the invasion of iraq
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The Invasion of Iraq

Produced by Richard Sanders and Jeff Goldberg
Directed by Richard Sanders

 

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.

ANNOUNCER: It seemed like a stunning military success. Coalition forces toppled Saddam in just 22 days. But beneath the surface lies a troubling story of backstage bureaucratic battles.

JAMES FALLOWS, "The Atlantic Monthly": There was a culture war within the Pentagon in the month before the Iraq war.

ANNOUNCER: Stunning intelligence failures.

MARC GARLASCO, Defense Intelligence Agency, '97-'03: There was a belief at the highest levels we had killed Saddam. The problem is, we didn't get him.

ANNOUNCER: And major miscalculations.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE, Commander, U.S. 5th Army Corps: When you decapitated the regime, everything below that fell apart.

ANNOUNCER: And when the invasion was over, the trouble had just begun.

DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence! And it just was, "Henny Penny, the sky is falling!" I've never seen anything like it!

THOMAS WHITE, Secretary of the Army, '01-'03: It is hard to believe that rational people could have thought it was going to come out in any other way than it did.

ANNOUNCER: Did the way the Pentagon fought the war create this brutal peace?

TOM RICKS, "The Washington Post": It was a brilliant war plan, brilliantly executed. The question in my mind is whether, in retrospect, it was brilliantly bad.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the inside story of The Invasion of Iraq.

 

WHITE HOUSE STAFFER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

ANNOUNCER: Two weeks before he would launch the invasion of Iraq, President Bush convened a rare press conference to announce that time was running out on Saddam Hussein.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people. I believe he's a threat to the neighborhood in which he lives. And I've got good evidence to believe that. He has weapons of mass destruction, and he has used weapons of mass destruction. I take the threat seriously, and I'll deal with the threat. I hope it can be done peacefully.

NARRATOR: But in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein had already told some of his generals he had no weapons of mass destruction. Two months earlier, Saddam had met with Raad Majid Al-Hamdani, one of the most senior generals in Iraq's Republican Guard. He was the commander whose divisions would defend the approaches to Baghdad if the Americans invaded.

Lt. Gen RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI, Corps Cmdr, Iraqi Republican Guard: [through interpreter] I knew myself, and I'd been told by the president himself, that Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction. As a leader of a Republican Guard corps, I would need to be informed if we had these weapons. That didn't happen. Every official source assured us that in Iraq, no one would find evidence of weapons of mass destruction, neither chemical or biological, because Iraq didn't have any.

NARRATOR: The truth about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was only one of the surprises that would confront the invasion force massing in the Persian Gulf. The military would find itself caught between the certainties of the Bush administration about how the war would unfold and its own conviction that war is always uncertain.

U.S. OFFICER: The most important thing to understand is that we got to maintain momentum when we go north.

NARRATOR: Two hundred thousand ground troops, almost all of them American and British, had been committed to the invasion. They were supported by an armada of ships in the Gulf and hundreds of Navy and Air Force war planes. The coalition ground force was only half the size of the force that had ejected the Iraqis from Kuwait in 1991. It was smaller because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had insisted it be so.

In public, Secretary Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, the commander of the invasion force, presented a united front.

DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: [March 5, 2003] First, I do want to say what a superb job General Tom Franks is doing in the global war on terror.

NARRATOR: But their public pose disguised an intense battle that had taken place behind closed doors at the Pentagon, a debate about how many troops General Franks would need to fight the war.

Neither Secretary Rumsfeld nor General Franks would consent to an interview for this program, but New York Times reporter Todd Purdum examined their debate in his book about the war.

TODD PURDUM, Author, "A Time of Our Choosing": American generals since George Washington all the way through Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower, and Norman Schwarzkopf in the first Gulf war, believed in huge, overwhelming fighting forces that could hammer an enemy and take him down. And Tommy Franks, an old artilleryman, believed that he needed more troops than Rumsfeld was willing to send.

NARRATOR: But in this press briefing two weeks before the invasion, Franks gave no hint there had been a dispute over the troop levels in the Gulf.

Gen. TOMMY FRANKS: I'll second the comments by Secretary Rumsfeld that, in fact, our troops in the field are trained, they're ready, they are capable. And if the president of the United States decides to undertake military operations with the coalition mentioned by the secretary, there is no doubt we will prevail.

NARRATOR: Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Tom Ricks had watched the backstage debate unfold.

TOM RICKS, "The Washington Post": There was a huge and difficult debate that went on for months about the size of the force, and Rumsfeld's argument was, "You don't need all that stuff." And Tommy Franks was kind of a pivotal figure in this, because he was seen as a classic, muddy-boots Army general who somehow began agreeing with Rumsfeld during the course of this argument. As one officer put it to me one day, "Tommy Franks has drunk the Kool-Aid." And they did wind up with a much smaller force.

TODD PURDUM: They hammered out a compromise over many months, and ultimately, the compromise was that the forces would flow in in a rolling basis and that there would be a northern front of American troops coming in from Turkey.

NARRATOR: But at the last minute, as the coalition forces were making their final preparations for war, the Turkish parliament denied the U.S. permission to move the 16,000 men of the Army's 4th Infantry Division through its country.

TODD PURDUM: So the war really started with fewer forces than the uniformed generals in the Pentagon really would have preferred.

NARRATOR: As the war approached, Saddam Hussein remained defiant.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] He said, "We shall humble the massive armies of the United States at the walls of Baghdad. I shall then lead you westwards, to liberate Palestine and the territories occupied by the Israeli Zionists."

ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press.

NARRATOR: The Bush administration seemed confident it would swiftly topple Saddam and the invasion force would be welcomed by the Iraqi people.

["Meet the Press," March 16, 2003]

Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: The read we get on the people of Iraq is that there's no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens, events in Iraq have now reached--

NARRATOR: On March 17th, the president delivered his final ultimatum.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing.

NARRATOR: In the Gulf, The coalition planned to begin the invasion with a spectacular opening strike, perhaps the largest assassination attempt in history. The strike was set for March 21st, two days after the president's deadline would expire.

Lt. Gen. MICHAEL MOSELEY, Coalition Air Commander: This was a direct shot at the Saddam Hussein regime and a direct shot at the Ba'athist regime and a direct shot at an oppressive regime, not the Iraqi people nor their infrastructure.

NARRATOR: Air planners were targeting the 55 men whose names appeared on what was known as the "blacklist."

MARC GARLASCO, Defense Intelligence Agency, '97-'03: These 55 guys are basically the Iraqi leadership. And the thought is that if we attack and kill some of the folks on the top 55 list, that the war is either going to be shortened or may stop altogether.

NARRATOR: Surprise was crucial. Through months of painstaking work, American intelligence thought they had located where their targets would be. By making these strikes the first of the war, they hoped to catch Saddam's lieutenants before they moved to safe locations.

But back in Washington, there was a sudden change of plans.

TODD PURDUM: On March 19th, George Tenet of the CIA got an extraordinary tip. He thought he knew where Saddam Hussein would be that very night. And he rushed in his car down the Potomac, across to the White House, and he met with President Bush and the other members of the national security team for several hours. They had a big debate. It was risky. They couldn't be sure. President Bush worried that the first pictures out of Iraq might be a wounded grandchild of Saddam Hussein. But in the end, they decided to go for it.

NARRATOR: In the Gulf, two Stealth fighters were prepared. The CIA source in Baghdad claimed he'd seen Saddam enter a secret bunker. Any attack would have to be immediate, and the planned attacks on the full Iraqi leadership would have to be abandoned. The president had decided to gamble on ending the war with one dramatic strike.

MARC GARLASCO: We were told that the CIA source was without reproach, and you know, sometimes you just have to take that at face value.

Lt. Col. DAVID TOOMEY, U.S. Air Force: We knew that it was a high-priority mission with someone on the ground or somebody, some group of people on the ground. We didn't know who it was. We attacked the city with one coming in from the east, one coming in from the west. And we dropped simultaneously on the target just to the side of the river there.

NARRATOR: In Baghdad, it was 5:30 in the morning. Minutes later, cruise missiles also hit the target, which was in the grounds of the Dora Farm complex, where Saddam's daughters lived.

MARC GARLASCO: The information from CIA was that they had an amazing source and that Saddam Hussein was basically out of business. There was a belief at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the White House that we had successfully killed Saddam. "We got him. That's it. War's over." The problem is, we didn't get him. Shortly thereafter, Saddam is on television.

NARRATOR: It was the first in a string of intelligence failures that would plague the invasion.

MARC GARLASCO: Once Dora Farm was struck, the Iraqi leadership knew the war was on. They moved to civilian areas, and they basically left all of those places that were at the top levels of the target list.

NARRATOR: After the war, the rubble at Dora Farms would reveal that the CIA source's story about Saddam and his secret bunker was entirely false.

MARC GARLASCO: Is there a bunker there? The intelligence community thinks there is. Afterwards, you go there, there's no bunker. Is Saddam Hussein there? Everyone thinks he is. Afterwards, no Saddam. What happened? I'm as puzzled as you are.

NARRATOR: In the Iraqi oil fields, just across the border from Kuwait, special forces watched in case Saddam retaliated by sabotaging his oil wells. When news came that nine were ablaze, the land commander decided he had to attack immediately.

Lt. Gen. DAVID McKIERNAN, Coalition Land Commander: We needed to secure the southern oil fields right away, that if we didn't, we ran an unacceptable risk that the regime could possibly sabotage these oil fields, create an environmental disaster. Therefore, "We're ready, let's push this thing forward and let's go." And by God, that's what we executed.

NARRATOR: On March 20th, the invasion began. General Franks's final plan for the ground war called for the 5th Army to cross the Iraqi border with Kuwait and attack Baghdad from the desert west of the Euphrates. The Marine Corps would attack through the inhabited areas east of the river, and the British would secure Iraq's second city, Basra.

TOM RICKS, "The Washington Post": The U.S. military going into this war was extremely optimistic. They knew this enemy extremely well. They had studied this enemy for 10 years. They knew they could do this quickly. The question was, how quickly, and how many casualties would they sustain in the process? And the betting basically was, "We'll get there in 7 to 10 days, and we'll have 200 KIA."

NARRATOR: Secretary Rumsfeld, too, was upbeat, convinced the Iraqi people would actively assist the invasion.

