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"This Is Only The Beginning" -- Report From Baghdad

by Satish Jacob

Baghdad Waits For Attack
(IPS) BAGHDAD -- We slept very little last night, and not many in Baghdad did. There was no one about on the streets last night, almost no one that is. We did see the occasional car and lorry about, though. Going about their business? Nobody knows, and nobody seemed to care.

Sirens sounded about 9PM (local time), and the bombs came soon after. Anti-aircraft guns began firing from installations set up near government buildings on the banks of the Tigris. The gunners could not have seen aircraft, and they would be very lucky to hit a missile.

But it was buildings along the Tigris river that seemed to have been the target. At least three buildings seemed to have been hit, going by the columns of smoke. At least one of Saddam's palaces is close to the government buildings by the Tigris.

Smoke arose also from the direction of the Al Daura oil refinery in the east.

I found myself fearing what the Americans were doing -- and praying that their technology would work, that they would get their targets and nothing else.

We felt a strange sort of connection with the people of Baghdad as the bombs came. That slight whistle, and then it seems that the earth was unfolding into balls of fire here and there. The lights in our hotel were working, the water was running, we wondered for how long.

There were no more air raid sirens in the night. But guests have learnt to make themselves comfortable in a little basement room.

"It might mean we get trapped there if our building is hit," an Indian cameraman with us said. A few other hotel guests, mostly people who seemed to be Iraqi businessmen, were calm. If only because there was nothing we could do to make ourselves safe. Those bombs sounded like they could tear the earth apart. That kind of bomb leaves you nowhere to hide.

"This is only the beginning," one guest said as he smoked away. No amount of cool talk could hide the tension. Baghdad was shaking, and we could feel it.

U.S. President George Bush had said he was waging war as a friend of the Iraqi people. The bombs did not seem very friendly. And though we could speak to no one in the night, it was hardly likely that many in Baghdad could have found the sound of those bombs friendly, or found in the shaking of their buildings the warmth of a friendly handshake.

Not many seemed grateful to see buildings in their city torn apart by balls of fire.

Friday morning was quiet. It was the day of prayers, and it felt like the whole city was praying. Fridays are usually busy days for shoppers on Abu Nawas Street. But Friday began quietly here, and it seemed it would stay that way all day.

But terrifying as the bombing was, we had been expecting worse. Iraqis have been debating whether these are warning missiles, or whether the attack will be slow and carefully targeted this time.

Miraculously, it seemed, some shops did open Friday. Local transport was about, even the taxis were doing at least some business. Baghdad was waiting for what fate might bring, for the Americans, and in dread, for the night.

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Albion Monitor March 21, 2003 (

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