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"Allah Sent The Sand To Protect Us" -- Report From Baghdad

by Nasreen Al-Rafiq

Baghdad diaries
(IPS) BAGHDAD -- The skies darkened over Baghdad again Tuesday, but this was not from the oil wells set afire in a ring around the city. Nor was it from the smoke of bombing.

At the Al-Saadia food market they were saying it was an act of Allah.

"Allah sent the sand to protect us," said a butcher at the souk. It was a day of heavy sandstorms over Baghdad. By evening the sand had begun to settle, and it rained a little. This too was seen as intervention from the heavens.

Everyone at the souk was saying what the butcher said. Was it for the sake of the minders who accompanied a group of us who visited the souks in a couple of taxis? Was it an act? Almost certainly not.

And if it was not, the coalition forces are in for a rude shock. Not from the Republican Guards, but from the shoppers at the souk. Nobody, but nobody ever says they want to see the Americans walk in and take over Baghdad. It could hardly be an act put up collectively by the whole city.

Nor was it very different at the Al-Shorjah Souq, the main market where people go for their household shopping. It is also where you take your children to after school. Not even under bombing are children happy just to stay indoors. Families were out here at least a little as usual. The difference was that many shops were shuttered. And there appeared to be less buying of the unnecessary.

Somehow I felt more nervous for American troops here than for the defenseless shoppers. I just could not visualize marines shopping in these souks. Nor could I see Iraqi families walking about here in the knowledge that Saddam Hussein is gone, and that the Americans have taken over to protect them.

"They want to come, let them come," said a man, with his wife carrying their baby a few steps behind. "They want Iraq, they don't know what they are going to get."

What the Americans are determined to do seems unthinkable. "Nobody here can do business with the Americans and also do business with another Iraqi," said a vendor displaying his little tray of cigarette lighters and wristwatches.

The Americans did not choose a good day to launch the bombing of Baghdad -- Friday of last week. Now every day seems a Friday. Meetings are held in mosques every day. And while these are not really open to the outsider, the attendance is said to be heavy at both Sunni and Shiite mosques.

There is little sign in the city that Shiite Muslims are about to welcome American and British troops any more than others. The Sunni-Shiite divide has clearly been overestimated. What has been underestimated is Iraqi pride. Nothing stands out more starkly on the streets of Baghdad.

The bombs have rained down all day around Baghdad. Al Jazeera has announced more bombings at night. Somehow everything on that channel is known instantly, even if most people can only watch Iraqi television. The bombing has ceased to be seen as an immediate threat, primarily because of the precision of the first strikes.

If the mood in the souk is anything to go by, Baghdad is preparing to fight now on the streets.

Nobody in Baghdad knows what the invading forces plan to do when, or if, they capture that last street.

But Baghdad knows what Baghdad is planning: a future for Iraqis, not for Americans.

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Albion Monitor March 28, 2003 (

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