Ten years ago today, the United States began perhaps its costliest and most destructive foreign policy blunder. And as for many young journalists, it also allowed me to jump-start my career as a foreign correspondent. There’s a direct line between the decision to invade Iraq and me being in New Zealand as a burgeoning travel writer.
But I’d like to just highlight some of the early days of blogging that I did about and from Iraq at my old blog, back-to-Iraq.com. Things were moving pretty fast in those early hours, so there’s probably a lot in here that has been proven to not be entirely accurate. But that’s the case when you conduct a blitzkrieg on a country these days.
March 19, 2003, 15:43 From Stratfor:
At 1808 GMT (1:08 p.m. EST, 9:08 p.m. Baghdad) B-52 bombers were reported taking off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom. Flying time to Iraq is about six hours. Earlier today, they were reportedly loaded with cruise missiles. The British press has also reported that skirmishing has commenced between Iraqi troops and U.S. and British special operations forces near Basra. Coalition aircraft also have attacked 10 Iraqi artillery pieces in the southern no-fly zone, and Israelis have been ordered to open and fit their gas masks, keeping them nearby at all times.
If this is true, that would put the bomber in range at 7 p.m. or so EST, one hour prior to the deadline. Cruise for an hour and drop. If I can inject a wry comment at this time, President Bush is known for keeping things punctual.
March 19, 2003, 18:00 Well, Stratfor is now reporting that the B-52s are still in RAF Fairford as of 2133 GMT (4:33 p.m.) Highly ironic considering they crowed about staying out of the “Tariq Aziz is Dead” rumor fray. As the company reported:
As Stratfor tried to verify or discredit the rumors through its own sources, some of o ur readers took the opportunity to criticize us for falling behind various Internet rumor mills. We’ve received similar criticisms for missing the multiple reports of the arrest, death or immaculate transfiguration of Osama bin Laden. Though we contemplated responding with varying degrees of crassness or seriousness, depending on the tone of the comments, events have demonstrated the validity of our approach to analyzing this and other conflicts.
Stratfor takes nothing at face value. We are now swimming in a sea of rumors, propaganda and the fog of war. Stratfor has always set as its goal sifting the elements of truth from this mess. We hope to continue serving as your steady and unbiased source of analysis on the conflict in Iraq.
None of this absolves me, of course. Fogs of war and rumor mills are confusing. At thet moment, it’s very hard to know what’s going on. But as an old Associated Press reporter, I can say this: Sometimes this is how news works. Stratfor and the Evening Mail were reporting the B-52s were en route. Now it seems they’re not… Perhaps we’ll get a better glimpse of what’s happening around 8 p.m. or so.
March 19, 2003, 21:45 CNN is reporting that Baghdad air defense forces are firing into the air, but there are yet no bombs dropping yet. It’s almost dawn in Baghdad. CNN says this is *not* the beginnig of the war. No one seems to know what’s happening right now, least of all the Iraqis. Might be a softening up, might be panicky Iraqis, we really don’t know yet.
As yet, no reports of airplanes.
UPDATE 9:46 PM EST Ari Fleischer is entering the WH Press Room
“the opening stages of the disarmament of the iraqi regime has begun.” The president will have a statement at 10:15 pm EST.
March 19, 2003, 21:53 10:20 PM EST: Strikes were “decapitation strike,” huge explosions in B’dad now CNN reporting. Was Saddam hit? Don’t know yet.
10:15 PM EST: Bush speaks: “On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets…. these are opening stages. …. more than 35 countries. … I want americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare civilians from harm. … We have no ambition in iraq except to remove a threat and restore the country to its own people. Our forces will be coming home as soon as the can. … the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. … we will accept no outcome but victory. …”
9:57 PM EST: CNN reporting more flashes over B’dad. No huge explosions yet. PS: I’m not in danger. Not in Iraq yet. But thanks for the well-wishes.
9:55 PM EST: CNN reporters with U.S. troops are still in holding pattern. Not yet en route.
9:23 PM EST: Stratfor reports that Pentagon sources say that the strike involving F-117 fighters was aimed at a site where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders were believed to have been staying.
Still peaceful for the moment in Baghdad. CNN video footage is quiet. Dawn over Baghdad. Cruise missile strike in Baghdad. “Target of opportunity,” CNN says. Sounds like it’s before the planned attack, apparently. Important target. Saddam?
As it turns out, that cruise strike was an attempt on Saddam. But it missed.
In other news, I’ve been completely — and happily — exhausted by my time in New Zealand. I feel like a kid after a long day at an amusement park. It’s a wonderful place. I’ll do my best to get a post up about my time here before I leave for Panama on the Bahia Grande on March 22.