DONALD RUMSFELD: [March 20, 2003] There will be Iraqis that will surrender. There will be Iraqis that offer to help us. There will be Iraqis who offer not only to help us but to help liberate The country and to free the Iraqi people.

TOM RICKS: The first couple of days of the war were extremely fast-moving. They did not encounter much opposition. They took care of a lot of their major problems, the major concerns. Would Iraq launch Scud missiles at Israel? Would Iraq launch chemical-laden missiles at them as they crossed? None of those things happened, and so people began to refer to this as the "Baghdad 500," the race to Baghdad.

NARRATOR: On the second night of the war, the coalition launched its bombing campaign against Saddam's palaces and ministries in Baghdad. It was a spectacle, a display of power designed to intimidate the regime-- even if most of the buildings were empty.

MARC GARLASCO: You've got to hit something. And so of you don't know where these guys are and you're still developing the intelligence, you're still trying to figure out where they are, the war is on. You've got to hit your best stuff. And here's the best list that we've got, so we're going to go to town on it.

NARRATOR: In the weeks leading up to the war, much of the U.S. media had characterized this opening air campaign as "shock and awe," a massive bombardment that might single-handedly bring Saddam's regime to its knees.

TOM RICKS: "Shock and awe" was a media frenzy that came out of the media fighting the last war again, not the military. "Shock and awe" really did describe the U.S. approach to air power in the '91 war. You did not have "shock and awe" in this war. The use of air power was actually remarkably restrained and fairly minimal. There was not a lot of bombs dropped.

NARRATOR: The coalition was confident it would not be necessary to destroy Iraq in order to liberate it.

Lt. Gen. DAVID McKIERNAN: I thought once ground forces crossed into Iraq, that that might be the trigger for a large-scale Shia insurgency.

NARRATOR: Within 48 hours of crossing the border, the British were advancing on Basra. They, too, were hopeful that they would be assisted by the local Shia population.

Brig. GRAHAM BINNS, Commander, 7th Armoured Brigade: We'd even gone as far as thinking about the possibility of arming those who were prepared to rebel.

NARRATOR: But as they neared Basra, there were no welcoming crowds. Twelve years earlier, following the Gulf war, the people of these same villages had risen up after the first President Bush called on them to overthrow Saddam. But the allies had then failed to support the uprising. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were executed or tortured.

SAHEB KHUDEIR AL-ZUELI, Farmer: [through interpreter] There was an officer named Colonel Ahmed Tarka. When I didn't confess, they beat me. They hit me with a bayonet on my face and broke my jaw.

NARRATOR: This time, the Shias decided to let the coalition do the fighting.

SAHEB KHUDEIR AL-ZUELI: [through interpreter] We could easily have attacked the Ba'athists. We had the weapons. But we were afraid the Americans wouldn't topple Saddam and that he would then come and take his revenge.

NARRATOR: Further north, the U.S. Marine Corps now planned to cross the Euphrates by capturing key bridges in the town of Nassiriya. Like the British at Basra, they expected the local population and the Iraqi army to help.

Lt. Col. RICK GRABOWSKI, Battalion Commander, U.S. Marines: There was a belief that they would capitulate as we got closer and that there would not be much of a fight.

NARRATOR: But inside Nassiriya, hundreds of Fedayeen fighters were waiting. The Fedayeen were a brutal militia commanded directly by Saddam's son, Uday. They were the shock troops of the regime, trained to be ruthless. This pre-war video shows them being thrown a dog to demonstrate their ferocity. Waiting now in Nassiriya, the Fedayeen were eager for a fight.

ABDUL HADI HANOON, Ambulance Driver: [through interpreter] They would tell us if we kill an American, the regime will give us one million dinars, and they were tempted by that money. They didn't care about the city. In fact, the people of Nassiriya wanted to welcome the Americans. All the key figures -- the heads of tribes, the religious leaders -- wanted to end the nightmare that had lasted for 35 years.

NARRATOR: But before the Marine assault could begin, disaster struck the U.S. Army. The 507th was an Army maintenance company. They weren't front-line troops. In the darkness before dawn on March 23rd, a convoy of 18 trucks from the 507th was approaching Nassiriya. They were part of the supply line for the fast-advancing 5th Army.

TODD PURDUM: The supply lines of the advancing American forces were so long that the straggling support units, the engineers and the cooks and the maintenance people, were struggling to keep up. They'd been driving, by this point, for something close to 36 hours from Kuwait with hardly any sleep.

NARRATOR: The 507th convoy intended to skirt Nassiriya to the west and rendezvous with the rest of their unit in the desert.

Pvt. PATRICK MILLER, 507th Maintenance Company: We drove and drove and drove, and then we hit a concrete road.

NARRATOR: They'd taken a wrong turn and driven right through the Marines' front lines.

Pvt. PATRICK MILLER: Next thing, I look around where we at, and it looks like we're driving through a city. And the sun's getting ready to come up.

NARRATOR: They'd stumbled into Nassiriya. Initially, the Iraqi soldiers guarding the bridge across the Euphrates showed little appetite for a fight.

Pvt. PATRICK MILLER: They were actually waving at us, so we thought that they were just glad to see that we were there.

NARRATOR: Inside the city, the convoy belatedly realized its mistake and turned around to escape.

Staff Sgt. TARIK JACKSON, 507th Maintenance Company: On the turnaround, that's when we actually start receiving fire.

NARRATOR: The Fedayeen had arrived.

Pvt. PATRICK MILLER: It was just "Pow, pow, pow!" all over the place. You really couldn't tell where it was coming from.

Staff Sgt. TARIK JACKSON: You know, I could hear the shots actually piercing the vehicle that I was in. I noticed that I was hit in the arm. And my hand was one way, and I looked back down and my arm was flipped over. You know, I just tucked my arm and just said, "I need to keep firing. I need to try to-- we need to pull through."

NARRATOR: Jackson and the vehicles ahead of him made it through the final Iraqi positions. The vehicles behind still had that gauntlet to run.

SAHEB KHUDEIR AL-ZUELI, Eyewitness: [through interpreter] The first two vehicles managed to get through, but the Fedayeen hit the next three with rocket-propelled grenades.

NARRATOR: Private Miller ran forward to try to help.

Pvt. PATRICK MILLER: It was just a bloody mess. And I looked to see if anyone's alive, and to me, there didn't look to be anybody alive. So I just kept moving forward.

NARRATOR: In the wreckage was Private Jessica Lynch, later to be mythologized by the press as an American hero when troops rescued her from an Iraqi hospital. At the time, Miller thought she was beyond help.

Pvt. PATRICK MILLER: It looked like to me she was dead, as well as everyone else that was in that vehicle.

NARRATOR: More and more Fedayeen arrived.

SAHEB KHUDIER AL-ZUELI: [through interpreter] Two American soldiers got out of their vehicle, and they ran towards their colleagues. A green car pulled up, and two Iraqis got out and shouted at them. So the Americans held their hands up, with their guns in the air. But the Iraqis shot them and they fell on their faces.

NARRATOR: Private Miller was forced to surrender. When he and other prisoners were paraded on Arab television that afternoon, the ambush seemed a metaphor for a war that wasn't turning out as expected.

DONALD RUMSFELD: [March 23, 2003] I did get a report this morning from the Central Command that some soldiers were unaccounted for, and a relatively small number. As I recall, it was in the low two digits and-- that they were unaccounted for. But what may have occurred since I heard that report at 6:00 or 7:00 this morning, I don't know.

NARRATOR: Eleven Americans had been killed and seven taken prisoner. The Fedayeen believed they'd beaten off an American attack, and Iraqi fighters who had been thinking of surrender thought again.

Brig. QASEM MOHAMED ZEIN, Army Commander, Nassiriya: [through interpreter] It invigorated the fighting men. They decided to stay and to fight.

NARRATOR: Back in Basra, on the second night of their advance, the British took up positions outside the city. The secret intelligence service, MI6, was negotiating by radio with some of the city's commanders. The British wanted the Iraqi army to help them police the city.

Major Gen. ROBIN BRIMS, Commander, 1st Armoured Division: We told them our argument wasn't with them, it was only with the regime. We said, you know, "Surrender, and you can then rejoin your army under a new leadership." We even asked some to come and be part of our coalition.

NARRATOR: It didn't happen. Instead, when the British probed the outskirts of the city, they met with fierce resistance.

Sgt. KEVIN FLETCHER, 7th Armoured Brigade: This is our first major contact with the enemy that we can actually see now. They're on the ground. They're firing tracer. We're firing tracer. They would just walk up to tanks with RPGs on their shoulders, trying to get as close as they could. It's very frightening. Especially when you see the whites in their eyes and they're throwing grenades at you, it's very frightening.

Sgt. Major KEITH ARMSTRONG, 7th Armoured Brigade: It was just a constant barrage for 16 hours. We were told that they were going to surrender in their droves and it was going to be like the first Gulf war and that you would come across hundreds of men walking towards you with a weapon-- no weapons, as such. But I never saw any of that.

NARRATOR: At first, the British encountered regular troops, but soon they found themselves under attack by paramilitary fighters, the Fedayeen.

Major MICHAEL WAYMOUTH, 7th Armoured Brigade: They came forward very stealthily, using civilian vehicles mounted with RPGs, heavy machine guns. And they used those a lot.

Sgt. KEVIN FLETCHER: They were willing to fight till the end. They were willing to stay there against all odds.

NARRATOR: The Fedayeen were a threat coalition intelligence had largely failed to anticipate.

Col. MIKE RIDDELL-WEBSTER, 7th Armoured Brigade: It was quite clear from those engagements that we were now up against something of the size and the scale of which we had yet to sort of really work out.

NARRATOR: Saddam had put his most feared general in command of Basra, Ali Hassan Al-Majid, "Chemical Ali."

MARC GARLASCO: The guy's a war criminal. He gassed the Kurds. He basically has a very special place in hell set aside for him.

NARRATOR: Captured soldiers said their units had wanted to surrender but the Fedayeen and Chemical Ali's secret police had forced them to fight.

Maj. Gen. ROBIN BRIMS: They were held to account by somebody behind them with a gun, or their families were being detained and would suffer the consequences of their failure to act correctly.

