January 03, 2011 | permalink
The final assault into central Baghdad was planned in a surprisingly ad-hoc manner. I had thought it would have been prepared in depth, with lots of intelligence and surveillance on hand, but instead it was devised on the outskirts of Baghdad, at the Diyala canal, by two majors, John Schaar and Andrew Milburn, who were told to plan hit-and-run raids. As I explain in my story—
Until Diyala, they had not even examined a map of the city, but they quickly concluded that the raids were a bad idea. “We did a little study and thought this was really stupid,” Schaar told me not long ago. Raiding units risked becoming trapped in the city, creating an Iraqi version of “Black Hawk Down.” Schaar and Milburn also concluded that Iraqi forces could not withstand a direct assault by the regiment; for nearly three weeks, the regiment had blasted through every Iraqi unit in its path. They then divided central Baghdad into twenty-seven zones, with each battalion responsible for occupying four or five zones (several low-priority zones were unassigned). Schaar and Milburn had received from divisional headquarters a list of about thirty sensitive sites—a hodgepodge that comprised embassies, banks, detention centers, potential nuclear facilities, and hotels, including the Palestine. The most important targets were in four central zones across the Tigris River from the Republican Palace, which the Army had already seized. Schaar recently sent me a photograph of the twenty-seven-zone invasion map. The map has six thumbtacks marking key targets. One of them, in the central zones, was the Palestine Hotel. According to Schaar, there was never any doubt about which battalion would be assigned the central zones. “Three-four”—McCoy’s battalion—“got tagged to that because they were the sharp guys,” he told me.
On Schaar’s picture of the map, the Palestine Hotel is marked by the yellow thumbtack.
On April 9, 2003, American Marines toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein at Firdos Square in Baghdad. Broadcast across the world, the event symbolized what was thought to be an American victory in Iraq. My reconstruction, written with support from ProPublica and the Shorenstein Center, was published in The New Yorker. This section contains documents, photos, videos and links related to the story.
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