'When are facts facts? Not in a war'

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  • ISP

    When are facts facts? Not in a war

    Claims and counter claims made during the media war in Iraq

    Chris Tryhorn
    Wednesday March 26, 2003
    "Fog" is beginning to be the watchword of this war, with the lines between fact and propoganda being blurred on a daily basis.

    The demands of round-the-clock news means that military claims are being relayed instantly to millions without being confirmed or verified only to be refuted later by reporters on the ground or by fresh military updates.

    In due course, questions will be asked about the clashing interests of the military and the media and the role of war propaganda in the pursuit of a swift victory against Saddam's regime.

    The worst example of false claims relates to the battle to take control of Umm Qasr, the southern Iraqi deep-sea port and one of the key targets in the early war.

    On Sunday afternoon, it had been "taken" nine times. By Sunday night there were still ugly skirmishes between coalition forces and irregulars loyal to Saddam operating out of the old town. Umm Qasr was not, in fact, taken until Tuesday.

    Today, the fog of war rose again in Basra after premature reports of a popular uprising.

    Here MediaGuardian.co.uk charts the contradictory claims and counter claims made so far.

    Anyone who can point to other war claims that don't bear scrutiny, please email editor@mediaguardian.co.uk.


    Tuesday, March 25, 5.30pm
    Widespread media reports of a popular uprising against President Saddam Hussein in Iraq's second city of Basra, believed to have originated from military sources. Follows reports from pool reporter Richard Gaisford.

    Claims challenged
    Tuesday, March 25, 6.10pm
    British military sources say they are unable to confirm reports of any popular uprising in Basra, but reiterate that they would do everything possible to encourage and support any Iraqis planning to overthrow forces loyal to Saddam."We don't know anything about a popular uprising," said one British military source in Central Command in Qatar.

    Iraq calls claims 'hallucinations'
    Tuesday, March 25, 7.44pm
    Iraq's information minister denies the reports, calling them "hallucinations". "I want to affirm to you that Basra is continuing to hold steadfast," Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told the Arabic language al-Jazeera television network.

    Army 'confirms' claims
    Wednesday, March 26, 2.27am
    A British spokesman at US Central Command headquarters in Qatar says it appears there has been an uprising. "We don't have a clear indication of its scale or scope or where it will take us. But we will want to support it to exploit its potential. It looks like this uprising is based on the massive resentment of the population."

    Al-Jazeera rejects claims
    Wednesday, March, 7.40am
    An Al-Jazeera reporter, who is stationed behind coalition lines in Basra, says he has no evidence of an uprising. He says the city is crawling with Iraqi military and the streets are littered with shrapnel.

    Blair backs claims
    Wednesday, March 26, 12.30pm
    British prime minister Tony Blair says he believes there has been a limited uprising overnight. "In relation to what has happened in Basra overnight, truthfully reports are confused, but we believe there was some limited form of uprising," he told the House of Commons.

    BASRA 1
    ...where an hour is a long time in the military calender.

    Tuesday, March 25, 8.13am
    Reuters: "British military spokesman confirmed on Tuesday British troops were probably going to go into Basra to battle irregular fighters resisting US-led invasion forces in Iraq's second city. "We are meeting resistance from irregulars, members of the Fedayeen, who are extremely loyal to Saddam Hussein's regime," group captain Al Lockwood told CNN television. "They are lightly armed, and very small in number, but they are terrorising the citizens of Basra and we will probably need to go in and meet any resistance."

    Counter claim
    Tuesday, March 25, 9.16am
    Reuters: a British spokesman said on Tuesday British troops would not enter the southern city of Basra to battle irregular Iraqi fighters - contradicting an earlier statement. But the British did consider Basra a military target. "We're not going into Basra, it's simply considered a target," a British military spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Qatar told Reuters. "The reason it is a potential target is because it has an enormous political and military importance in the area."


    Thursday, March 20, 7.33pm
    US-led troops have taken Iraqi border town of Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port in the south, wires and TV report.

    Counter claim
    TV reporters, including Mark Austin on ITV's News Channel, challenge the claims. They have it on Iraqi authority that Umm Qasr has certainly not been taken. "Iraqi troops deny anyone has surrendered."

    Friday , March 21, 11.35pm
    Admiral Michael Boyce, chief of the British defence staff, confirms the off-the-record briefings received by media in Kuwait and southern Iraq. "Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by the US Marines and now is in coalition hands," he says.

    Further confirmation
    Friday, March 21, just after midnight
    US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld says US forces have taken Umm Qasr. The fog of war thickens.

