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Guardian War Reports

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Dissent grows over war strategy


As militants try to 'Islamise' the conflict in Iraq, questions are being asked about how the war was planned and how it is being fought, writes Brian Whitaker


Monday March 31, 2003


American leaders moved swiftly yesterday to prevent the opening up of another front in the war - this time between Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, and his military chiefs.

The fuss is over an article published today in the New Yorker magazine, which blames Mr Rumsfeld for many of the problems on the battlefield.


It says that in the planning stages of the war, the defence secretary and his team of civilian advisers repeatedly overruled the military experts because they thought they knew better.


Both Mr Rumsfeld and the war commander, General Tommy Franks, have denied the allegations - though it's an open secret that Mr Rumsfeld's style of management has annoyed many in the Pentagon.


Meanwhile, a sign of possible dissent in the British ranks is a report this morning that three unnamed soldiers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade have been sent home to face a court martial. They are understood to have complained about the way the war is being fought and the growing danger to civilians.


Following the first suicide bombing of the war, which killed four American soldiers on Saturday, Iraq has claimed for have more than 4,000 other volunteers ready to "martyr" themselves.


Although Saddam Hussein's regime is largely secular, religious militants throughout the region will probably make strenuous efforts over the coming months to "Islamise" the conflict - as happened during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.


The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group yesterday issued a statement announcing "the good news" that the first of its suicide bombers had arrived in Baghdad. Because of the extremely tight security in Israel, American and British troops in Iraq are likely to become an easier and more attractive target for the foreseeable future.


Angered by the TV images of civilian casualties and the feeble efforts of their own governments to prevent the war, Arabs from various countries have been volunteering to fight in Iraq. Reports mention 100 in Algeria and 50 in Egypt. In Lebanon, 20 volunteers are said to have already gone, while hundreds more have applied for Iraqi visas.


In northern Kuwait yesterday, 15 US soldiers were injured when a civilian charged at them in a pick-up truck just outside their base at Camp Udairi. The attacker, said to be an Egyptian migrant worker, was shot and critically injured.


Bombing in and around Baghdad continued relentlessly over the weekend - though the US says three-quarters of the attacks are aimed at weakening the Republican Guard, which has set up a protective cordon around the city. Early this morning the information ministry was in flames, having been targeted by Tomahawk cruise missiles to "reduce the command and control capabilities" of the Iraqi government, according to the US.


One of the ministry's main functions is to supervise foreign journalists working in Iraq, and normally they are required to file reports from the ministry building so that their activities can be monitored. Night-time scenes of Baghdad frequently shown by CNN came from a camera on the ministry's roof. Ahead of the attack, much of the media activity had been transferred to the Palestine Hotel.


Also this morning, there are reports of significant military activity around Nassiriya where, according to the BBC, 5,000 additional US troops, including special forces, are being sent in an effort to defeat continuing Iraqi resistance.


A dawn raid on Shatra, north of the Nassiriya, reportedly targeted Saddam's cousin, "Chemical Ali", and other senior Iraqi officials who are believed to be directing guerrilla attacks in the area.


In Nassiriya itself, the US says marines have found large quantities of gas masks and anti-nerve gas chemicals in an abandoned Iraqi camp. It is reported this morning that American troops are attempting to communicate with Iraqis in the field via a hand-held electronic box known as a Phrasealator, which was first tried out in Afghanistan.


The user points to one of 1,000 phrases on a menu - such as "come out with your hands up" - and the box squawks out the message in Pashtu, Dari, Urdu or, in this case, Arabic. Unfortunately, there is no way the Americans can understand what the Iraqis say in reply.






Search for smoking gun draws a blank


US and Britain's case for war undermined by special forces' failure to find illegal arms at 10 suspected sites


Nicholas Watt

Monday March 31, 2003

The Guardian


Britain and the United States suffered a fresh blow last night when their main justification for war was undermined by reports that special forces have failed to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

As Tony Blair launched a charm offensive to persuade the Arab world to understand his decision to go to war, senior officials in Washington said that intelligence information about weapons of mass destruction at 10 sites had proved to be unfounded.


