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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 April, 2003, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Reporters' log: Final thoughts
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The BBC's correspondents have brought you news from Iraq and the wider region throughout the war. In this last instalment of the reporters' log they record some final impressions and look back at what it was like reporting the war.

BBC News Online will continue to feature the best of the BBC's unrivalled on-the-spot reporting in our ongoing coverage of Iraq elsewhere on this site.

Northern Iraq :: John Simpson

If military tactics alone could have settled the future of Iraq, this would have been an outstanding success.

The result was never in question - the greatest military power on earth was always going to defeat an ill-equipped, third world army which lacked any air cover - but, in the end, the win was a convincing one.

It was the Americans' own tactics which encouraged the occasionally spirited resistance which the Iraqis put up.

By deciding, at first, not to hit the Republican Guard too fiercely, in order to create the foundation of an army for a new, democratic Iraq, the Americans laid themselves open to counter-attack and that, in turn, created the difficulties of the first ten days.

Directly the US military went back to its basic tactics of shock and awe, there was nothing to stop them reaching Baghdad in a short space of time.

Washington never expected the degree of resistance that Iraq put up.

The assumption was that people genuinely wanted to see an end to the nastiest dictatorship on earth and would welcome the coalition forces as liberators.

So many of them - perhaps a majority - did, but the extent of religious and nationalist hostility took Washington and London by surprise.

Opposition to the occupying forces seems to be growing stronger by the day.

Everywhere you go in Iraq, people are increasingly saying the same thing: they are happy that Saddam is gone but they do not want American or British soldiers in their country.

This was not something that Washington had been expecting.


CentCom, Doha :: Paul Adams

Others will have dug themselves foxholes, seen soldiers physically sick with fear; felt, seen and heard the reality of war.

But some of us have led a very different existence these past weeks.

A daily shuttle, hundreds of miles from the action, from a comfortable hotel to the press centre at the drab as-Sayliyah military base, home to CentCom's forward headquarters.

General Vincent Brooks
CentCom briefings were strictly controlled
And while we allowed ourselves to say "here at CentCom", we knew that we were being held at arm's length.

We were rarely allowed to stray from the spartan warehouse with its hi-tech briefing room and cramped, woefully inadequate work-spaces.

The real business of running the war was taking place in other, equally spartan warehouses some distance away in this vast, faceless facility.

It is an odd way to cover a war, and some wondered if it was really worth it.

But while our American colleagues tore their hair out at the lack of information beyond the daily - and rather anodyne - briefings from the unflappable Brigadier-General Vince Brooks, we in the British media were more fortunate.

We were extensively briefed, on and off the record, in a way that enabled us to gain some precious appreciation of what was going on in Iraq.

So for weeks, I strained to hear what my "embedded" colleagues were saying from their grubby foxholes, and tried to marry that with notes taken during furtive conversations held in the shade of the concrete blocks that hemmed us into our media pen.

By and large, it worked. I felt I understood what was going on. At times, I was given fascinating - and not always reportable - insights into the campaign. And as events unfolded far to the north, I did not feel so disconnected after all.


Baghdad :: Paul Wood

We were living and reporting from a Stalinist state. We were constantly being monitored by the Iraqis.

At one point they did actually preview a tape, but mainly it was a case of the press centre officials listening to broadcasts.

The head of the press centre had the BBC, CNN and al-Jazeera on three televisions in his room all the time. They listened intensively to the BBC Arabic Service.

The Victory Arch
As tanks rolled into Baghdad, Iraqi media minders vanished
The difficult thing was to go as far as you could and not get yourself thrown out, or worse, but not to mislead the viewers and listeners. And I think we have a pretty sophisticated audience on the BBC. We were able to give certain hints.

It was a moment of liberation for the Baghdad press corps as well as for the Iraqi people when the US marines came over the horizon and started rumbling around the statue of President Saddam Hussein.

One of the interesting things for me was when the statue of Saddam Hussein came down and the marines were all around us. One of the marines came up to me (he had a bright pink rose stuffed into his helmet by an Iraqi) and he asked me if I was the BBC Baghdad correspondent.

I said "Well I'm one of them," and he replied "We have been listening to you all the way up", which I thought was a tremendous compliment - an American soldier listening to a British network.

The Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf - whose nickname among the Baghdad press corps was Comical Ali - gave us a little speech about how Iraq was winning the war.

But I'm very glad that nobody was misled by him because one felt a terrible weight of responsibility. You had to report what the Iraqis were saying, yet a lot of it was clearly bare-faced lies.


Kuwait to Baghdad :: Gavin Hewitt

There was one particular day when the reality of war really came home to me. The 3rd Infantry Division, the unit I was with, was pushing in from the west.

I saw burnt-out tanks, Iraqi bodies lying on the highway, and civilian vehicles which had been shot up. I saw one man, an Iraqi who had been shot - I think he was a soldier - and he was still breathing.

US troops
Living with the troops put reporters in the line of fire
As we drove forward through all of this, suddenly, we were under fire from artillery. This was one moment where there was indecision as to where we were supposed to go.

And for what seemed like an eternity we were just sitting on the highway. Then we went down, took a turning to the left, and then I saw real fear in the eyes of American soldiers.

We all crouched behind a wall. Another shell came in. After it hit, you could hear the shrapnel and little bits falling everywhere. It was very frightening.

At the outset there were critics of the process of "embedding" correspondents with US troops, and I myself was concerned that this would inhibit what we were going to be able to say.

But just before we crossed into Iraq we were told we would never be prevented from saying what we felt, even if it was critical. The only problem that we had was that we could not say precisely where we were or what future plans were.