NARRATOR: With their troops also under attack in the nearby town of Az Zubayah, the British commanders decided to rethink their tactics.

Maj. Gen. ROBIN BRIMS: I spoke to commander, 7th Armoured Brigade, and said, "You work out your plan for Az Zubayah, and I'll work out my plan for Basra, and let's meet tomorrow morning."

Brig. Gen. GRAHAM BINNS, Commander, 7th Armoured Brigade: And I remember him arriving, and I thought, "Well, I've got some views on this."

Maj. Gen. ROBIN BRIMS: And he said to me, "Come 'round the corner and let's have a quick smoke break before you see my commanders." And he said to me, "I've worked out I could easily get into Az Zubayah now with the most powerful armored brigade the United Kingdom's ever put in the field. But if I do, I'll trash the place. I'll take unnecessary casualties myself. I will kill lots of civilians. And this can't be right." And I said to him, "Well, my conclusion was precisely the same for Basra."

Brig. Gen. GRAHAM BINNS: So within the space of a cigarette, we'd both come to the same conclusion.

NARRATOR: The British closed off the city but allowed civilians to leave. MI6 agents inside Basra still hoped they could incite an uprising.

Some in the American high command were exasperated. They felt British caution only made Saddam look strong. But the British hierarchy did not want to risk a bloodbath.

Lord BOYCE, U.K. Chief of Defence Staff, '01-'03: Taking down a city quickly would have been inviting us to attack it very hard, rubble-ize it, to use one expression, but certainly to go in fairly hard. And one of our campaign objectives was to make sure we concentrated on thinking about how we actually rebuilt the infrastructure once the war was over.

NARRATOR: Outside Nassiriya, the U.S. Marines prepared to assault the city. Their mission, to take control of two key bridges. The Marines had received only confused reports of the ambush of the 507th convoy. They still believed the Iraqis in the city had little stomach for a fight.

[www.pbs.org: A chronology of the war]

Gunnery Sgt. JERRY BLACKWELL, U.S. Marines: I was anxious, a little excited. Nobody really knew what lied ahead.

Capt. MIKE BROOKS, U.S. Marines: We were all wearing our cold-weather clothing because it was chilly. And it was a kind of a grayish dawn. That's when the first signs of enemy resistance started. There were mortars impacting about 600 meters away from our forces. Heavy machine guns began to be fired at us. And that kind of gave you an indicator of what was to come.

NARRATOR: They spotted Iraqi tanks.

Lt. Col. RICK GRABOWSKI, Battalion Commander, U.S. Marines: And by the end of about an hour, we had about nine enemy tanks that had been engaged and destroyed. Now we knew we might have a fight on our hands.

NARRATOR: American tanks had been rescuing survivors from the earlier ambush. Now only four had enough fuel to continue the advance.

Lt. Col. RICK GRABOWSKI: We were running out of daylight, and I did not want to be in the middle of an attack to seize bridges while it was dark.

DAVID DUNFEE, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Marines: And the colonel, at that point, was, "OK, push. Let's push. Let's take those bridges."

Lt. Col. RICK GRABOWSKI: There's a lot of firing going on. You can hear it ricocheting off the road beside us.

CWO DAVID DUNFEE: You could hear the fire smacking off the bridge. I can remember seeing an RPG skip across the road in front of us. So I'm, like, "OK, this-- this is-- this is for real here. This is-- this is bad."

NARRATOR: Once across the bridge, the tanks moved forward. Then suddenly, they stopped.

Lt. Col. RICK GRABOWSKI: It was open ground. It appeared to be dry on top, but underneath was water. And they just sank to their chassis and we got stuck.

CWO DAVID DUNFEE: They were coming at us. Right there was an Iraqi that we'd just killed, and right over there was four more Iraqis we'd just killed. And back over on the other side of the building, there was nine Iraqis that were killed by the tanks. So they were swarming on us.

Capt. MIKE BROOKS: I could really feel the pressure building. They were fearless. They weren't afraid to die, and they just-- it was like a human wave attack as they came pushing towards us.

NARRATOR: A Marine company advanced towards a bridge on the northern edge of the city. Iraqi fighters were waiting.

Capt. DANIEL WITTNAM, U.S. Marines: They would duck behind a wall and they would fire an RPG, or they would pull out an AK47 and they would fire at you.

Sgt. JERRY BLACKWELL: They were everywhere on both sides of the road, high and low. And everybody was shooting.

Brig. QASEM MOHAMED ZEIN, Army Commander, Nassiriya: [through interpreter] All of Iraq had become a war zone, and so the civilians had fighters among them, from the army and from the Fedayeen. If the Americans saw you coming out of a street or a building with a gun in your hand, they'd just start shooting. They didn't care if it was a house with civilians in it or a school.

NARRATOR: Families died on the streets and in their homes.

ABDUL HADI HANOON, Ambulance Driver: [through interpreter] We piled up corpses in front of the mortuary. March 23rd was a black day for Nassiriya, the toughest day. Wherever I went, children would run up to me, pleading for help with dead or wounded people.

Sgt. JERRY BLACKWELL: Coming through Ambush Alley with all the small-armed and RPGs going off, I thought that was bad enough until I crossed that northern bridge. The land is blowing up all around you. Some of the artillery rounds hit so close, they bounce you off the ground. It's extremely frightening.

NARRATOR: An American A-10 arrived overhead. But instead of helping, it attacked the Marines' position, adding to the casualties.

Sgt. JERRY BLACKWELL: I was thinking that the casualties would be real high, extremely high.

NARRATOR: An armored vehicle tried to take the wounded to the rear.

Capt. MIKE BROOKS: An RPG came sailing through the air. It plunged into the open troop hatch of the AAV, and there was just a catastrophic explosion as the Amtrak blew up with its occupants inside.

Capt. DANIEL WITTNAM: I had 18 of my Marines were killed in action and 14 were wounded that day that were taken off the battlefield, so basically lost about one fourth of our combat power on that day from one company. So you know, emotionally, from that standpoint, thinking about the families and the Marines and-- it was very difficult.

Lt. Col. RICK GRABOWSKI: After that point, we never heard anything about capitulation or anything after that. People approached the Iraqis, I think, with a much different perspective.

RADIO OPERATOR: Helicopter to land now. We got a critical patient needs to get out of here!

NARRATOR: In one day, 29 Americans had died in Nassiriya. With them died all hope that the Iraqi people would help the coalition overthrow the regime.

Lt. Gen. DAVID McKIERNAN, Coalition Land Commander: It didn't happen. It didn't happen at An Nassiriya. It didn't happen at other places in the south.

NARRATOR: What worried the Americans even more was the thought of what lay ahead. The south was meant to be the easy part. What would happen when the 5th Army, advancing through the western desert, encountered the Republican Guard?

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE, Commander, U.S. 5th Army Corps: The closer we got to Baghdad, we expected a tougher fight. We expected the Republican Guard to be the formation that we were going to have to deal with, and we expected it to be a much more difficult and much more resolute defense.

NARRATOR: Hidden in the countryside south of Baghdad were four Republican Guard divisions, perhaps 40,000 men. Their commander, one of the highest-ranking generals in the Iraqi military, was confident he could produce a stalemate.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI, Iraqi Republican Guard: [through interpreter] I thought we'd be able to hold out for two or three months without the war reaching a conclusion, perhaps even six months. I thought we'd be able to turn Iraq into a mini-Vietnam. I didn't think the Americans would be prepared to fight man to man.

NARRATOR: To search out and destroy the Republican Guard, 32 Apache helicopters, the most deadly tank hunters in the world, were ordered forward.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE: The regime resided in Baghdad, and the Medina Division sat between us and Baghdad.

NARRATOR: The plan was for a massive raid on the night of March 23rd. But as they prepared, they were being watched.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] We established a force to stay behind enemy lines and gather information. They wore civilian clothes and they didn't carry any weapons. They used mobile phones to send and receive information.

NARRATOR: When the Apaches took off, the Iraqi forces were ready.

Lt. Col. MICHAEL BARBEE: For about the first 20 minutes, we were OK. We really hadn't faced any fire. I'd seen a couple of tracer streams, but that was about it.

NARRATOR: But the ambush was about to be sprung.

Capt. BRYON MACE: The power grid of the entire town we were going over had gone black and came back on within a few seconds.

Lt. JASON KING: That's when everybody started reporting taking heavy fire. We found out later that that was like a signal that they were using for people to go up on top of their roofs and shoot.

Capt. ANDREW TAPSCOTT: Fire was coming from the houses, the waterways, trees, shrubs, vehicles that were out there.

Lt. JASON KING: I was on the radio when I got hit. I've got earplugs in, I've got a helmet on, got all the noise of the aircraft, but I could hear it enter my neck. I didn't want to touch my neck. I assumed that the front of my throat was gone.

NARRATOR: The Apaches were forced to turn back before they even reached the Medina Division.

Lt. Col. MICHAEL BARBEE: I came over the squadron command radio and told all air crews to shoot at everybody that shot at them.

Lt. Col. MICHAEL BARBEE: You know you're firing into areas where there are houses, where there's communities, and you don't want to have collateral damage. You try your best not to have collateral damage. But it became fairly evident that, in fact, you were going to have to-- in order to survive this, you were going to have to return fire.

NARRATOR: One Apache was brought down and its crew captured. Almost every helicopter was seriously damaged.

Capt. BRYON MACE: I remember coming back feeling very unsure of what really just happened there. Was it that we were one unit that had encountered an extreme amount of resistance, and therefore had that happen, or was this a broad spectrum? I really didn't know at that point, but I do know that for us, at that point, we were going to have some time to think about it because our airplanes were extremely battle-damaged.

NARRATOR: The Republican Guard remained largely unscathed, and the Apache pilots' faith in U.S. intelligence was shaken.

Lt. JASON KING: It was useless. [laughs] It really was useless. At the risk of never making it above captain, like I said, there was definitely something wrong with the intelligence flow.

TOM RICKS, "The Washington Post": The deep strike raid failing -- and it was a failure by the Apaches -- really did set the military, the U.S. Army, back on its heels. For 20 years, they had built a big part of their thinking about combat around the attack helicopter, and here were attack helicopters getting hit hard by small arms fire.

And then on top of that, you have this horrible sandstorm come in that really, literally throws sand in the gears of the U.S. military machine.

