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War On TV, But Holiday Mood -- Report From Baghdad

by Nasreen Al-Rafiq

previous report from Baghdad
(IPS) BAGHDAD -- We have a near ringside view of the parts of Baghdad where Saddam Hussein has built his palaces and his agencies like his intelligence and the Baath party have their offices.

Palestine Hotel where we stay is on the east bank of the Tigris, which is more the people's part than that of the powers of Iraq. Life in the hotel goes on as it does in any other hotel. There is breakfast, the usual hotel services, the shop across the road for people who want what is called the 'genuine' flavors of Baghdad, and much cheaper of course.

Already the smashed domes of Saddam Hussein's Sajida Palace have become a familiar part of the city scene. This part of Baghdad was not bombed again. We had descended to the basement as usual after we heard on television there would be more strikes. We only learned from television that there were.

We could also see smoke and smell the burning. Some say the Iraqis have burnt the oil wells, some say it was a result of the bombardment. But now we speak of all this without much fear. Last night was a night of sleep, an American gift to Baghdad that was most welcome after the bombing of the night before. But it did tell us two things. We might not be in for the shock and awe they speak of. If we are, it will be targeted. In its homes and in its hotels, Baghdad has begun to feel safe.

Inevitably, talk turns to Saddam Hussein. Where is he? All of Baghdad, it seems, is tuning into Al Jazeera television to find out. Three days of fighting, and still no sign of a Saddam Hussein speech. Has he gone the way of his palace?

"That is the best way to end all this," says an Iraqi driver. "What have we got under the Saddam Hussein regime? Our business is gone, no tourist comes here. The future of our children is ruined."

But as we drive through the markets, which seem to be getting their supply of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, his smile broadens. "The Americans are not finding it so easy," he says. "They Iraqi soldiers, they fight them everywhere."

Here in the bazaars most shops are shut, barring some food shops and restaurants. It would be like Baghdad on a holiday. Soldiers walk through the streets in twos and threes. But in Baghdad that is a sign of normalcy.

It is surprising how "normal" things seem to be. Streets are filled with traffic and more than the usual number of cars are cruising along the river's east bank. Everyone wants to see what happened to Saddam's palaces. They look at the giant holes in one of the domes, at the collapsed side of the Baath headquarters and drive on.

Baghdadi's are waiting for the war on Baghdad, and it seems certain there will be a fight. That is what frightens people. The air strikes have ceased to be as fearful as they once were.

Meanwhile, reports from Al Jazeera tell of the unexpected stiff resistance from Iraqi soldiers, and locals here can hardly hide their joy at every such snippet of news. They may or may not like Saddam, but they are clearly proud of an Iraqi soldier who dares to fire a shot at the Americans.

Baghdad will watch the war on Al Jazeera as long as the lights stay on.

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Albion Monitor March 23, 2003 (

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