The uprising that wasn't, mythical chemical weapons and other items of 'breaking news'

The real war pauses occasionally. The information war goes on 24 hours a day. Every opportunity, every scrap of information, has been deployed to reassure British and American public opinion that the war is being won – and won painlessly.

The real war pauses occasionally. The information war goes on 24 hours a day. Every opportunity, every scrap of information, has been deployed to reassure British and American public opinion that the war is being won – and won painlessly.

Rumours and half-truths have been seized on and presented as facts with enormous propaganda power. As the tide of war, and of information, moves on, to recall what was true and what was not has often been difficult.

THE DEFECTION OF TARIQ AZIZ 19 March

In the House of Commons on 19 March, rumours began to circulate that the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister had fled to Bulgaria. If true, the suggestion, put about by American officials, would have been a huge coup for the Allies.

Intelligence sources were united in their disbelief. And they were soon vindicated by the appearance the same day of Tariq Aziz on television in Baghdad, quashing the latest rumour that he had been killed while trying to flee the country.

BATTLE FOR UMM QASR 20 March, 7.33pm

Rarely can a military target have been captured as often as Umm Qasr. Nine days ago, a Kuwaiti news agency set the ball rolling when it claimed that the port had been overrun. From then it seemed to be captured day after day.

On Friday, US Marines raised the Stars and Stripes – only for it to be removed hastily for public relations reasons – and Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, decreed the area "secure". An hour after the BBC had announced that Umm Qasr and Basra had fallen in the early days, an Iraqi opposition leader said: "It is quite untrue. There is still heavy fighting in both places."

On Saturday, "pockets of resistance" remained, the British said. The next day in the "taken" area US Marines encountered snipers, then machine-gun fire and grenades. By Tuesday, and the arrival of British Royal Marines, the port was declared "open and secure". Baghdad continues to deny having lost control of the strategic port.

DISAPPEARING IRAQI TROOPS 21 March, 3am

Intelligence reports had predicted the capitulation of Iraq's 51st Division before war had even started. With thousands of propaganda leaflets having been dropped on to the troops and dark hints of American contacts with Iraqi generals, large-scale desertions were a given. "In the southern area, where there are six Iraqi divisions, 50 per cent of their officers are planning to surrender once the campaign opens," one intelligence officer claimed.

As the war started, Pentagon sources said the Iraqi military was "breaking from within". No surprise then, when Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the UK defence staff, said last Saturday that the 51st Division, one of those defending Basra, had surrendered and "that we have many thousands of prisoners of war". Geoff Hoon did not take long to assert that the 51st had "stopped" fighting. The commander and his deputy had given themselves up with 8,000 soldiers surrendering or deserting, said reports. The New York Times reported that the division had "melted away".

Within days, elements of the 51st were back at war. It soon became clear that the man who surrendered was a junior officer masquerading as his commander. Maj-Gen Wall confirmed that elements of the 51st had returned to the city, taking up arms again. Predict-ions of the scale of the desertions have proved wildly over-optimistic: yesterday US officials said they had only 4,000 prisoners of war.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS 24 March, 1.33am

On the day of the first significant Allied combat casualties, the discovery of a "chemical weapons complex" was a welcome propaganda coup for US-led forces.

If the reports were true, it would have been the first find by the invasion force validating allegations that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction.

The discovery came after a weekend of minor setbacks and tough fighting in the early days of the war. Doubts arose almost as quickly as the reports that appeared overnight on Sunday in the Jerusalem Post, which had a reporter with the troops as they entered the complex, and the US news channel Fox, quoting unnamed Pentagon officials. By then the other networks had already got in on the act. ABC News cited one unidentified official who said an Iraqi general captured at the site "was a potential gold mine of evidence about the weapons Saddam Hussein said he does not have".

Former weapons inspectors said the discovery of the site near Najaf by the 1st Brigade of the US 3rd Infantry division was probably insignificant.

US defence officials soon began to row back, saying the factory "may turn out to be a chemical weapons site, or it may be a site that was producing something else". They remained non-committal. Two Iraqi generals in custody were providing useful information, they said. Tests were being carried out at the area, which remained a "site of interest".

Asked about the claims, General Tommy Franks, the coalition commander, told reporters: "It would not surprise me if there were chemicals in the plant and it would not surprise me if there weren't ... It's a bit early for us to have any expectation ... we'll wait for the days ahead." And we still are.

BASRA UPRISING 25 March, first reports 5.15pm

The desire of the Iraqi people to use the Allied invasion as an opportunity to rise up against their hated dictator was seen as the key to a rapid victory. Hence the excitement when reports began to come in on Tuesday that Shias in Basra, Iraq's second city, were engaged in another attempt to settle their scores with President Saddam. Tony Blair told the Commons that there had been "some limited form of uprising". Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, went further, saying the regime had "lost control of southern Iraq".

Military sources were more cautious at US Central Command in Qatar. Major-General Peter Wall, a British officer, said the rebellion was in its "infancy" and it was wrong to predict a "rapid outcome". Tales of people on the streets came from "intelligence sources", but they were leapt onby British newspapers. Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcaster that actually had a correspondent in the city, said the streets were calm.

More definitive was the verdict of an Iraqi Shia group based in Iran with every reason to encourage insurgency. "Some disturbances took place ... but it was not widespread and it was not an intifada. The people chanted slogans against Saddam Hussein."

Yesterday, ColChris Vernon, a British military spokesman, said: "Basra is clearly nowhere near yet in our hands and we have no way at the moment of getting humanitarian aid into Basra." Funny then that the GMTV reporter, Richard Gaisford, pictured top left, who broke the story, was still insisting yesterday that the military had sanctioned his report.

THE EXECUTIONS 27 March, 4.20pm

After al-Jazeera broadcast pictures of the bodies of two British prisoners-of-war, Tony Blair was quick to express his outrage. At a joint news conference with George Bush on Thursday, Mr Blair condemned the "execution" of the men.

Unfortunately, the family of Luke Allsopp, 24, said a senior Army officer had told them that the soldier had died in action. "It makes a big difference to us knowing that he died quickly," she said. "We can't understand why people are lying about what happened."

By yesterday the Government's tone had changed. The Prime Minister's spokesman was claiming that the two men "may well have been" executed and said that further inquiries would be made. The Ministry of Defence defended itself, saying the execution charge was based on the fact that Sapper Luke Allsopp and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth were lying some distance from their vehicle and had been stripped of their helmets and body armour after being caught in an ambush last weekend.

Later, Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, expressed "regret" for any distress caused to the families, a statement interpreted as an admission that the Prime Minister got it wrong.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
peopleComedian star of Ed Sullivan Show was mother to Ben Stiller
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?