Capt. DANIEL HIBNER, 3rd Infantry Division: You could have been convinced that it was the Apocalypse because it was that nasty out there. For a few hours, it was just an orange haze. Within about five minutes, it turned to pitch black out there.

Staff Sgt. TRAVIS CROSBY, 3rd Infantry Division: I heard the guys walking to go to the bathroom about 20 yards from the vehicle, and they spent the next three hours looking for the vehicle again, you know?

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE, Commander, U.S. 5th Army Corps: The weather really sucked. You could literally not see more than about 30 or 40 feet with your naked eye.

NARRATOR: And now came another surprise. Fedayeen fighters had left the cities and were attacking the supply lines of the lead units.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE, Battalion Commander, 3rd Infantry Division: And they just kept coming and they kept coming and they kept coming. We started to realize that they weren't afraid to fight, and more importantly, they weren't afraid to die.

NARRATOR: Just five days into the war, the advance on Baghdad had stalled.

TOM RICKS: So back in Washington, watching all this were a bunch of retired generals who had really become kind of a new part of the American way of war, retired generals going on TV, especially cable TV shows, and commenting.

Gen. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army, Ret.: Yes, our air power is wonderful and we should be able to handle this, but our boots-on-the-ground strength is low.

TOM RICKS: And the theme that those generals, the retired generals, struck that week was, "This thing is not going as well as it should because it is not a big enough force."

Gen. BARRY McCAFFREY, U.S. Army, Ret.: The rolling start, I think, was a fundamental error. We should have gotten more combat forces on the ground. The pieces that make an army corps fight, another division or two, heavy forces, an armored cav regiment, military police, not enough artillery-- that stuff should have been in there before we started this operation.

TOM RICKS: And this really antagonized Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Myers.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Every hour, the number of U.S. and coalition forces in that country are increasing. So I guess how I would respond to what you say or some folks who are concerned about that is that the people who are involved in this, the -- General Franks and General McKiernan and General DeLong and General Abizaid and Admiral Keating, General Moseley, are very comfortable, as are the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have met with the president twice in the last two days and discussed it.

NARRATOR: Rumsfeld's assurances that the troop levels had been approved by all the commanders disguised a bitter Pentagon battle that had taken place before the war, a bureaucratic struggle that was reported in detail by The Atlantic Monthly's James Fallows.

JAMES FALLOWS, "The Atlantic Monthly": Based on what I could tell from participants on all sides, there was a quite distinct and sharp almost culture war within the Pentagon in the months before the Iraq war, where the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, epitomized by Donald Rumsfeld, viewed much of the military leadership, especially the Army leadership, as being too cautious, too slow, to risk-averse, too cumbersome.

NARRATOR: The leadership of the Army -- its chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, and the Secretary of the Army, Thomas White -- had strongly resisted Rumsfeld's pressure to reduce the number of ground troops committed to the invasion.

JAMES FALLOWS: Rumsfeld initially proposed something like 75,000 U.S. troops for the invasion force. The Army had in mind something closer to 400,000.

THOMAS WHITE, Secretary of the Army, '01-'03: I think from an Army perspective, the concern was the troop levels after the war. Our concern -- Shinseki's concern, my concern -- was if you were to look at the post-war tasks that had to be accomplished, the fact that this was a country as large as the state of California with a population of 25 million people, we were very concerned that there wouldn't be sufficient boots on the ground after the operation to provide for security and get on with the stabilization activities.

NARRATOR: General Shinseki had overseen the Army's peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, where it had taken 40,000 allied troops to control that country's population of two million. He reasoned it could take as much as 10 times than number to police Iraq's 25 million people.

JAMES FALLOWS: General Shinseki drew not only on his experience in the Balkans, but also all the corpus of evidence that had been produced by the Army War College, by every other group that had looked into this, to say that there was a crucial moment just after the fall of a regime when the potential for disorder was enormous. If the occupying force was there in enough presence to make sure there was no disorder, to avoid challenges, then things went on a much smoother course than if somehow suddenly there was this power vacuum and disorder reigned.

[www.pbs.org: Read James Fallows's interview]

NARRATOR: The closed-door debate between Rumsfeld and the Army finally burst into public view in late February, just three weeks before the invasion would begin. In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Shinseki reluctantly revealed his position.

Sen. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: General Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq, following a successful completion of the war?

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff, '98-'03: In specific numbers, I would have to rely on combatant commander's exact requirements. But I think--

Sen. CARL LEVIN: How about a range?

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: I would say that what's been mobilized to this point, something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are probably, a-- you know, figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes significant ground force presence.

REPORTER: [March 27, 2003] Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki said it would take several hundred thousand troops on the ground--

NARRATOR: Secretary Rumsfeld was quick to rebut Shinseki's testimony.

DONALD RUMSFELD: However, I will say this. What is, I think, reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far from the mark.

NARRATOR: And the deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of the administration's war on Iraq, was even more emphatic in dismissing Shinseki.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, Deputy Secretary of Defense: [March 27, 2003] But some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. First, it's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.

THOMAS WHITE: Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and Secretary Rumsfeld-- there's a certain amount of arrogance to both of them in this regard. Neither man is a man that I would say was burdened by a great deal of self-doubt. And having been right in Afghanistan with-- conducting an operation with, basically, special operating forces and indigenous forces, their view was that they would be absolutely right here.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: In short, we don't know what the requirement will be, but we can say with reasonable confidence that the notion of hundreds of thousands of American troops is way off the mark.

THOMAS WHITE: And our view was that they were going to be terribly wrong. And their response, publicly and privately, was basically that Shinseki and I didn't know what we were talking about.

[www.pbs.org: Read Thomas White's interview]

NARRATOR: But in the Iraqi desert, as the sandstorms finally began to ease, the American generals were not focused on what might happen after the war. They were worried whether they had enough troops to advance on Baghdad immediately.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE, Commander, U.S. 5th Army Corps: I wasn't real comfortable with the troop levels. I was very reluctant to hit Baghdad because that was the main effort of the corps and that's where we had to get and that's what-- where we had to be to be decisive. And I wanted to make damn sure that we did it, we were going to be decisive and successful.

NARRATOR: In desert meetings, tempers flared.

Lt. Gen. DAVID McKIERNAN, Coalition Land Commander: In our profession, there's no such thing as a calm, measured discussion because what we're talking about is life and death. So there are passionate discussions.

NARRATOR: But General McKiernan was determined to retain the initiative.

Lt. Gen. DAVID McKIERNAN: I said, "We're going to have to accept some risk, and I want you to continue your attack rapidly to the north. Fast is better than slower. Fast is more lethal than slower. Fast is more final."

NARRATOR: The Army now prepared to attack Baghdad. The lead units had to funnel through a mile-wide gap between a lake and the city of Karbala -- the so-called Karbala Gap -- and then assault across the Euphrates towards Baghdad.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE: My commanders clearly understood that as soon as we moved through the Karbala Gap, it was going to be one fight all the way through to Baghdad. We couldn't slow down. We couldn't stop. We couldn't stop to reorganize because we were inside what we refer to as the enemy's "red zone."

NARRATOR: The Army could not detect any Iraqi forces defending the gap. The man leading the spearhead unit feared that the area had been cleared for a chemical attack.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE, Battalion Commander, 3rd Infantry Division: If there was one place that he could have used chemical weapons very successfully, it was at the Karbala Gap.

NARRATOR: That night, a signals intercept put American troops on alert for an imminent chemical attack.

Lt. Gen. JAMES CONWAY, Commander, U.S. Marines: We intercepted a high-level radio transmission that had a simple word passed. It was "blood." And we thought we knew what that meant. Everybody that night slept with their mask in very close proximity, as well as sleeping in your suit. It was a pleasant thing to wake up the next morning and realize that none of the force had been hit.

NARRATOR: And there were no chemical attacks that morning when the Army moved through the Karbala Gap. Iraqi forces had pulled back not to create a killing field but because they felt too vulnerable in open desert. As the Americans advanced toward the Iraqis' main defensive positions on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, General Hamdani, the supreme Iraqi commander in the area, says he was suddenly summoned back to Baghdad for a meeting with Saddam's son, Qusay.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] Qusay told me that he had an important message for me from President Saddam Hussein regarding the situation. The message was that everything that had happened over the last two weeks was strategic deception, that the main enemy attack would come from the north of Baghdad, and therefore, I should pull out all of my troops that were south of Baghdad.

NARRATOR: Hamdani protested that at that very moment, the Americans were attacking from the south.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] Qusay approached me. He was almost whispering. He said, "General Raad, are you sure of what you are saying?" I answered, "Yes, as I'm sure that I'm talking with you now." He knew that I was telling the truth. I could see it on his face. But still, he ordered me to move my troops to the north. He gave the order not as an order from him, but as an order that he was obliged to obey.

NARRATOR: Hamdani knew the order made no sense. The command structure was clearly in chaos. The regime was crumbling.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] As I left Baghdad, I looked at it as though I was seeing it for the last time. I could imagine the destruction to come.

NARRATOR: The first American Army unit had moved through the Karbala Gap and was racing towards its next objective.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE, Battalion Commander, 3rd Infantry Division: The Karbala Gap itself-- if you seized the gap, you still don't win. You got to get across the river. You never cross the river, you can't win.

NARRATOR: Months before, the planners had decided this bridge would carry the U.S. Army towards the Iraqi capital. General Hamdani was fully aware of its importance.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] This bridge can carry more than 150 tons in weight, and it's wide enough for armored troops to cross. I gave the commander of the demolition force clear written and verbal orders that, "Whenever you feel the enemy is close to the bridge, you should blow it up."

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: We fully anticipated this bridge to be mined, set with demolitions and rigged to explode, and we wanted to capture the bridge intact.

Capt. DANIEL HIBNER, 3rd Infantry Division: I definitely saw wires. We wanted to destroy that wire, or we wanted to kill the guy who was in charge of that wire.

NARRATOR: Under heavy covering fire, American engineers scrambled into boats and assaulted across the river to cut the demolition wires.

Capt. DANIEL HIBNER: The first boat gets about 25 per cent of the way across the river, and we start taking fire from the far side.

NARRATOR: Suddenly, the boat's engine failed. Hibner thought his men were doomed.

