 17.42pm
Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix says there is no evidence the Iraqis had used banned weapons in the week-old war.

"So far we have not identified or heard from the allies that anything that was proscribed would have been used," he said. Blix's comment contradicted a statement by Kuwait's UN ambassador Mohammad Abulhasan in a letter to the security council, which claimed that at least one of 11 missiles fired by Iraq into Kuwait between Thursday and Monday was a Scud missile.


Thursday, March 20, 10.15am
An Iraqi Scud missile fired at US troops on the Kuwaiti border was intercepted by Patriot missiles, the US military says. Reports of Scud attacks widespread.

Sunday, March 23, 4.30am
US general Stanley McChrystal says: "So far there have been no Scuds launched... We have found no caches of weapons of mass destruction to date."


Wednesday, March 26, 23.01pm
"Some people are saying there were demonstrations that were put down, but others say parts of Basra are now controlled by the people," said Hamed al-Bayati, Sciri's London representative, reports the Financial Times. "We're not sure who is behind it." Pan-Arab television stations on Wednesday showed footage from a quiet city.

Counter claim
March 26, 23.01pm
But Shi'ite officials said journalists were not free to roam the streets of Basra and might have been shown areas that had indeed remained calm.

Claim and counter claim
Thursday, March 27, 8.51am
British officials insist there was an uprising on Tuesday but a spokesman for Iraq's main Shi'ite exile opposition group said he would not go so far as to describe the unrest in that way.

And British claim again
Thursday, March 27, 9.32am
British forces spokesman Group Captain Al Lockwood declares the city quiet following the "popular uprising" on Tuesday.


Tuesday, March 25, 5.30pm
Widespread media reports of a popular uprising against President Saddam Hussein in Iraq's second city of Basra, believed to have originated from military sources. Follows reports from GMTV pool reporter Richard Gaisford.

Tuesday, March 25, 6.10pm
British military sources say they are unable to confirm reports of any popular uprising in Basra, but reiterate that they would do everything possible to encourage and support any Iraqis planning to overthrow forces loyal to Saddam."We don't know anything about a popular uprising," said one British military source in Central Command in Qatar.

Tuesday, March 25, 7.44pm
Iraq's information minister denies the reports, calling them "hallucinations". "I want to affirm to you that Basra is continuing to hold steadfast," Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told the Arabic language al-Jazeera television network.

Wednesday, March 26, 2.27am
A British spokesman at US Central Command headquarters in Qatar says it appears there has been an uprising. "We don't have a clear indication of its scale or scope or where it will take us. But we will want to support it to exploit its potential. It looks like this uprising is based on the massive resentment of the population."

Wednesday, March, 7.40am
An Al-Jazeera reporter, who is stationed behind coalition lines in Basra, says he has no evidence of an uprising. He says the city is crawling with Iraqi military and the streets are littered with shrapnel.

Claims again
Wednesday, March 26, 12.30pm
British prime minister Tony Blair says he believes there has been a limited uprising overnight. "In relation to what has happened in Basra overnight, truthfully reports are confused, but we believe there was some limited form of uprising," he told the House of Commons.


Tuesday, March 25, 8.13am
Reuters: "British military spokesman confirmed on Tuesday British troops were probably going to go into Basra to battle irregular fighters resisting US-led invasion forces in Iraq's second city. "We are meeting resistance from irregulars, members of the Fedayeen, who are extremely loyal to Saddam Hussein's regime," group captain Al Lockwood told CNN television. "They are lightly armed, and very small in number, but they are terrorising the citizens of Basra and we will probably need to go in and meet any resistance."

Counter claim
Tuesday, March 25, 9.16am
Reuters: a British spokesman said on Tuesday British troops would not enter the southern city of Basra to battle irregular Iraqi fighters - contradicting an earlier statement. But the British did consider Basra a military target. "We're not going into Basra, it's simply considered a target," a British military spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Qatar told Reuters. "The reason it is a potential target is because it has an enormous political and military importance in the area."


Monday, March 24, 1.33am
Reports surface that US forces find first cache of Saddam's chemical and biological weapons, seizing a suspected chemical factory in An Najaf. This would be a significant PR coup for Messrs Bush and Blair who justified their launch of war on the grounds that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Fox News and the Jerusalem Post, which had a reporter travelling with US troops, both quote unidentified Pentagon officials who said the facility was seized by US forces. About 30 Iraqi troops and their commanding general surrendered as American forces took the installation, apparently used to produce chemical weapons, according to the Jerusalem Post. It was not immediately clear what chemicals were being produced at the facility.

