Britain's 2 Company Irish Guards check a man dressed in civilian clothes in Basra on 6 April 2003. Photo: Getty Images

[Desdemona can think of another reason why the invasion and occupation were disastrous: If the U.S. had instead poured trillions of dollars into upgrading its energy-production infrastructure to renewables, we wouldn’t need to invade oil-producing nations ever again.]

By Richard Sanders
19 March 2013

(Daily Telegraph) – The lead unit of the US Marine Corps arrived at the gates of Baghdad on the late afternoon of Sunday, April 6, 2003, less than three weeks after crossing the border from Kuwait. Nicknamed “The Dark Side", the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment had a reputation for aggression.

Its commander, Lt. Colonel Brian McCoy, led his men from the front in a hard-topped Humvee and was renowned for leaping out of his vehicle in the midst of fighting and throwing hand grenades.

McCoy also had an eye for publicity. He’d welcomed a large number of journalists and photographers under his wing over the previous two weeks. And with the decisive battle for Baghdad looming, the press men now surged forward, eager to capture the iconic images of the Marines storming the bridge over the Diyala River, which marked the southeastern boundary of Baghdad, and the scenes of rejoicing and celebration it was assumed would follow.

But there was a problem – the lack of an enemy. There was desultory Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and small arms fire from the north side of the river on the evening of April 6 and by nightfall this had petered out entirely. The following morning it seemed clear to the press – many of them hardened war correspondents far more experienced in combat than the young Marines – that the north bank had been deserted.

Then, as the Marines prepared for the assault, one of their armoured personnel carriers suffered a direct hit from an artillery round. Two Marines were killed. It was unclear if the shell was Iraqi or had come from the American side. But the Marines’ blood was up. “They were angry young men,” said one photographer present. A journalist spoke of there being a “blood lust” in the air.

Half an hour later the bridge was stormed. At least three photographers crossed with the first wave. They got their iconic images, which were soon flashed around the world. But there was a sense of theatre. “We’re hearing lots of fire,” American photo-journalist Kit Roane told me during a set of interviews I conducted for a film about the Iraq invasion. “But it becomes pretty apparent at that point that it’s not incoming. That no one is shooting at us.” “It really was like photographing a movie set,” said another photographer. “It sounded great, it looked great, there was smoke everywhere, men screaming, men shouting, running across, lots of noise, lots of energy, but it wasn’t a battle.” He and others stood upright to take their photos.

Once across the bridge, the Marines, fearful of suicide bombers, quickly fanned out to form a defensive perimeter. The area was deserted. But this was one of the main routes out of Baghdad and the people of the Iraqi capital had been told by their Information Minister that the Marines were still 70 miles to the south. Inevitably a trickle of civilian vehicles began to appear from the direction of central Baghdad.

The first was a blue Kia van. Inside were three men and two women, heading for their home close to the bridge. The Marines “start to scream … 800 metres, 600 metres,” recalled Laurent Van der Stockt, a French photographer on assignment with the New York Times. “It’s too close, too close, too close and one starts to shoot and the others start to shoot and everybody is shooting.”

The van ground to a halt, struck by around 100 bullets, three of those inside dead. The two survivors would sit for hours beside their dead relatives, too terrified to move. The van was followed by more vehicles – a pick up truck, a taxi … All were halted by the Marines’ guns. An elderly pedestrian, walking with a stick, was also killed.

Journalists and photographers pleaded with the Marines to hold their fire. The word “murderers” was used by at least two. “One of the young commanders on the ground said that if the Iraqis were dumb enough to drive into their line that was their problem,” recalled Kit Roane. “I said, point taken, but of course they can’t see you. They don’t know you’re here. He just became angry and that was the end of our conversation.” […]

For civilians close to the Diyala Bridge the assault on the morning of April 7 would certainly have felt like “shock and awe”. But the truth is the Americans – initially at least – had no intention of inflicting “shock and awe” in the sense popularly understood. Quite the opposite. [more]

The myth of 'shock and awe': why the Iraqi invasion was a disaster



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