Capt. DANIEL HIBNER: They're siting ducks. I thought, "My God, I just sent these guys to their death.'

NARRATOR: But smoke grenades hid them from the Iraqis and they got across.

Capt. DANIEL HIBNER: We're on the far side of the bank now, taking really incredible amounts of small arms fire. We cut all the wires, all the det cord. We were very vulnerable at this point. We needed some heavy firepower.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE, Tank Commander, 3rd Infantry Division: So we assault across the bridge. We just pushed right through, just going as fast as we could to get a bigger foothold on the other side, to get more troops across the bridge.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: We didn't take any prisoners east of that bridge. East of that bridge, nobody surrendered. We had finally found the Iraqi Republican Guard.

[www.pbs.org: Read interviews with front line troops]

NARRATOR: By evening, the Americans controlled the bridge. And General Hamdani, who says, only hours earlier, he had been told to withdraw his forces north of Baghdad, was now ordered to turn his units around and counterattack.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] My own opinion was not to attack the Americans at this point. I felt we should surround them, contain them, then launch an offensive with special forces. I had about one brigade. But the high command insisted on an immediate offensive, which we were not ready for.

NARRATOR: The American tank crews were in their new positions east of the Euphrates.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: At 8:00 o'clock, it started to get dark. And I said, "Hey," you know, "let's try to get some rest. There's nothing going on." First sleep I've had in more than 24, 36 hours.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: We got the first report, tank moving from east to west. We started to get reports of infantry moving in the north. So now it looked like some sort of coordinated attack to try to retake the bridge.

NARRATOR: General Hamdani had mustered his most elite troops, a brigade from the Medina Division.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: All of a sudden, I see this armored vehicle pop up in front of me at 800 meters. Shot that one, and there was a humungous ball of flame and we had shrapnel coming back down on us.

NARRATOR: Iraqi tanks were advancing in a column down the road.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: We destroyed upwards of six T-72s, and we pretty much stopped the entire brigade that was coming down on us in their tracks.

NARRATOR: It became a slaughter.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: There was guys running up and down the road. There was big balls of fire going everywhere, some small arms fire. We're still engaging with machine guns, so every time we see someone running across the road, we firing machine guns at them.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] I didn't have a single tank intact. They were all either damaged or destroyed. I didn't have a single vehicle left. The battle reached a point where I, myself, the army commander, was fighting with a Kalashnikov.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: By 5:30, they were-- it was-- they were completely destroyed. The 10th Brigade had ceased to exist. I remember going there that morning and looking down that road and just-- unbelievable. Could not imagine what was going through the Iraqi minds that night as they were trying to assault that position.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: It's hard to describe it-- body parts just littered across the road, vehicles still burning, still too hot to even get close to. The smell in the air was a smell I'll never, ever forget, the burning flesh.

NARRATOR: Not a single American had been killed. No one knows how many Iraqi soldiers died.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] A party official said to me, "Sir, this is not the time for bravery or heroism. We must evacuate the command post." I felt like I was dying inside. The enemy tanks had broken through. There was no meaning left for me in life.

NARRATOR: The Army now advanced toward Saddam International Airport on the western outskirts of Baghdad. Symbolically and strategically, this was the most important objective yet.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: Our job was to go get the airport and threaten Baghdad from the West and to take that regime icon away.

NARRATOR: They expected fierce resistance. But as night fell, they weren't sure where it would come from, or when.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: We kept scanning on our thermal imaging and saw really nothing.

NARRATOR: The airport appeared to be deserted.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: The airport was completely black, a very, very eerie night. We just expected this huge battle with the Special Republican Guard, and it just-- it didn't happen. And we were extremely puzzled. And we were extremely tired.

NARRATOR: Parked right next to the airport runway, Marcone's men finally managed to grab some sleep.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: The sun started to come up about 4:30. I was asleep on the top of my tank, and then I heard a tank shoot. And then I said, "OK." So I get up and I look, and it was something that you would just not believe, Iraqis getting out of their beds, getting up to the sunshine and scratching their heads and looking around, and saying, "Oh, my God," and us doing the same thing, saying, "What in the hell is going on?"

NARRATOR: Baghdad had been under aerial bombardment for days. Confused by the constant noise, the Iraqi troops at the airport had slept through the initial American entry at the other end of the runway.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: They were so close that tank commanders were using pistols and hand grenades from the hatches into the Iraqi bunkers.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: People were running back and forth. They were shooting at us.

Lt. Col. ROCK MARCONE: It was vicious there for that hour-and-a-half because they really tried to get themselves together. I had tanks hit with RPGs. We had grenades, you know, blowing up all around us.

Lt. JAMES TEMPLE: They were shooting at us, and we just engaged with everything we could.

NARRATOR: Desperate, the Iraqis threw more troops into the fight, including the Fedayeen.

MOHAMED SHEHAB, Fedayeen Fighter: [through interpreter] We had to resist them, to fight them, to send them back to their own country. We are Iraqis. They are not even Christians, they are Jews.

NARRATOR: And the Special Republican Guard resorted to extreme measures.

Staff Sgt. TRAVIS CROSBY, Forward Air Controller, 3rd Infantry Division: These guys were doing, like, these suicide tactics, we called it. They run out of these secure bunkers with, basically, AK47s, run right at us.

MOHAMED SHEHAB: [through interpreter] The fighting was fierce. They had planes and tanks, and all we had were machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades.

Staff Sgt. TRAVIS CROSBY: Then about 50 of the guys gave up. They were tired of watching their buddies die, I guess.

MOHAMED SHEHAB: [through interpreter] We had to withdraw. We just couldn't stand up to them. There were only about 25 of us left. Most of the Fedayeen were killed.

MOHAMMED SAID AL-SAHAF, Iraq Information Minister: We crushed the forces in Saddam International Airport and we cleaned the whole place of the airport.

NARRATOR: In Baghdad itself, there was an air of unreality. The authorities remained defiant. And elsewhere, life continued as normal, the presence of militiamen on the streets the only outward sign of crisis. On April 4th, as fighting raged at the airport, Iraqi TV even showed pictures of Saddam in the west of the city.

The Americans were not yet ready for the final assault. They still feared what was left of the Republican Guard. Key Republican Guard units had been positioned due south of Baghdad. The American advance had simply by-passed the bulk of them.

Before the battle for Baghdad could begin, a brigade was dispatched south to deal with them. Air commanders said the Medina Division had been degraded by 80 percent, but the Army ground units had to be sure.

Col. DAVID PERKINS, Brigade Commander, 3rd Infantry Division: We come in contact literally with hundreds of armored vehicles, artillery, air defense, et cetera, like that.

NARRATOR: Hidden in the palm groves, they found the most powerful armored division in the Iraqi army, almost entirely intact.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: Eighty percent of their vehicles were still there, at least. They were dispersed and hidden so as not to be seen from the air.

NARRATOR: It turned out the coalition had been bombing the wrong positions.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] I had moved all my troops into new locations. We created almost 7,000 new weapons locations, and we distributed enough ammunition to last for six months.

NARRATOR: But this time, the Army had caught the Iraqis by surprise. The American advance had been so fast, most of the Iraqi tanks were facing the wrong way.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: They were just hit so hard and so quickly, they just couldn't react to it. We just came upon them, and close air support and artillery, it was just, I'm sure, more than they could even imagine. And it just developed so quickly and our tanks and Bradleys were just going through their formations so quickly that it just becomes obvious that it's hopeless for them.

NARRATOR: The Medina Division simply melted away.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: We'd see, you know, a lot of middle-aged males walking away from battlefield areas. Some of them, you know, would have, like, army boots on, but then they would have, like, kind of a civilian undergarment. And it was obvious that they probably had just taken their, you know, uniform off and just kind of walked away. And if they did that, in most cases, we just-- you know, we just let them go.

NARRATOR: General Hamdani made a last desperate attempt to stem the rout.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] I tried to sneak to Usfiyah, to try to salvage what was left of the Medina division. I found some troops, but there was no solid force left. I gathered some of them all together in one place. I was trying to form a nucleus of a solid force. I went to search for others, but when I got back, they'd disappeared.

NARRATOR: The Medina Division had ceased to exist. Now the Americans were ready for the assault on Baghdad.

TODD PURDUM, "The New York Times": The working assumption was always that the worst resistance would come in Baghdad and that the Iraqis would fight to preserve their capital and that Saddam would fight to preserve his power. There was tremendous dread, I think, as they approached, a great sense of trepidation about what they would find.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE, Commander, U.S. 5th Army Corps: I think the sensing across the entire formation was that, eventually, we were going to have to conduct an armed reconnaissance into Baghdad in order to figure out what the hell this guy was going to do.

NARRATOR: General Wallace asked the man who had destroyed the Medina Division to come up with a plan.

Col. DAVID PERKINS, Brigade Commander, 3rd Infantry Division: All the pundits said, "Well, you know, we only do deserts, we don't do cities. It'll be another Stalingrad." And you know, "You'll lose 10,000 people on a city block."

NARRATOR: But Colonel Perkins felt Baghdad was there for the taking. To prove it, he would conduct an armed raid into the city. He called it a Thunder Run. At dawn on April 5th, American tanks rolled into Baghdad for the first time.

Gen. JAMES MARKS, Chief of Intelligence, Coalition Land Forces: Silence. Silence in the command center at the audacity that was being displayed.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: As we attacked up on Route 8 that day, it was definitely the most intense fighting we had seen yet because we have this gauntlet of overpasses and buildings and roads and fighting positions that we fight through.

NARRATOR: The Americans were driving straight into Baghdad's morning traffic. And many of the Iraqi defenders were dressed in civilian clothes.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: Eighty percent of the conversation on the command net was trying to discriminate between a non-combatant and a combatant, constantly, you had, "OK, there's a blue van. It's civilians. Don't engage it. OK, behind him are two white vans. They just shot at Alpha Company. You need to engage them." So constantly, it was, you know, "Don't shoot blue van," "Get the white van," "There's an old man over here," "Don't shoot him," "Shoot him."

NARRATOR: They were not always successful in distinguishing fighters from civilians.