The Washington Post reported yesterday that tests had proved negative at all "urgent" sites in the western desert. "All the searches have turned up negative," a staff officer told thenewspaper. "The munitions that have been found have all been conventional."


Special operations forces from the US, Britain and Australia are understood to have seized the sites which were believed by US central command to house chemical warheads, Scud missiles and eight-wheeled transporter-erector launchers, known as TELs.


Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, attempted to play down the findings. He told ABC's This Week that banned weapons were not in areas controlled by allied forces.


"We know where they are, they are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north of that," he said.


But the failure to uncover weapons at sites identified by intelligence will be a severe blow to Tony Blair and George Bush, who attacked Iraq on the basis that Saddam Hussein has the weapons.


The prime minister cited Iraq's banned weapons yesterday when attempting to win over the Arab world. Declaring that "history will judge" him to be right, he told several Arab newspapers that failure to take action against President Saddam would allow him to "pass on these weapons to extremist terrorist groups".


His remarks came as US officials admitted that they were facing intense pressure to prove the Anglo-American claims about Iraq's stockpile. John Wolf, the assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, said that Colin Powell was desperate to find a "smoking gun".


Mr Wolf told the Washington Post: "Very clearly, we need to find this stuff or people are going to be asking questions."


The failure to locate any proscribed weapons at sites highlighted by US intelligence will come as some relief to Hans Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, who dismissed American intelligence in the run-up to the war.


Mr Blix is now said to be involved in another battle with Washington, which is poaching his staff to set up its own inspectorate in Iraq.


Frustrated by the failure of the UN to find banned weapons, Washington is negotiating contracts with private companies to carry out the inspections. This is likely to dismay the prime minister, who is understood to have urged President Bush in private to allow the UN inspectors to resume work in Iraq.


US officials told the Washington Post that an "international entity" would be allowed to verify the discovery of any banned weapons. But the crucial inspection work would be carried out by the US.


This has infuriated Mr Blix, who is understood to have lost up to five of his staff to the US team. Mr Blix underlined his anger by telling the paper that three of his staff have asked for his advice about the poaching operation, even though he said he had "not heard one word from Washington".


He added: "They are free as individuals. If they want to terminate their contracts anyone can do that ... But they would not be allowed to reveal anything that they have done here."


Critics of the US are also likely to seize on the disclosure that a company with close links to the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, is likely to profit from the destruction of any banned weapons.


A subsidiary of Halliburton, of which Mr Cheney was the chairman until he joined the Bush team, is in the running to destroy them.


Bombed villagers find liberation a mixed blessing







Missiles drive out Islamists but hit homes


Luke Harding in Biyara, north-eastern Iraq

Monday March 31, 2003

The Guardian


Where Ashraf Sadak's house had once stood there was yesterday merely a large crater.

The 2,000lb American bomb had landed directly on it, reducing the three rooms where he and his family used to live to a heap of rubble. The mosque next door fared little better. The missile had gouged large chunks out of its blue dome, perforated a wall, and brought down the chandelier.


"There is nothing left. It's all been destroyed," Mr Sadak lamented yesterday, standing above a row of shops that had also been flattened. "If America bought me a new house I would feel a bit better about this."


The American missile was not aimed at Mr Sadak but at his neighbours, a group of bearded guerrillas from the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Islam.


Until this weekend the guerrillas had controlled a small area in the mountains of north-eastern Iraq, next to the Iranian border. Last Friday, however, the main Kurdish faction in the area, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), launched a ground offensive to get rid of them, aided by US special forces and American warplanes.


