the invasion of iraq
photo of a tankintroduction: feb 26, 2004

As the first anniversary of the war in Iraq approaches, FRONTLINE presents a special two-hour documentary investigation examining the key strategies, battles, and turning points of the war as seen from both sides of the battlefield.

In "The Invasion of Iraq," FRONTLINE takes viewers behind the scenes of the allied invasion and advance on Baghdad. Through interviews with key commanders and soldiers -- U.S., British, and Iraqi -- as well as Iraqi civilians, the documentary offers a rare battlefield perspective on the war, as told in first-hand accounts of those who lived it.


Notes from Richard Sanders, the director and co-producer of "The Invasion of Iraq," on the making of the documentary.

"The Invasion of Iraq" also features interviews with Washington insiders, including former Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who saw the war and the debates within the Pentagon unfold behind the scenes, and journalists such as Todd Purdum of The New York Times, Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post, and James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly, who have covered the war and its aftermath.

In an exclusive interview, Republican Guard General Raad Al-Hamdani, who commanded Iraqi forces south of Baghdad, confirms that Iraq's forces did not possess weapons of mass destruction. "I'd been told by [Saddam Hussein] himself that Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction," Al-Hamdani tells FRONTLINE. "As a leader of a Republican Guard army, I would need to be informed if we had these weapons. Every official source assured us that in Iraq no one would find evidence of weapons of mass destruction because Iraq didn't have any."

Al-Hamdani also offers accounts of key Iraqi strategy meetings that paint a portrait of Saddam as a confused leader whose misjudgment of America's military strategy hindered Iraq's attempts to repel the allied invasion. For example, as the main elements of U.S. forces approached Baghdad, Al-Hamdani says he was shocked to receive a new message from Saddam Hussein.

"The new message was, all that happened in the last two weeks was a strategic deception," Al-Hamdani recalls being told. "The main enemy will come from north of Baghdad. Therefore, we should minimize the troops south of Baghdad." But in reality, there were only a handful of U.S. troops north of Baghdad and a week later the capital fell to troops advancing from the south.

U.S. commanders, meanwhile, reveal that much of the intelligence they received prior to the war regarding how the Iraqi people would react once the invasion began was shockingly inaccurate. "We thought once we had crossed the Euphrates River, that might be the trigger for Shia resistance or Shia opposition to the regime to take overt forms," says Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of allied ground forces in the invasion. "Well, it didn't happen."

U.S. soldiers also recall learning the hard way that intelligence reports of allied troops encountering little or no armed resistance were incorrect. "I don't want to say that there was a sense that we were lied to," says Lieutenant Jason King of the 5th Army's 11th Aviation Regiment. "There was definitely a sense that all the reports we had gotten about a low level of resistance were extremely false."

"The Invasion of Iraq" offers eyewitness accounts of some of the fiercest, bloodiest fighting to occur during the allied assault, the air strikes and on-the-ground encounters that resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians, and details of some of the war's surprising setbacks.

When the Iraqi people failed to rise up and rally to the allied cause, insiders say, some U.S. military leaders began to doubt whether there were sufficient troops to continue the attack on Baghdad. "I wasn't real comfortable with the troop levels," admits Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of the 5th Army Corps. "I wanted to make damn sure that when we did it we were gonna be decisive and successful."

The debate over troop levels went back months to the prewar struggle between the Army and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "Gen. Shinseki and other uniformed Army," says New York Times correspondent Todd Purdum, "felt they needed large numbers not only to fight the war, but to win the peace. And that security in postwar Baghdad would be directly related to the number of boots on the ground."

Ultimately, the film reveals, Iraqi resistance crumbled under the allied onslaught, as many Iraqi soldiers simply put down their guns, abandoned their tanks, and went home.

"I don't have the exact figures, but I don't think more than 15 percent of the [Iraqi] armed forces actually fought," General Al-Hamdani tells FRONTLINE.

The swift and sudden end of major hostilities didn't make the allies' job much easier, however. Once again, officials say, U.S. planning for what would happen after the war didn't match up to the actual situation in which American soldiers and military commanders found themselves.

"We expected there to be some degree of infrastructure left in [Baghdad] in terms of intellectual infrastructure, in terms of running the government," Gen. Wallace says. "What in fact happened is that when you decapitated the regime, everything below it fell apart."

General McKiernan agrees. "You had no Iraqi institutions to co-opt," he says. "No Iraqi army, no Iraqi police, the prisoners let out of prison. No local or national governmental organization. Ministries didn't exist. A vacuum was created. And into this vacuum flowed first chaos and then a violent insurgency."

"The argument within the Pentagon all along had been, when is the job done?" says James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. "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? … 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 the whole campaign was a success, not just the military campaign to take over Baghdad."


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posted february 26, 2004

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