MAJID HAMEED, Eyewitness: [through interpreter] We didn't expect this attack. A lot of civilians, families, ran into the convoy, and they were shot and crushed. My cousin was on his way to work in his car. Suddenly, there was an American tank. It fired a warning shot. He stopped and started moving backwards. But they fired at him again and he was thrown out of his car.

NARRATOR: By late morning, the 3rd Infantry had sliced through Baghdad's southwestern suburbs and was arriving at the safety of the airport.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: When our vehicles pulled into the airport, the great majority of them were on fire on the outside of them. And it was all our duffel bags and that had all been shot up. The vehicle itself was intact, but all our stuff on the outside was burning up.

[www.pbs.org: Read Col. Perkins's interview]

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE: The first Thunder Run actually was a hell of a lot tougher of a fight than I think any of us had anticipated, but it turned out OK.

TODD PURDUM: It was a daunting task, but the goal of it wasn't to take control of Baghdad with that first run, it was to show the flag, show that they were there. The psychological effect was the most important thing, and that had a big effect. It worked. It was in Saddam's back yard, and there was no stopping the Americans.

NARRATOR: In the south, the British continued to pursue a more cautious approach in Basra. They'd been probing the outskirts of the city for almost two weeks, to the irritation of some American commanders. But slowly, they too were tightening the screws.

Maj. Gen. ROBIN BRIMS, Commander, 1st Armoured Division: We put precision air strikes in against the Ba'ath Party headquarters, their directorate of intelligence, the Fedayeen headquarters, and so forth. So we attacked the regime targets.

NARRATOR: On the night of April 4th, British intelligence got word of a major opportunity.

Brig. Gen. GRAHAM BINNS, Commander, 7th Armoured Brigade: We got information that Chemical Ali was conducting a meeting with-- in a house in the center of Basra.

Maj. Gen. ROBIN BRIMS: Chemical Ali was the overall commander of the regime, the Fedayeen, the armed forces in the southern part of Iraq. And he's not called Chemical Ali without good reason. It was very clear to me both before and during this operation that the Shia people were terrified of this man. Terrified of him.

NARRATOR: Just before dawn on April 5th, American fighters took off to strike at a target in Basra. At the Pentagon, they watched the attack live, through aerial surveillance.

MARC GARLASCO, Defense Intelligence Agency, '97-'03: We're watching this video of the attack. And the first weapon comes in, then the second weapon comes in and strikes the building.

NARRATOR: The bomb camera video later released was less graphic.

MARC GARLASCO: And you're able to see bodies, like rag dolls, flying up into the air. And I tell you, we sat there and we were cheering and thinking, "Yeah, we just got Chemical Ali." Someone who has killed his own people, someone who is just an evil man, is now dead, and we rejoiced at it.

NARRATOR: Only later did it become clear that Chemical Ali had not been killed. And there were innocent victims.

MARC GARLASCO: There were 17 civilians killed there. And we didn't get Chemical Ali. And suddenly, I don't feel so good about this target, and you start to wonder who those rag dolls were that you saw flying through the air.

NARRATOR: Most of the dead came from neighboring families. It was one of the worst losses of civilian life in the campaign in the south, but it proved a turning point. In Basra, it was widely believed Chemical Ali had been killed. And as news of the strike spread through the city, the effect was dramatic.

Brig. Gen. GRAHAM BINNS: During the course of that day, we got indications that the policemen were no longer on street corners, that soldiers were not seen openly on the streets. We got information that members of the Ba'ath Party were leaving Basra. Two of the battle groups had planned raids for the following morning. I said to the commanding officers, "Well, knock on the door" -- i.e., continue these raids -- "and if the door opens, keep going."

NARRATOR: On the morning of April 6th, the entire British 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, rolled into Basra. Those defenders still at their posts were stunned. Some resorted to suicide tactics.

Col. MIKE RIDDELL-WEBSTER, Black Watch Regiment: There was a tank about two vehicles in front of me, and some lunatic jumped out of the bunker, climbed up on top of the tank, and then fired directly at the tank commander's periscope. And the vehicle immediately behind then shot this chap off the barrel.

Sgt. KEVIN FLETCHER, 7th Armoured Brigade: Everywhere I looked, there was a limb here, a head there, pieces of head floating in this water next to us. And I just-- I was scared, at this point. I thought, "I do not want to end up like this." There was blood and guts everywhere. And then I just went into autopilot. And then the next thing, as per drills, move!

NARRATOR: By mid-morning, the British had broken through the thin defensive crust around the city.

Brig. Gen. GRAHAM BINNS: The C.O. of the Black Watch came up on the radio and said, "I'm three kilometers into Basra. I'm going to keep going."

Col. MIKE RIDDELL-WEBSTER: We drove down to more and more cheers, more and more waving, and no contact at all, really.

NARRATOR: By late afternoon, the British were in downtown Basra.

Sgt. Major KEITH ARMSTRONG, 7th Armoured Brigade: It was something like the liberation of Paris. You know, you had hundreds of people lining the roads, waving, cheering and all the rest of it.

NARRATOR: Only three British soldiers were killed that day, and the generals felt their cautious tactics had been vindicated.

Maj. Gen. ROBIN BRIMS: If you told me on the 19th of March that I could get into a defended city of a million and a quarter with the loss of only three, I'd have taken it. Of course, I would have. And I think that-- I think that history would show this was probably the lightest casualties, I think, in any urban operation that's ever taken place.

NARRATOR: But within hours, the euphoria had turned to chaos as looting spread. The British had expected the Iraqi police, the army, the civil administration to be intact and to help them run the city. But they encountered a very different reality.

Brig. Gen. GRAHAM BINNS: The planning that we did do was based against a false set of assumptions. We got advice about managing a humanitarian crisis, but that wasn't what was required. We needed professional engineers to rebuild things. We needed water engineers. We needed bank managers.

NARRATOR: With the regime gone, everything beneath simply crumbled. It was a taste of what was to come.

MARINE CORPS OFFICER: So here's the deal. This is the fight that all the Marines have been wondering when we're going to get into it. This is the time.

NARRATOR: On the outskirts of Baghdad, the U.S. Marines now joined the Army's assault on the capital.

MARINE CORPS OFFICER: From here on out, once we cross the Tigris, there's enemy saturated everywhere.

NARRATOR: The Marines had been given the job of storming the eastern part of the city. As the young Marine commanders briefed their troops, they anticipated serious resistance. The mood was aggressive.

MARINE CORPS OFFICER: If it moves, it gets destroyed by anything we have. I don't care about collateral damage, at this point. Civilians aren't going to be standing out in the streets, OK, until this thing's over, I'm telling you right now. A lot of these Fedayeen are probably in civilian clothes. I'm sure the military are probably in their uniforms. Expect them to also be in civilian attire, as well, all right? If they pose a threat to you, you kill them. Understood?

NARRATOR: But the Iraqi army was already retreating, falling back across the Diyala River at the eastern boundary of Baghdad.

Lt. Col. MAHMOOD SHARHAN, Iraqi Army: [through interpreter] It was every man for himself. You just had to make your own decisions. The bombardment was so heavy, and it made no attempt to distinguish between civilian and military areas.

NARRATOR: On the morning of April 6th, Colonel Sharhan abandoned his position.

Lt. Col. MAHMOOD SHARHAN: [through interpreter] I got into a civilian car and I just went home. I left everything behind.

NARRATOR: Twenty-four hours later, the Marines stormed the Diyala Bridge, just a couple of miles downriver.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY, U.S. Marines: Kilo Company, with Captain Norton, were the first to cross the bridge. They crossed the bridge, immediately seized the small buildings that were over-watching it.

Capt. KEVIN NORTON, U.S. Marines: I'm not totally sure how much incoming fire. I think, for the most part, the Iraqis had left that morning. I think there was sporadic fire coming across.

NARRATOR: Press photographers had swarmed to what they believed would be an iconic event.

KIT ROANE, Reporter/Photographer: We're hearing lots of fire, but it becomes pretty apparent, at that point, that it's not incoming, that no one is, like-- no one's shooting at us.

NARRATOR: But as the Marines fanned out on the northern bank, they remained nervous, jittery-- above all, fearful of suicide bombers.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY: Your fighting a battle in a city on the outskirts of a city of five million people. The enemy is doing everything they can to look like civilians, and they're using suicide bomber techniques on you,

NARRATOR: Up the road, life continued as normal. Wasan Juwayid was returning to her home near the Diyala Bridge, having spent the day with relatives.

WASAN JUWAYID: [through interpreter] We had no idea the Americans were in the area. Our neighbors, a father and his son, had a Kia van. They gave us a lift.

NARRATOR: Back at the Diyala River, the Marines were establishing defensive positions, their guns pointing down the road toward Baghdad.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY: It's a combat zone. You're not going to stand out there in a road guard vest and stop vehicles and search them. This isn't, you know, Northern Ireland, OK? This isn't a police post. This is combat.

GARY KNIGHT, Photographer: The taking of this bridge had occurred, you know, an hour or two previously. This wasn't broadcast on the radio. People in Baghdad didn't know. You know, it was clear that civilians were going to be traveling down this road.

NARRATOR: Within minutes, Wasan Juwayid's van appeared.

KIT ROANE: The first vehicle to come through was a blue minivan. It got to, say, about seven or eight city blocks away when the Marines saw it.

LAURENT VAN DER STOCKT, Photographer: They start to scream and they start to say, "800 meters, 600 meters, warning shot!"

GARY KNIGHT: You hear them. They're talking to each other -- "Shall I open up? Shall I open up?" -- until somebody just opens up.

LAURENT VAN DER STOCK: And you have this silence. And the car is, like--

WASAN JUWAYID: [through interpreter] My sister was hit right away. I rushed towards her, but she'd been shot in the head. The driver and his son were shot, too. The son, poor thing, didn't die immediately. I saw an American soldier coming towards the car, but I pretended to be unconscious.

NARRATOR: As she lay in the van, more cars drove into the American guns. Not until the next day were photographers allowed forward to take pictures. Then suddenly, a hand appeared in the window of the blue minivan.

U.S. MARINE: Oh, there's a family in the back! There's a family in the back of it!

NARRATOR: Wasan and another survivor had sat there all night long, next to the bodies of their dead relatives, too terrified to move.

WASAN JUWAYID: [through interpreter] I thought they were coming to bring freedom and democracy, not to hurt people. Why did they shoot our car? They could see us, and they still shot us.

