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April 27, 2008
The Battle For BasraBy Greyhawk
A look back at media coverage of the British capture of Basra in the spring of 2003. This post is not intended to be all-inclusive. Additional expansion will occur as time permits.
The day before the invasion, the British role was explained in general terms:
The British army is "much better equipped, much more capable and integrated" into the American war plans than in the 1991 Gulf war, says General Sir Roger Wheeler, former head of the army. In a symbolic move not seen since the sec ond world war, up to 2,000 US marines are expected to be commanded by the British in a joint operation to take the key southern Iraqi city of Basra.At that point in time, few would risk stating anything for the record other than the obvious regarding the pending assault:
"If we deploy in Iraq there will be lot of dead bodies, we can be absolutely sure of that," Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Blackman, commander of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, told the Sunday Telegraph.In the earliest days of the combat, as American troops streamed northwards rowards Baghdad, British troops began securing the sourthern tip of the country.
Thousands of Royal Marine commandos and paratroopers supported by heavy armour were last night pushing towards Basra, Iraq's only port and the first key prize for the Anglo-American invaders.In addition to a potential humanitarian crisis, destruction of oil wells in the region was a concern to coalition forces, but...
As clouds of thick black smoke billowed across the main oilfield area behind Basra, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the defence staff, revealed that the Iraqi forces had set alight only seven wells, much fewer than the 30 estimated by the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, earlier in the day.Early reports from journalists accompanying British troops gave reason for optimism:
Children run cheering as troops roll inBut reports from al Jazeera in Basra also focused on children:
Al-Jazeera's footage included an Iraqi child with the back of its head apparently blown off and wounded people covered in blood being treated on the floor of a hospital.Some western commenters were quick to condemn the distorted view of the war presented by those who would ignore the Iraqi Ministry of Information's reports
Most wars start by accident or with a flourish of misplaced jingoism. But this war is unique. It is hard to recall any conflict in history that aroused so much opposition even before it began. At best its legitimacy and purpose is in serious doubt. At worst, millions regard it as illegal and/or immoral.And as the war neared the 5-day point, media declarations of coalition failure became common:
US and British troops were locked in fierce gunfights with Republican Guard soldiers yesterday as they struggled to take control of Umm Qasr, a small strategically important port on the Kuwaiti border.And with the port still under Iraqi control, reports of the deepening humanitarian crisis began appearing:
Iraqi city suffers water shortage...along with accounts of the courage and fortitude of Saddam's elite defenders:
The Republican Guard: outgunned and outnumbered, but they never surrenderIn the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof assured readers that coalition forces had failed to plan for enemy gunfire in response to the invasion:
...the war plan assumed that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, even though every visitor to Iraq heard ordinary people warning that they would pull out their guns and take pot-shots at any invading Americans. The upshot of the ideological optimism was that we adopted not the full Powell doctrine of overwhelming force, but a blend with the Rumsfeld theory of smaller, more mobile and flexible forces. The optimists didn't factor in guerrilla resistance in rear areas; indeed, they blithely expected a lovefest in Basra."Then, as the first week of the war finally drew to a close,
A British soldier who was shot as he tried to calm rioting civilians in southern Iraq died yesterday, the first British combat death since the war began, the Ministry of Defence said.
The second week of fighting would commence with some hopeful news, as the British launched a media blitz to turn the tide of negative reporting:
British forces support Basra 'uprising'More
As British heavy artillery pounded the outskirts of Basra, reports began to emerge of what was described as a "nascent" uprising.While the British made no apparent acceleration towards Basra in response, as the month of March concluded (with American forces on the outskirts of Baghdad and the British still "approaching" Basra) British media sources were eager to point out the superiority of British apples to American oranges:
Cracks are appearing between British and American commanders which have serious implications for their future operations in Iraq.Meanwhile, behind the British line of advance
Iraqi police chiefs routinely tortured civilians who could not afford to pay extortionate bribes, locals in Abu al-Kacib said yesterday.As American forces took the Baghdad airport, British media commenters again contrasted the American failure and the British success:
Common sense demands that what is being called the "final push" on Baghdad should not be rushed, whatever the political pressures in Washington. If nothing else, the past two weeks have shown that hopes of quick, easy triumphs were misplaced. The Rumsfeld plan did not work; the lightning strike fizzled. The welcoming crowds did not materialise; awesome air power was not decisive. Iraqi armies did not surrender en masse; instead, far more than expected stood and fought. Mr Bush and the Pentagon no doubt badly want to finish it before anything else goes wrong. But Downing Street's newly cautious, circumspect approach, like that of the British army around Basra, is more sensible.And as British forces tentavely approached the outskirts of Basra, their more cautious approach was detailed here:
'Raid and aid' tactic by British forces
Iraqis responded with rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire. But within minutes the Desert Rats had destroyed an Iraqi T-55 tank and reduced a bunker to rubble.And as American troops launched the "Thunder Run" into Baghdad...
The war in Iraq entered a new phase on Sunday when British tanks rolled into the centre of Basra.And finally...
Forces loyal to Saddam Hussein appeared last night to have lost control of much of Basra, after columns of British troops poured into Iraq's second city, destroying its Ba'ath party headquarters.British troops were flush with victory:
Finally, British troops begin to feel like an army of liberationAnd, as would happen a few hours later in Baghdad, Iraqi celebrations began in earnest:
Celebrating freedom in a spree of looting
The following month:
The teenager was allegedly arrested by British soldiers who beat him in May 2003. They then allegedly ordered him to swim across the Zubair river, but his injuries from the assault were too severe and he drowned.And in June
Six British military police officers have been killed and eight other servicemen wounded in two separate incidents in south-eastern Iraq.The battle for Basra had begun.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 27, 2008 6:20 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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