David Kirkpatrick

March 19, 2008

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion …

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:44 pm

Since today is the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, here’s what I wrote back on December 30, 2003:

Iraq easily dominates the year-end review and the currently ongoing news. The fait accompli that was the US invasion of Iraq and sack of Baghdad began on March 19. Military success was fairly swift as soldiers (with embedded reporters) marched across Iraq in extended lines of armament. President Bush declared the war over after a little more than a month of fighting, and for all intents the war seemed over. Except for the pesky, and deadly, guerrilla resistance which continues today. Saddam Hussein himself was finally captured this month, but no “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs in 2003 military/media/social jargon) the reason for most Americans fully supporting the war, have been found. Most likely none will be.

Right now the situation in Iraq seems to be pretty sticky. Troops are being deployed for much longer stints than originally expected and a severe lack of post-invasion planning has created a situation of near anarchy in areas of the country. Reports coming back from journalists (and the military in some cases) tell of an Iraq the US public did not expect to read about by December 31, 2003.

To complicate matters further, 2004 is a presidential election year. Bush is staring down a continuing political hot button issue in Iraq that is no longer working for him. It is working, and will continue to work, against him. Luckily for the sitting POTUS, the Democratic challenge hasn’t coalesced. Howard Dean has become a fly in the primary ointment, but it’s early in the game and things could rapidly change over the next 90 days.

Operation Iraqi Freedom (the official name of the conflict up until Bush’s May 1 address stating, “Major combat operations have ended.”) itself was historic if only by virtue of the access the press, and by extension the public, had to the front lines. Some 500-odd journalists were trained by the US military pre-war and were “embedded” with a military unit. Television journalists reported live, on camera, from the field through satellite uplinks. Journalists without camera crews reported with satellite phones. The public was treated to a month-long spectacle of live shots and sounds from an actual war zone.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal during Operation Iraqi Freedom: 3/29/03, 4:56 a.m. — “An amazing press conference from the Iraqi minister of information. This guy might be worse than Ari Fleischer. He’s talking about suing the war criminal, George W. Bush.”

Now with the clarity of hindsight, it’s easy to see how the minister of information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf (AKA Comical Ali, AKA Baghdad Bob), became something of a cult figure in the US with his increasingly wild statements — such as declaring Iraq is winning the war and no US troops were in Baghdad while the cameras filming him were catching US troops and tanks in the background. But the statements were made under duress, likely the threat of his life, and the order for the statements very possibly came straight from Hussein.

As for Ari Fleischer — the first press secretary of the Bush administration — after a very contentious relationship with the Washington press corps, and a few wild statements during the midst of the conflict (most notably a very under-reported brain fart about using nuclear weapons, a gaffe I considered akin to Alexander Haig’s, “I’m in charge here.” when Reagan was shot) Fleischer announced his resignation in mid-May. The resignation became effective in July.