GARY KNIGHT: Civilians aren't trained to deal with combat. When somebody starts firing at your car, your first reaction is to put your foot down and drive as fast as you can and to get out of wherever it is you're at. So you speed up. And that, frankly, is a death sentence.

NARRATOR: Around a dozen civilians died that morning at the Diyala Bridge.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY: We were trying to improvise on the fly to deal with the situation, where we can protect our forces and not cause unnecessary death, and I would count it as a success. A hundred percent success? No. There was innocent life lost, and I think everybody regrets that. There isn't anybody that doesn't.

NARRATOR: It would be some time before the truth dawned on the Marines, that the eastern side of Baghdad was virtually defenseless.

In the west of Baghdad, it was a different story. There the Army's 3rd Infantry Division had a fight on its hands.

Capt. FELIX ALMAGUER, 3rd Infantry Division: You had everybody fighting because you had to. You had the staff guys fighting. You had the support platoon fighting. You had the medics fighting.

NARRATOR: Following the success of his first Thunder Run, Colonel Perkins had devised an ambitious battle plan to seize the Iraqi capital in a single day.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: Baghdad's the center of gravity, and if the city is fallen, then all hope is lost. If I'm in the city and I stay there, the war's over.

NARRATOR: He'd headed straight downtown for Saddam's palaces, spreading panic among the Iraqi defenders. But he'd taken a huge risk. If the Iraqis could cut his supply lines, he'd be stranded. And it was on these supply routes that the Fedayeen now concentrated its attacks.

Dr. ERIK SCHOBITZ, Medic, 3rd Infantry Division: We got attacked from one position, and we hit them back hard. And then another one would hit us, and then we'd hit them back hard. They outnumbered us.

NARRATOR: The fiercest fighting was on Route 8, at a road junction the Americans had code-named Objective Curly.

Capt. STEVEN HOMMEL, Chaplain, 3rd Infantry Division: It was chaos. We knew that we were outnumbered. We knew that we were surrounded. We knew that we had walked into a well-executed and well-planned ambush. We were fighting for our lives.

Capt. FELIX ALMAGUER: It was at that moment that I thought to myself, "OK, this might be it. They may have figured something out and they've got our number today."

NARRATOR: Locals watched as the Fedayeen hurled themselves at the American guns.

YAAS KHUDIR IBRAHIM, Eyewitness: [through interpreter] They fought like heroes. I saw them with my own eyes. They'd run down the street, throw themselves to the ground, put a rocket in the RPG and fire, calling out for Holy War. One of them had a bullethole in his back, but he insisted on being given an RPG so he could keep on fighting.

NARRATOR: Once more, civilians were caught up in the fighting.

Capt. FELIX ALMAGUER: Good people stay home, so the people that are out there watching you, they don't need to be out there. They're not typically innocent people.

NARRATOR: Ahmed Waheed and his family were fleeing the Marines at the Diyala Bridge when they drove directly into the fighting at Objective Curly.

AHMED WAHEED SABHAN: [through interpreter] This soldier looked at us from the turret of his tank. I took off all my clothes to show him I was unarmed, so he would not harm my family. Despite all that, he shot my mother and she fell dead on the ground.

NARRATOR: By midday, the resistance was flagging. Colonel Perkins felt able to order his supply convoys to run the gauntlet up Route 8.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: They're coming under a hail of fire, tires being shot out, windshields being shot out. But guys were up there with the 50-cals shooting back, shooting with the M16s' 9-mills to get these supply vehicles into the center of Baghdad.

NARRATOR: The Iraqi fighters fled.

AYAD NAZAR NAZARIYAN, Eyewitness: [through interpreter] A brigadier came running into my house. He was afraid. I was standing by the door. He shouted at me, "Get down! Get down!" I asked him what was happening. He said there were bodies everywhere, even on the rooftops. He said the Americans showed no mercy.

NARRATOR: Colonel Perkins would spend the night in Saddam's palace.

Col. DAVID PERKINS: I knew that, you know, the tide had turned on this war-- in other words, that we were in Baghdad and there was probably no way that they could kick us out of the city.

NARRATOR: Nineteen days after crossing the Kuwait border, less than a week after the breakthrough at the Karbala Gap, the Americans had penetrated to the very heart of the regime.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE, Commander, U.S. 5th Army Corps: The 7th was the point at which I think we broke the back of the regime, that we'd established ourselves in Baghdad, that the coalition was there and they were there to stay, in retrospect. But there was still much more work to do.

NARRATOR: What they still needed to do was eliminate Saddam Hussein. And that afternoon, the Americans got another intelligence tip.

MARC GARLASCO, Defense Intelligence Agency, '97-'03: My boss came into the office and he said to me, "Hey, Mark, we've got some intelligence. We know where Saddam is."

Lt. Gen. MICHAEL MOSELEY, Coalition Air Commander: There would be a meeting at these-- at these, coordinates in these buildings, and it would be populated by extremely high-level players within the Ba'ath Party and within the Iraqi leadership structure.

MARC GARLASCO: I think that the evidence was sketchy. It was good enough to send forces in on the ground and see if he's really there, but I was reticent to drop 8,000 pounds of high explosives.

NARRATOR: Garlasco's objections were overruled. The intelligence was quickly passed to the crew of a B-1 bomber already in the air over central Iraq.

Lt. Col. FRED SWAN, U.S. Air Force: We were told, you know, "Turn direct Baghdad. We've got a priority 1 leadership target for you, and stand by for coordinates." And the words we got were, basically, "This is a big one. Don't miss."

NARRATOR: The target was in the wealthy Al-Mansour district in the west of Baghdad. Abdul Maseeh had just returned home for lunch.

ABDUL MASEEH: [through interpreter] Everything was normal. People were just moving around as normal. I had my lunch, and then half an hour later, I went out again.

NARRATOR: In the skies above Baghdad the intelligence passed to the B-1 seemed less precise than usual.

Lt. Col. FRED SWAN: We actually got two sets of coordinates 100 feet apart. My guess is that whoever was making these decisions looked at the buildings and thought, "Well, just to play it safe, to make sure that we do get the people we're after, we're going to-- we're going to hit two"-- you know, "two separate target points there."

NARRATOR: One of the target points was Abdul Maseeh's home.

Lt. Col. FRED SWAN: We annihilated that target area. Emotionally, there's just, you know, a couple of moments to think, "Wow. OK, we did that. Now let's move on to the next target area."

NARRATOR: The attack was based on an electronic intercept of a satellite phone. But such intercepts are only accurate within a radius of 100 meters. So according to intelligence sources, the coalition relied on a human source to pinpoint the target. It now seems likely that Saddam was in the area, but the source pointed to the wrong house.

MARC GARLASCO: I think the way that we went at it, the intelligence that we had maybe was not as good as we thought it was. Certainly, O for 50 speaks to that.

NARRATOR: During the war, 50 attempts were made to kill Iraqi leaders. Not a single one was successful.

MARC GARLASCO: The targets were all struck. Whatever the U.S. aimed at was hit, and hit magnificently-- buildings destroyed, smoking holes in the ground, that sort of thing. The problem is, the people who the U.S. was aiming at were not there.

NARRATOR: These leadership strikes lead to the highest number of civilian casualties in the air war. At Al-Mansour, 18 civilians were killed, including Abdul Maseeh's entire family.

ABDUL MASEEH: [through interpreter] Here was the first victim we dug out, from my own family. Here in the middle, we found Mariam, my niece, Malana, my older daughter. Then we got to the kitchen, where we found my wife, my little daughter, Lana. I dug them out with my bare hands. I carried them with my own hands, and I buried them with my own hands.

NARRATOR: So where was Saddam? An Iraqi security source says he'd spent much of the war at this house, about a mile away. It was never targeted. The day after the Al-Mansour strike, Saddam reportedly told close followers that he'd been betrayed. Then he fled to the north of the city. There, on April 9, he seemed confident enough to stage an impromptu outdoor rally.

ISMAIL ABDUL GHUFUR: [through interpreter] I'd always hoped to meet him. I wished him victory, and he thanked me. He handed me his gun by the handle. It had the president's seal on it. He said, "We'll come back in a month's time and collect it. But if we don't show up, it's yours." I said to him, "God willing, you will be back." He called on the people to resist the Americans, saying they were cowards, that we would defeat them and make Baghdad their grave.

NARRATOR: Machine guns were handed out to the local people. Then Saddam went to the local mosque to pray. While he was there, someone tipped off the Americans. The next morning, a Marine company was dispatched to capture the Iraqi leader. The defenders of the mosque put up fanatical resistance.

Capt. BLAIR SOKOL, U.S. Marines: The closer we got to the mosque, the more I was convinced that he might actually be there because the contact was so severe and it was so well defended and the soldiers in that vicinity were so motivated and dedicated to die.

ISMAIL ABDUL GHUFUR: [through interpreter] There were fighters from the People's Army, party loyalists. Each had their own weapon. One would have a rifle, another a grenade thrower. They attacked them from the side streets, from among the trees. Many people from our side were killed, martyred.

NARRATOR: The Marines forced their way into the mosque. But when the Iraqi defenders surrendered, Saddam Hussein was nowhere to be found.

In the center of Baghdad, all that was left for the Americans was to end the last desperate resistance. For the Iraqi military, it was a humiliation.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] History will have no mercy on us, and it has a filthy tongue. At all levels, from the high command of the armed forces right down to the lowest level of command, we all failed in our duty.

[www.pbs.org: Read Gen. Hamdani's interview]

NARRATOR: The Fedayeen and the Ba'ath Party militias had fought, often fanatically. But it was street gangs against soldiers. In the end, they had been almost alone.

Lt. Col. MAHMOOD SHARHAN, Iraqi Army: [through interpreter] There was a tank commander in our brigade. He told the president he wanted to change the name of his unit to the Al-Samood, "the unit which struggles." In the end, he didn't fire a single shot at the Americans and all his tanks were captured.

NARRATOR: When the moment had come, Iraq's professional soldiers seemed to understand the odds against them, and they weren't prepared to die for Saddam. They didn't mutiny or surrender en masse, as the Americans had hoped. They simply went home.