After an hour's resistance, the Ansar fighters abandoned their stronghold in the village of Biyara, and fled into the mountains. On Saturday a handful of guerrillas were still up there, sending down desultory bursts of machine gun fire from well above the snowline. Yesterday jubilant PUK leaders announced that all six Ansar villages had now been liberated from a group linked by the Bush administration to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.


"Many Ansar have been killed by our peshmerga. Only a few are still fighting," Omar Saeed Ali, a PUK official, declared triumphantly.


The US yesterday hailed the attacks as a success. Central Command chief General Tommy Franks told a news conference at US war headquarters in Qatar: "Coalition forces have attacked and destroyed in the last 48 hours a massive terrorist facility in northern Iraq."


But for the ordinary villagers of Biyara liberation was something of a mixed blessing. Mr Sadak, 45, said he had watched from a neighbouring valley as a US aircraft flew over his village at 11am last Friday and blew up his house. He was pleased that Ansar had gone, but pointed out that he now had nowhere to live.


"I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't have even any furniture," he said.


The 500 Ansar fighters - including many Arab-Afghans - had lived in Biyara for two years. They rarely mixed with locals but insisted that women covered their faces with a veil at all times.


"It was like being in a prison," Astari Ali Mohammad, 53, said as she picked over the ruins of her house. "I had to wear a chador even when sweeping my front porch. And they wouldn't let me sleep on my roof in the summer. They told me it was immoral. This is a great day. I don't care that my house has been destroyed," she added defiantly. "We have got rid of Ansar al-Islam. My daughters can now come and visit me here freely."


Yesterday dozens of PUK peshmerga fighters explored Ansar's abandoned security headquarters, just down the road from where several cruise missiles had ploughed into the village mosque. The group had left a few tantalising clues - a Koran, several Iranian sports newspapers, and a SIM card from a satellite phone. Minutes before leaving, the guerrillas had performed a final act of cruelty, executing two PUK hostages seized earlier this year. "In the end it wasn't much of a battle. They only fought us for an hour," Kurdish commander Mam Raffor said. "Some may have escaped into Iran."


By yesterday Mr Raffor and his fighters had retrieved four Ansar bodies from pastures and orchards around the village. Several had blown themselves up. Kurdish officials claimed the death toll was much higher, and that 120 Ansar militants had died in the fighting. Two PUK peshmerga were also killed when they stepped on a mine, Mr Raffor added.


US aircraft began their lethal attacks on Ansar's military positions just over a week ago. A defector yesterday said the bombing had prompted the group's collapse. Nizar Ahmed Mohammed, 21, said the Kurdish Ansar fighters who had families wanted to run away and live, but the Arab volunteers who were single agreed they would all die.


"I was told by my boss to go and blow myself up in a suicide attack. I told him: 'Why don't you blow yourself up.' He got very angry. My boss told me that if I blew myself up I would be sent to paradise and be given 77 nymphs." Three days before the American-led offensive Mr Mohammed claimed he escaped.


The Kurdish peshmerga who took part in the offensive will also bolster the US's relatively feeble northern front. Mr Sadak, meanwhile, said he would now try to find somewhere else to live.


Given the choice between having a house, or having the Ansar guerrillas back, what would he prefer? "I prefer being liberated," he admitted.


Michael Howard in Qushtapa, Iraqi Kurdistan, adds: Coalition operations along the northern front were stepped up at the weekend as US warplanes intensified their aerial barrage of Iraqi forward lines and Kurdish forces moved in to secure areas abandoned during a tactical Iraqi withdrawal.


But with only a limited number of US troops and weapons in the region, there are still no orders for a ground offensive against the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. Yesterday US jets continued to pound Iraqi positions overlooking the Kurdish-controlled town of Kalak, while targets outside Mosul were again bombarded by coalition aircraft.Dissent grows over war strategy

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The wars real fucked up. Has me trully scared for the first time in my life cannot wait till it's all over really. Just fucking horrible stuff. But good on the three English troops who are being court martialed at least some people in the military can see what's going on is fucked up.

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