Beyond that I had freedom as a journalist to report in precisely the way that I wanted.

When we were editing at our equipment in the evening, sometimes the soldiers would be curious and would gather around the vehicle to watch what we were doing, but no-one ever said to me "you can't say that" or "that's unfair" or anything like that.

The Pentagon, I believe, promised from the start that this would be unlike any kind of reporting of a war before. They were right.


Kuwait City, Umm Qasr and Basra :: Ryan Dilley

As a correspondent of the war, I feel something of a fraud. While others, the so-called "embeds", witnessed the fighting at first-hand, I visited the battlegrounds days after the firing had ceased.

While others roughed it under the stars, I for the most part enjoyed room service and clean sheets.

Iraqi civilians flee Basra
Some are asking if Iraq has been liberated or invaded
But I saw enough to know that I had seen very little of what conflict has to offer. And I understand only little of what I did observe.

I saw utter terror in the eyes of Kuwaitis when the sirens warned of an incoming Iraqi missile, but witnessed a carnival atmosphere when locals rushed to see the one projectile that did slam into their city.

I saw callous and calculated acts of destruction perpetrated by both sides, but balanced by acts of great generosity and kindness.

I have seen a boy enraged to the point of throwing stones because he was denied a chocolate bar, while another youth - shot through the middle and dying - behaved with utter composure, politeness and dignity.

I have seen a palace the splendour of which was made all the more sickening by the poverty, filth and want in the city beyond its gates. I have seen people with great intelligence and potential, trapped in a situation surely created by fools.

I have hidden from lightning and scurried from rain, but watched the tracer bullets and flares of a fire fight as if it were on TV.

What I am really not sure about is whether I have seen a liberation or an invasion.


CentCom, Doha :: Jonathan Marcus

There were two press operations going on at CentCom headquarters in Doha.

The first was the over-arching American press operation, very much a public relations exercise.

Within that there was a much smaller British press operation, very different in tone but struggling to try to get some real information out because of the tutelage of the Americans over the whole thing.

This was the fascinating thing about this war: you had this absolute avalanche of material from our BBC colleagues in Baghdad and with the actual units in the field.

But in a strange sort of way a lot of it was like looking though a keyhole at a very small piece of the war.

At CentCom we were faced with the problem of deciphering all this information.

People wanted to know: "What does it all mean?", "Is it going wrong?", "Is it not going wrong?", "What does this particular bit of action mean?"

Pulling all that together proved dramatically difficult in this particular campaign, which is precisely what I think the Pentagon wanted.

They were prepared to allow this extraordinary vision of what modern warfare is like at grass-roots level, but I think they were very happy that journalists did have to struggle to put the pieces together.

And we did not even see most of what went on in Iraq; there were no embedded people out in the west, in much of the north, and so on.

Of course the military came away from the war thinking it was a jolly good system. The real test is when the war goes badly.

This war went very well for the coalition, and this highly intrusive press arrangement served them, because it was largely reporting on success - dramatic movement, collapsing Iraqi formations and so on.

If things had gone very differently, perhaps in Whitehall and in the Pentagon they would not have been quite so enamoured with this system.


Northern Iraq :: Dumeetha Luthra

The beginning of the conflict was quite frustrating for me.

I could see the images of what was happening elsewhere in Iraq, but in northern Iraq there was not much movement, so I felt I wasn't where the story was.

In fact I spent four days living in a sheep shed in a Kurdish village, waiting for something to happen-fortunately the sheep had been taken elsewhere-only to return to the hotel and be told "there are great pictures coming from Baghdad!"

Later on of course, the north of Iraq did become the centre of events, with the Kurds, the Iraqis, the coalition and the Turkish all involved in various ways.

The ethnic tensions that characterise this region are still prevalent, and will take a long time to come to terms with.

Both sides have done things to each other over a long period of time, and that kind of cycle is very difficult to break.

I worked as an independent journalist throughout the conflict, and despite the success of the "embedded" system I believe there is a real need for people operating outside of the military structure as well.

Both independents and embeds can complement each other, and help to provide a balanced and wide-ranging perspective.

The embeds got some great material, particularly highlighting the problems faced by the coalition's supply routes, but it would be dangerous to rely on them alone.


HMS Ocean and Basra :: Andrew Harding

My abiding memory of the conflict is spending two hours on the deck of HMS Ocean, in the dark and pouring rain, trying to aim a satellite dish correctly so that I could transmit a TV package back to the UK.

I was reporting on the helicopter pilots who were flying missions from the ship, but those junior crew who never left the Ocean did feel a little detached, I think, from the events happening in Iraq.

Though at the Captain's briefing, which he gave before fighting started, there were definitely several nervous faces.

Something that did amaze me was the level of access I had to confidential information whilst on the ship.

It felt daunting to know the details of the invasion plan for Iraq several days before it began.

I became so nervous that whenever I rang home, I started to pause before saying anything, because I was so fearful of letting something slip.

It was frustrating though, not to be able to meet individual Iraqis. But I got my chance when I travelled to Basra with British forces.

We waited for a few days in a former factory situated on one of Basra's waterways. For company, we had some oil smugglers, who were trying to sit out the war before they could resume business.

They were still there when we left.

A problem that had to be overcome in Basra was finding a translator, a far from easy task.

For lunch with a local imam, I managed to persuade a ship's captain to do the honours for me.

The imam was extremely welcoming, serving fish and rice to both of us. But he made clear that he felt it was now time for the British to leave his country.



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