Lt. Gen. RAAD MAJID AL-HAMDANI: [through interpreter] I don't have the exact figures, but I don't think more than 15 percent of the armed forces actually fought. Even so, we managed to resist for three weeks. What if everybody had been fighting?

NARRATOR: By April 9, it was over. Colonel McCoy,the Marine who had seized the Diyala Bridge, rolled into Baghdad's central square.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY, U.S. Marines: We were there, and it was-- you know, the Iraqis had gathered around the statue and were throwing their shoes at it.

NARRATOR: The crowd was small, but the square quickly filled with journalists, anxious at last to capture the iconic images of victory.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY: They had produced a rope and were trying to haul it down using manpower. It was obvious it wasn't going to happen, and all the cameras were rolling. So I thought it would be a pretty anti-climactic moment if we didn't help.

NARRATOR: McCoy offered up one of the Marines' heavy vehicles. At 5:00 PM, the statue came down.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY: And at that point, they went nuts on it and tore the head off and drug it around the streets.

DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: [April 9, 2003] The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking.

NARRATOR: At the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld celebrated the moment.

REPORTER: And Mr. Secretary, in light of the criticisms of the supply line and the pause that was reported a week or two ago, are you feeling vindicated today?

DONALD RUMSFELD: You're right, there've been a lot of people who've suggested that the force was undersized and that they went too fast and they should have had a long air war first. I happen to think that-- it's not a matter for me to be vindicated. I happen to think that General Franks and his team have done an absolutely superb job.

NARRATOR: But as the American columns continued to roll into Baghdad, something was clearly wrong. There were few of the triumphant scenes they had hoped for. The people of Baghdad seemed wary, suspicious. They may have hated Saddam, but that didn't make them pro-American. And the Americans' conduct of the war had done little to win them over.

MARC GARLASCO: I was actually shocked to find that the Iraqi population, by and large, really thought that they were being targeted. Civilians thought that civilians were being targeted.

NARRATOR: After the war, Mark Garlasco would leave the Pentagon to conduct a study of the conflict for Human Rights Watch. He says no one knows exactly how many civilians died, but estimates vary from almost 4,000 to 9,000. The Pentagon did not count Iraqi casualties and maintains it did everything it could to prevent the death of innocent civilians.

MARC GARLASCO: If people are told that the war is going to be precise, and then they see time and again that civilians are being injured and killed by weapons that are being fired at them from those forces that are telling them that they're going to be precise, then obviously, they believe that they're being targeted.

NARRATOR: The fighting was over, but Baghdad was slipping into chaos. As in Basra, looting quickly spread,

TOM RICKS, "The Washington Post": Looting began small scale and increased and increased and increased. Partly, it was just people rising up against the regime, lashing out at symbols of the regime. And then the next wave was, "Hey, nobody's stopping us. There's good stuff here. Let's grab some."

NARRATOR: As the looting broke out, the 20,000 U.S. troops in and near Baghdad did almost nothing to stop it.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY: Initially, the looting seemed to be limited to government buildings. You can somewhat understand that. And you know, quite frankly, we were still thinking we were going to be fighting, so it wasn't our first concern.

Capt. STEVEN HOMMEL, Chaplain, 3rd Infantry Division: Our primary concern wasn't stopping looting, at least during the first few days. We were looking for enemy soldiers, trying to defend ourselves, trying to accomplish the military objective.

TODD PURDUM, Author, "A Time of Our Choosing": When Iraqis would ask U.S. forces why they weren't trying to stop the looting, the answer was clear. They just didn't have enough people. They couldn't do it. They were outnumbered. And they had absolutely no ability to stop tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians from running riot over their capital.

NARRATOR: Not enough troops to handle the aftermath of the war. This was precisely the warning General Shinseki and the Army high command had given the Pentagon before the war, during that contentious debate over troop levels.

THOMAS WHITE, Secretary of the Army, '01-'03: What you want in a post-war environment is overwhelming presence, so that lawlessness-- so that people have a different calculation when they decide to go down and strip the local hospital. And we were not in position to do that because we didn't have adequate forces. But we could have if-- if we had really thought about the post-war phase.

NARRATOR: As television images of looting and chaos dominated American newscasts, Secretary Rumsfeld reacted bitterly to suggestions the U.S. military was not in control of the situation.

DONALD RUMSFELD: [April 11, 2003] I picked up a newspaper today, and I couldn't believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about "Chaos!" "Violence!" "Unrest!" And it just was, "Henny Penny, the sky is falling." I've never seen anything like it! It's just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country!

REPORTER: Given how predictable the lack of law and order was, as you said, from past conflicts, was there part of General Franks's plan to deal with it?

DONALD RUMSFELD: It is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over and over and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say, "Oh, my goodness, you didn't have a plan." That's nonsense! They know what they're doing, and they're doing a terrific job. And it's untidy, and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that's what's going to happen here.

NARRATOR: But it was clear the fall of Baghdad had exposed the coalition's final miscalculation.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE, Commander, U.S. 5th Army Corps: I don't think that any of us either could have or did anticipate the total collapse of this regime. We expected there to be some degree of infrastructure left in the city, in terms of intellectual infrastructure, in terms of running the city infrastructure, in terms of running the government infrastructure.

Lt. Gen. DAVID McKIERNAN, Coalition Land Commander: You had no Iraqi institutions to coopt into this, no Iraqi army, no Iraqi police, prisoners let out of prison, no local or national government organizations. Ministries didn't exist.

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM WALLACE: What in fact happened, which was unanticipated, at least in the mind of Scott Wallace, is that when you decapitated the regime, everything below it fell apart.

NARRATOR: A week after the fall of Baghdad, General Tommy Franks flew into the capital to congratulate the American commanders on their swift victory over Saddam Hussein.

[April 16, 2003]

REPORTER: What's your feeling about being here in Baghdad, sir?

Gen. TOMMY FRANKS: Oh, I think it's absolutely terrific. You know why?

REPORTER: Why, sir?

Gen. TOMMY FRANKS: Because I get a chance to visit these people who've been doing this damn hard work for a while. That's probably about all I'm going to tell you right now, OK?

TOM RICKS, "The Washington Post": In tactical terms, the war was brilliant. It was a brilliant war plan, brilliantly executed. Sure, there were mistakes. There were problems. There were pauses. But it essentially worked. It worked brilliantly. The question in my mind is whether, in retrospect, it was brilliantly bad, whether a war plan so narrowly conceived created the problems that followed.

NARRATOR: What would follow was a violent insurgency that flowed into the vacuum left by the collapse of authority. In the Sunni triangle around Baghdad, remnants of the Fedayeen, the Ba'ath Party, foreign jihadi fighters and even ordinary Iraqis would wage a guerrilla war against the occupiers of Iraq. And the losses would mount on all sides. Around 150 U.S. troops were killed in the invasion. Almost 400 have died in the aftermath.

THOMAS WHITE: Well, I think it's enormously frustrating because the signs were all there that this could, in fact, be enormously difficult. We just underwhelmed it, and we're paying the price for that. And the price is-- both in lives and in treasury is going to be quite high.

NARRATOR: On May 1, three weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the White House staged its own spectacular to celebrate the victory in Iraq, arranging for President Bush to land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California. Under a banner that proclaimed "Mission Accomplished," the commander-in-chief congratulated his troops on a job well done.

JAMES FALLOWS, "The Atlantic Monthly": The argument within the Pentagon all along had been, When is the job done? Is it done when the regime falls, or is it done in the months and years after that, when the U.S. military has to occupy that country? And so by agreeing to having that celebration on the aircraft carrier, I think the administration revealed that it thought the job was done.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.

JAMES FALLOWS: I would have thought that the people who cared most about making Iraq an example of democracy to the Arab Islamic world would have been the most insistent on taking the long view, on making sure that the whole campaign was a success, not just the military campaign to take over Baghdad

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: And tonight I have a special word for Secretary Rumsfeld, for General Franks, and for all the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States: America is grateful for a job well done.

THOMAS WHITE: I suppose, looking back on it, it is hard to believe that rational people, looking at that situation before the combat operation, could have thought it was going to come out in any other way than it, in fact, did. Is the world a better place because Saddam is gone? Certainly. Will Iraq eventually become a better place for the average Iraqi? Certainly, we hope it will. But it isn't yet, and we've got a long ways to go.

 

THE INVASION OF IRAQ

FOR MENTORN

DIRECTED BY
Richard Sanders

PRODUCED BY
Richard Sanders
Jeff Goldberg

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Eamonn Matthews

EDITORS
John Lee
Bob H. Woodward

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
Ani King Underwood

PHOTOGRAPHY
Brendan Easton

ADDITIONAL IRAQ UNIT
Simon Chinn
Jonathan Partridge
Patrick Boland

PRODUCTION MANAGERS
Therese Zambra
Fiona MacCuish

PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
Evadne Ricketts

IRAQ PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS
Ali al-Adeeb
Noor Haddad

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Samantha Thorburn

GRAPHICS
The Station

DUBBING MIXER
Billy Mahoney

DUBBING EDITORS
Marc Lawes
Jamie Caple
Nigel Squibbs

ONLINE EDITORS
Chris Kenyon
Des Murray
Matt Scragg

COLOURIST
Graham Holtom

OUD PLAYER
Ahmed Mukhtar

MUSIC
Jason Osborn

FILM RESEARCHER
Alex Cowan

STILLS
AP /WideWorld Photos
Getty Images
GlobalSecurity.org
Department of Defense
Jack Gruber / USA Today
Manchester Evening News
Mark Avery / Orange County Register
NATO/SFOR Photos
Dennis Steele / Army Magazine
Diyala Bridge images by Kit Roane / US News / SIPA
and Laurent Van Der Stockt

Archive
ABCNews VideoSource
Abu Dhabi TV
APTN
Michael Burke / Insider Films
CNN News Source
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Steve Damant, Grenadier Guards
Department of Defense
Dominic Reynolds, 261 Signal Squadron
Graham Ward, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
Faruk Zabci
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2004
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ANNOUNCER: Explore more about the Iraq war at FRONTLINE's Web site, which offers extended interviews with military analysts and top commanders, more war stories of the commanders and troops, a chronology and maps of key events and turning points in the invasion, frequently asked questions about the war's strategies, tactics and surprises, and more. Then join the discussion at pbs.org.

 

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