    Saturday, March 22, breakfast time
    TV reporters on Sky and BBC say Umm Qasr have witnessed fighting and dispute claims that the port has been has been "taken". They explain the new town is under coalition control but the old town is putting up resistance and therefore Umm Qasr cannot qualify as "taken".

    Challenged again
    Sunday, March 23, 05.53am
    A heavy firefight breaks out between US Marines and Iraqi forces, witnesses say.

    Confirmation again
    Tuesday, March 25, 9.53am
    Reuters: "The southern Iraqi port town of Umm Qasr, where US and British forces have faced Iraqi resistance for days, is now "safe and open", a British commander said on Tuesday. Brigadier Jim Dutton, commander of the British Royal Marines' 3rd Commando Brigade, told reporters he hoped the first ship bringing aid to Iraq would arrive within 48 hours."


    Saturday, March 22, 11.12pm
    US forces have captured Nassiriya in central Iraq, according to wire reports from Iraq.

    Fresh claim
    Sunday, March 23, 1.30am
    US forces say they have captured Nassiriya, international wire services report.

    Alternative claim
    Sunday, March 23, 10.21am
    US-led forces suffer heaviest casualties so far with stiff resistance at Nassiriya, Najaf, Basra and Umm Qasr.

    Exasperation begins to show
    Sunday, March 23, 5.50pm
    Defence analyst Francis Tusa says on Sky News: "We have now been told three times that Nassiriya has been captured. How many more times are we going to hear this?"

    Battle goes on
    Monday, March 24, 11.43am
    US Marines were still bogged down early on Monday at the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, the key to opening a second route north to Baghdad, after taking significant casualties there on Sunday.

    51st DIVISION

    Friday night, March 21
    Wires, TV and radio report official claims that coalition commanders have accepted the surrender of the 8,000-strong 51st Iraqi infantry division near the southern city of Basra on Friday.

    Counter claim
    Sunday March 23, 10.33pm
    Reuters: "Iraqi officials denied US statements that the US commander of the Iraqi divison had surrendered, which US officials said on Friday."

    Counter claim number 2
    Monday, March 24, 3.22am
    New York Times wire service: "US officials were quick to announce the surrender of the commander of the 51st Division. On Sunday they discovered that the 'commander' of the surrendered troops was actually a junior officer masquerading as a higher-up in an attempt to win better treatment."


    Sunday, March 23, 12.10am
    Ten US soldiers were wounded in an attack on Camp Pennsylvania, a military base in northern Kuwait, a US military spokesman said, without giving further details. Jim Lacey, a Time magazine correspondent who was at the camp, told CNN two grenades had been rolled into the command tent in what appeared to be a "terrorist attack". The report gives way to instant discussions of al-Qaida terrorist cells operating in Kuwait.

    Details of attacker change
    Sunday, March 23, 12.40am
    Sky News says the suspect for the attack is a US soldier, later revealed as Asan Akbar, who was born Mark F Kools. But the information hasn't filtered through everywhere. The BBC's Radio 5 Live still discussing the terrorist attack on the 1.00am news on Radio 5 Live.


    Thursday, March 20, 10.15am
    An Iraqi Scud missile fired at US troops on the Kuwaiti border was intercepted by Patriot missiles, the US military says. Reports of scud attacks widespread.

    Sunday, March 23, 4.30am
    US general Stanley McChrystal says: "So far there have been no Scuds launched... We have found no caches of weapons of mass destruction to date."

  • Simon

    Interesting ... I've heard that the military is not saying much at all about what is going on (apparently the worlds press gets most of their info from the British press officers who are much more communicative)

    Why the big hollywood stage if they don't want to use it? Maybe there is a lot of bad news they don't want to tell us? If things were going great I would expect them to be eager to tell us all about it.

    An interesting example of the difference between a 'fact' and a claim ...

    According to the BBC, 'proof' of Biological Weapons have been found!


    Have they?

    No ... they have found suits and masks. Now, is this proof that they have biological weopans and plan to use them? Of course not.

    Q. Do our forces have suits and masks? Is this proof that we have biological weapons and are going to use them?

    One other point that I find interesting ... whenever a reporter in Bahgdad makes a report, the news man always reminds up that the reports are monitored by the Iraqi government (or usually 'regime')

    Of course, they fail to mention that the embedded western journalists reports are also monitored and controlled just as closely by our own regime (or 'government').

    Subtle but continual colored language to influence people.

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