Sunday, March 30
Bloodied but still unbowed, Baghdad prepares to fight
Patrick Graham in Baghdad, The Observer, March 30, 2003
When the bombs drop at night in Baghdad, Muthana Mohammed Saleh wakes up and sings into a microphone. His call of 'Allah Akbar' from the minaret of the mosque mingles with low booms around the city.
With the symbolic targets destroyed early on and the liberation of the city not going as planned, the allied planners are working their way down the list. On Friday they knocked out three telecoms exchanges using bunker-busting missiles that made the ground shake in the surrounding area. That night, they hit the Ministry of Information, long expected to be a target but perhaps delayed as the allies waited to see if the city would fall in the first week.
Baghdad is now preparing for a siege. The city is almost unrecognisable from a week ago. The transformation is so complete that it is clear the government has been preparing its own strategy for a lot longer than the Pentagon. [...]
In an interview with The Observer almost a month ago, an adviser to Saddam Hussein laid out a battle plan that seems to be unfolding with surprising accuracy ..... The adviser described the war as '10 Vietnams' that would be waged long after the invading forces arrived. He also believed that images of the war, especially dead American soldiers and Iraqi casualties, would sway US domestic opinion and an international outcry would force the US to stop fighting. While President George W. Bush says the outcome is inevitable, earlier predictions about Iraq's capabilities have proved inaccurate.
The regime planned to make Baghdad and the Sunni heartland around it the final battle ground that would tie up foreign troops for months, perhaps years. The adviser dismissed the possibility that the Iraqi leadership could be hunted down.
As usual, it will be the civilians who are unable to hide. It appears now that the allies will either lay siege to the city, evoking connotations of the Serbs surrounding Sarajevo, or try to enter by force. The latter will require the kind of fight through neighbourhoods unsuited to the allies' technical superiority and sensitivity to images of civilian casualties.
The Iraqi army and security services have been preparing for weeks, vacating obvious targets and moving troops into apartment blocks, schools, and even social clubs. Most street corners have their sandbagged emplacements and plainclothed security keep close watch on everybody. [...]
The bombing itself has become so common that few pay attention unless they are in the immediate vicinity. But those who are nearby find it hard to forget the experience. For the first hour of last Friday's bombing we were stranded near some of the targets. [...]
It is astonishing how calm and well ordered Baghdad remains even as the bombs fall. Life is not in any way normal but it does continue. There was heavy traffic heading south out of the city yesterday and shops selling fruit, vegetables and meat were busy.
A few days ago we stopped in a tea shop and chatted to some young men. The bombing made the windows shake but no one paid much attention. They were more interested in the television showing fighting around Nasiriyah.
When Saddam came on, it quieted down. The president exhorted his people to fight long and hard. 'Americans are going into the desert near your city and you must fight them,' he said. So far, they appear to be paying more attention to their president than Mr Bush.