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Baghdad, Before the Storm

Posted April. 04, 2003 22:20,   


On Sunday at 9 p.m. (local time), an impenetrable darkness fell upon every corner of Baghdad. Electricity went out for the first time since the outbreak of the war.

Streets which had been previously crowded with people despite endless bombardment for the last two weeks were emptied in a few minutes. A series of loud explosions were heard near City Hall. The disturbing sound of field artillery from the south where the airport is located tells us that the Baghdad invasion is about to take place.

After a while, upper class residential districts and some hospitals which have private power stations turned on their lights making several islands of luminescence in Baghdad. As night goes on, males carrying AK-47 rifles wearing military uniforms resumed patrols. The citizens of Baghdad seemed to take the unexpected electricity failure as a prelude to the fierce battle that lies ahead.

Prior to this, Baghdad citizens appeared to be composed, showing no signs of evacuating Baghdad on Thursday afternoon. There was no emergency control and restaurants and markets were still open.

Bombardment from coalition forces gradually shifted its focus from the west of Baghdad where many government and public offices are concentrated to the city proper of Baghdad itself. A few coalition missiles hit the Baghdad Trade Exhibition Center and completely destroyed the football field-size area.

In western Baghdad, where the presidential palaces and government and public offices are concentrated, militias belonging to the Ba`ath Party were piling up sandbags all day and on both sides of the roads which connect to the southern outskirts of Baghdad, soldiers dug trenches under trees lay in wait.

There were no particular major military movements. Trucks and light armored vehicles were still parked under high-level roads. A fair number of citizens were filling water in big buckets in their houses. Upper class people were reserving flour, rice, corn, and fuel which can last for several months.

The water supply system and the sewage were working as usual. Citizens who had to endure several weeks without electricity and the water supply system and sewage system working during the 1991 Gulf War wished the nightmare would not be repeated.

It seemed citizens were refusing the reality that U.S. troops had already advanced up to several kilometers away from their city. “We are not afraid of them,” one citizen said. Iraqi officials who give daily briefings still seem to be confident.

One married woman listened to the warning of the coalition forces telling residents that once the battle has commenced, civilians should stay home for their safety. However, she replied, “I heard from television that British soldiers killed women and children who were at home in Basra, so I am afraid these invaders might do the same thing in Baghdad.”

Meanwhile, journalists who are accompanying U.S. soldiers advancing from southern Iraq to Baghdad said residents were not hostile at all against them, and indifferently stared at us while an engineer corps constructed a floating bridge.

Journalists also remarked that a market was open on either side of the highway and there was heavy traffic on the roads with buses, trucks and cars in towns, and cafes and restaurants still open.