"Welcome to Baghdad, we have left the gates open"
by Joe Vialls
There is probably nothing more galling for the military high command than to have the western media broadcast a major victory it has not yet achieved. And so it was on 3 April, when fuzzy indistinct pictures of a “ferocious firefight at Saddam International Airport” were flashed around the world by everyone from CNN to CBC and ITN. The fact that these TV images were extracted from file footage shot at Baghdad airport back in 1991, seemed to escape attention.
Unfortunately, as their spectacular though acutely embarrassing false “victory” was being beamed across the world to a curious audience, the most advanced battalions of the American 3rd Infantry were still bogged down forty miles south of Saddam International. Then, while its reconnaissance units probed ahead a few miles at a time, trying to determine whether or not there was a Republican Guard trap on the southern approaches to Baghdad city, the 3rd Infantry got an unexpected lucky break.
Apparently stung into action by journalists citing the false airport “conquest” claim, the Iraqi Information Minister shouted "Rubbish! Lies! Go and look for yourself.", and without further delay a mob of western journalists headed out to the airport, with the venerable Robert Fisk reporting on the visit less than 12 hours later:-
“Only three hours earlier, the BBC had reported claims that forward units of an American mechanized infantry division were less than 16km west of Baghdad -- and that some US troops had taken up positions on the very edge of the international airport.
“But I was 27km west of the city. And there were no Americans, no armor, not a soul around the runways of the airport whose namesake, in poster form, sat nonchalantly in the arrivals lounge in a business suit, cigar in hand. Even more astonishingly, there was no sign of the 12,000 Republican Guards whom the US division expected to fight.
“Indeed, Saddam Hussein International Airport looked as if it was enduring an industrial strike (let us not conceive of such an event in Saddam's Iraq) rather than an imminent takeover by the world's only superpower…
“Sure, the Americans had been caught lying again - as they were about the ‘securing’ of Nasiriyah more than a week ago - but was that the only reason journalists were permitted to visit Baghdad airport? We saw no Republican Guards - just as the Americans have themselves somehow failed to discover the 12,000 Republican Guards supposedly facing them.”
The 3rd Infantry could hardly believe its luck. Fisk had provided superb quality intelligence from behind enemy lines, well beyond the limited abilities of its own reconnaissance units! Without wondering why the Information Minister had allowed the journalists to drive to Saddam International in the first place, and completely ignoring the subtle warning woven into Fisk’s text, the 3rd hit the ground running and rushed up the highway to the airport, finally arriving at the perimeter fence late on 4 April 2003.
Then, as the 3rd rushed north at a frantic pace, Saddam Hussein himself suddenly and inexplicably decided to take his first casual stroll on the streets of Baghdad since the invasion started. It was the real Saddam, no doubt about that. As the wary old warrior “pressed the flesh” and urged his people on to victory, you could see his eyes constantly square-searching the sky for any possible incoming ground attack aircraft.