The Invasion of Iraq
Produced by Richard Sanders and Jeff Goldberg
Directed by Richard Sanders
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.
FALLOWS, "The Atlantic Monthly": There was a culture war within
the Pentagon in the month before the Iraq war.
ANNOUNCER: Stunning intelligence failures.
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.
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.
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!
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
ANNOUNCER: Did the way the Pentagon fought the war
create this brutal peace?
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.
Tonight on FRONTLINE,
the inside story of The Invasion of Iraq.
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.
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.
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.
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.
public, Secretary Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, the commander of the
invasion force, presented a united front.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
the Press," March 16, 2003]
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.
GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens, events in Iraq have
NARRATOR: On March 17th, the president delivered
his final ultimatum.
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
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.
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."
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
back in Washington, there was a sudden change of plans.
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.
GARLASCO: We were told that the CIA source was
without reproach, and you know, sometimes you just have to take that at face
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sgt. TARIK JACKSON, 507th Maintenance Company: On the turnaround, that's when we
actually start receiving fire.
NARRATOR: The Fedayeen had arrived.
PATRICK MILLER: It was just "Pow, pow, pow!" all over
the place. You really couldn't
tell where it was coming from.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: Saddam had put his most feared general
in command of Basra, Ali Hassan Al-Majid, "Chemical Ali."
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.
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
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."
Gen. GRAHAM BINNS, Commander, 7th Armoured Brigade: And I remember him arriving, and I
thought, "Well, I've got some views on this."
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."
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.
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.
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.
A chronology of the war]
Sgt. JERRY BLACKWELL, U.S. Marines: I
was anxious, a little excited.
Nobody really knew what lied ahead.
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.
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
NARRATOR: American tanks had been rescuing
survivors from the earlier ambush.
Now only four had enough fuel to continue the advance.
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
DUNFEE, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Marines:
And the colonel, at that point, was, "OK, push. Let's push. Let's take those bridges."
Col. RICK GRABOWSKI: There's a lot of firing going on. You can hear it ricocheting off the
road beside us.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
JERRY BLACKWELL: They were everywhere on both sides of
the road, high and low. And
everybody was shooting.
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
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.
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
NARRATOR: An American A-10 arrived overhead. But instead of helping, it attacked the
Marines' position, adding to the casualties.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: When the Apaches took off, the Iraqi
forces were ready.
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.
BRYON MACE: The power grid of the entire town we
were going over had gone black and came back on within a few seconds.
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.
ANDREW TAPSCOTT: Fire was coming from the houses, the
waterways, trees, shrubs, vehicles that were out there.
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
NARRATOR: The Apaches were forced to turn back
before they even reached the Medina Division.
Col. MICHAEL BARBEE: I came over the squadron command radio
and told all air crews to shoot at everybody that shot at them.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
RICKS: And this really antagonized Secretary
of Defense Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Myers.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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--
CARL LEVIN: How about a range?
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.
[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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
NARRATOR: But General McKiernan was determined to
retain the initiative.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
Col. ROCK MARCONE: We fully anticipated this bridge to be
mined, set with demolitions and rigged to explode, and we wanted to capture the
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: It became a slaughter.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
JAMES TEMPLE: We kept scanning on our thermal imaging
and saw really nothing.
NARRATOR: The airport appeared to be deserted.
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
NARRATOR: Parked right next to the airport
runway, Marcone's men finally managed to grab some sleep.
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.
Col. ROCK MARCONE: They were so close that tank commanders
were using pistols and hand grenades from the hatches into the Iraqi bunkers.
JAMES TEMPLE: People were running back and
forth. They were shooting at us.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Sgt. TRAVIS CROSBY: Then about 50 of the guys gave up. They were tired of watching their
buddies die, I guess.
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.
SAID AL-SAHAF, Iraq Information Minister: We crushed the
forces in Saddam International Airport and we cleaned the whole place of the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JAMES MARKS, Chief of Intelligence, Coalition Land Forces: Silence. Silence in the command center at the audacity that was being
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.
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.
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
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.
Read Col. Perkins's interview]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
NARRATOR: On the morning of April 6th, Colonel
Sharhan abandoned his position.
Col. MAHMOOD SHARHAN: [through interpreter] I got into a civilian car and I just
went home. I left everything
NARRATOR: Twenty-four hours later, the Marines
stormed the Diyala Bridge, just a couple of miles downriver.
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.
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
NARRATOR: Press photographers had swarmed to what
they believed would be an iconic event.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
VAN DER STOCKT, Photographer:
They start to scream and they start to say, "800 meters, 600 meters,
KNIGHT: You hear them. They're talking to each other -- "Shall
I open up? Shall I open up?" --
until somebody just opens up.
VAN DER STOCK: And you have this silence. And the car is, like--
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
the west of Baghdad, it was a different story. There the Army's 3rd Infantry Division had a fight on its
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: The fiercest fighting was on Route 8,
at a road junction the Americans had code-named Objective Curly.
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: Once more, civilians were caught up in
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: The Iraqi fighters fled.
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: What they still needed to do was
eliminate Saddam Hussein. And that
afternoon, the Americans got another intelligence tip.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: One of the target points was Abdul
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
NARRATOR: The Marines forced their way into the
mosque. But when the Iraqi
defenders surrendered, Saddam Hussein was nowhere to be found.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NARRATOR: By April 9, it was over. Colonel McCoy,the Marine who had seized
the Diyala Bridge, rolled into Baghdad's central square.
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
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.
Col. BRIAN McCOY: And at that point, they went nuts on it
and tore the head off and drug it around the streets.
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
NARRATOR: At the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld
celebrated the moment.
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?
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
What's your feeling about being here in Baghdad, sir?
TOMMY FRANKS: Oh, I think it's absolutely
terrific. You know why?
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Because of you, our nation is more
secure. Because of you, the tyrant
has fallen and Iraq is free.
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
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.
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.
Bob H. Woodward
AP /WideWorld Photos
Department of Defense
Jack Gruber / USA Today
Manchester Evening News
Mark Avery / Orange County Register
Dennis Steele / Army Magazine
Diyala Bridge images by Kit Roane / US News / SIPA
and Laurent Van Der Stockt
Abu Dhabi TV
Michael Burke / Insider Films
CNN News Source
Steve Damant, Grenadier Guards
Department of Defense
Dominic Reynolds, 261 Signal Squadron
Graham Ward, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
Ministry of Defence
NBC News Archives
National Geographic Film Library
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