Officials caution it is too premature to conclude that forbidden weapons had been discovered but US central command says it is examining several sites of interest.

Monday, March 24, 2.42am
General Richard Myers, chairman of joint chiefs of staff, claims US commamdos found documents along with millions of rounds of ammunition on Saturday, saying the discovery "might save thousands of lives if we can find out exactly what they have".

We're not sure
Monday, March 24, 2.44pm
General Tommy Franks, head of the coalition forces, claims he "wasn't entirely sure" that it was a chemical factory after all. Fox News forced to back away from the story. Iraq denies it has chemical or biological weapons.


Thursday, March 20, 7.33pm
US-led troops have taken Iraqi border town of Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port in the south, wires and TV report.

Counter claim
TV reporters, including Mark Austin on ITV's News Channel, challenge the claims. They have it on Iraqi authority that Umm Qasr has certainly not been taken. "Iraqi troops deny anyone has surrendered."

Friday , March 21, 11.35pm
Admiral Michael Boyce, chief of the British defence staff, confirms the off-the-record briefings received by media in Kuwait and southern Iraq. "Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by the US Marines and now is in coalition hands," he says.

Further confirmation
Friday, March 21, just after midnight
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld says US forces have taken Umm Qasr. The fog of war thickens.

Saturday, March 22, breakfast time
TV reporters on Sky and BBC say Umm Qasr have witnessed fighting and dispute claims that the port has been has been "taken". They explain the new town is under coalition control but the old town is putting up resistance and therefore Umm Qasr cannot qualify as "taken".

Challenged again
Sunday, March 23, 05.53am
A heavy firefight breaks out between US Marines and Iraqi forces, witnesses say.

Confirmation again
Tuesday, March 25, 9.53am
Reuters: "The southern Iraqi port town of Umm Qasr, where US and British forces have faced Iraqi resistance for days, is now "safe and open", a British commander said on Tuesday. Brigadier Jim Dutton, commander of the British Royal Marines' 3rd Commando Brigade, told reporters he hoped the first ship bringing aid to Iraq would arrive within 48 hours."


Saturday, March 22, 11.12pm
US forces have captured Nassiriya in central Iraq, according to wire reports from Iraq.

Fresh claim
Sunday, March 23, 1.30am
US forces say they have captured Nassiriya, international wire services report.

Alternative claim
Sunday, March 23, 10.21am
US-led forces suffer heaviest casualties so far with stiff resistance at Nassiriya, Najaf, Basra and Umm Qasr.

Exasperation begins to show
Sunday, March 23, 5.50pm
Defence analyst Francis Tusa says on Sky News: "We have now been told three times that Nassiriya has been captured. How many more times are we going to hear this?"

Battle goes on
Monday, March 24, 11.43am
US Marines were still bogged down early on Monday at the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, the key to opening a second route north to Baghdad, after taking significant casualties there on Sunday.


Friday night, March 21
Wires, TV and radio report official claims that coalition commanders have accepted the surrender of the 8,000-strong 51st Iraqi infantry division near the southern city of Basra on Friday.

Counter claim
Sunday March 23, 10.33pm
Reuters: "Iraqi officials denied US statements that the US commander of the Iraqi divison had surrendered, which US officials said on Friday."

Counter claim number 2
Monday, March 24, 3.22am
New York Times wire service: "US officials were quick to announce the surrender of the commander of the 51st Division. On Sunday they discovered that the 'commander' of the surrendered troops was actually a junior officer masquerading as a higher-up in an attempt to win better treatment."


Sunday, March 23, 12.10am
Ten US soldiers were wounded in an attack on Camp Pennsylvania, a military base in northern Kuwait, a US military spokesman said, without giving further details. Jim Lacey, a Time magazine correspondent who was at the camp, told CNN two grenades had been rolled into the command tent in what appeared to be a "terrorist attack". The report gives way to instant discussions of al-Qaida terrorist cells operating in Kuwait.

Details of attacker change
Sunday, March 23, 12.40am
Sky News says the suspect for the attack is a US soldier, later revealed as Asan Akbar, who was born Mark F Kools. But the information hasn't filtered through everywhere. The BBC's Radio 5 Live still discussing the terrorist attack on the 1.00am news on Radio 5 Live.

PeaceLink C.P. 2009 - 74100 Taranto (Italy) - CCP 13403746 - Sito realizzato con PhPeace 2.7.15 - Informativa sulla Privacy - Informativa sui cookies - Diritto di replica - Posta elettronica certificata (PEC)