Extraordinary Baghdad reporting by John F. Burns
rohit at ics.uci.edu
Fri Apr 11 15:45:07 PDT 2003
After a record-breaking run of Pulitzers from 9/11, the Gray Lady was
down to 1 in the '02 results last week. '03, however, could be another
breakout, at least for John F. Burns. Spectacular prose, classic tone
and well worth clipping for years to come. First draft of history and
all that... his British upbringing does come through in his voice, if
you read closely...
Burns was ordered out of Baghdad by the editors before the war. That he
stuck through it must be an amazing story... he's also got the record,
in my book, for the business card with the most namespaces: about phone
numbers (including satphones) and three physical addresses!
April 11, 2003
Looting and a Suicide Attack in Baghdad
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 10 — It was a day of widening anarchy in Baghdad
today as the jubilation accompanying the collapse of Saddam Hussein's
rule gave way to a spree of violence and looting.
A suicide bombing attack on a checkpoint manned by American marines
left at least four of them severely injured, Marine officers said. The
attack took place on the east bank of the Tigris River about a mile
from the central Palestine Hotel. Mr. Hussein, before his fall, had
promised a wave of suicide bombings against American forces.
For many Iraqis, the scenes of adulation that greeted American troops
in east Baghdad on Wednesday, when whole neighborhoods turned out to
cheer and wave at the Americans and to shout abuse for Mr. Hussein,
began to give way to misgivings as a tide of looting grew.
The power vacuum in the city appeared almost complete, with no
immediate prospect of a new order rising from the old.
For the second day, bands of looters had the free run of wide areas on
both banks of the Tigris, breaking into at least six government
ministries and setting several afire, as well as attacking the
luxurious mansions of Mr. Hussein's two sons and other members of his
Looters made off with liquor, guns and paintings of half-naked women
from the home of Uday, one of Mr. Hussein's sons. They also took the
white Arabian horses he kept.
Although there were some reports of American troops firing into the air
to discourage the marauding bands, most of the looters were able to
pick targets at will in plain view of American units, without fear of
any American response.
One Marine officer standing atop a tank at a checkpoint in east Baghdad
said that he had been asked repeatedly by Iraqis why his unit had done
nothing to stop the looting and that he had explained that he had no
orders to respond. "I tell them the truth, that we just don't have
enough troops," he said.
Throughout the day, American troops battled pockets of resistance on
the Tigris's east bank, one of them at a palace in the Adhamiya
district that was among at least 20 kept for the Iraqi leader's use in
Baghdad. American officers reported another firefight at the house of a
senior Baath Party official.
On the river's west bank, Army units that seized control of the
government quarter of the city on Tuesday appeared to be consolidating
their hold on an area running three or four miles north from the
Republican Palace presidential compound.
But farther north in riverside areas like Atafiya and Kadhimiya, and to
the west in neighborhoods like Al Mansur, pockets appeared in control
of paramilitary fighters still loyal to Mr. Hussein and the Baath Party
militia, who could be seen lurking down side streets, in the entrances
of buildings and in bunkers beside main intersections.
In general, the streets were empty except for the bands of looters.
Many came from Saddam City, the northeastern suburb where two million
impoverished Shiite Muslims erupted in jubilation at the arrival of
American troops in the city's eastern districts on Wednesday.
Reviewing the looting and lawlessness, Véronique Taveau, an official
for a United Nations agency here, said: "The picture is a very dark
one. There is absolutely no security on the street."
The looters appeared, mainly, to concentrate on sites associated with
Mr. Hussein, sparing most private homes and businesses.
Among the attacks that had a strong political edge were those on the
German Embassy and the French cultural center, both in east Baghdad.
Few Iraqis were unaware, in the weeks preceding the war, that France
and Germany were leading international efforts to force President Bush
into accepting an extension of United Nations weapons inspections here,
and to delay military action against Mr. Hussein.
The French and German buildings were stripped of furniture, curtains,
decorations, and anything else that could be carried away.
At the French cultural center, where looters burst water pipes and
flooded the ground floor, books were left floating in the reading rooms
and corridors, and a photograph of Jacques Chirac, the French
president, was smashed. French reporters said the French Embassy, also
on the Tigris's east bank, appeared to have been spared because it
remained under the protection of French military guards. The German
Embassy was unprotected.
As the day progressed, the looters widened their international targets.
One building attacked was an office of Unicef, the United Nations'
children's agency, which has worked extensively to relieve child
With other United Nations offices escaping attack, some Iraqis
suggested that Unicef might have been a target because of a belief
among the looters that the agency had become too pliant in the face of
the Baghdad government's incessant claims that the sanctions, and not
the manipulation of the sanctions by Mr. Hussein, had been responsible
for the worst suffering among Iraqi children.
One of Baghdad's main medical centers, Al Kindi Hospital, was also a
target. After three weeks of American bombing, the wards were filled
with civilians suffering from blast and shrapnel wounds, and its morgue
filled, too, with those killed in the conflict. Yet the hospital took
the full brunt of the looting.
Nada Doumani, an official of the International Committee of the Red
Cross, said the sprawling hospital complex had lost beds, electrical
fittings and other equipment, worsening the crisis already afflicting
all of Baghdad's medical centers.
"Security in the city is very bad, and people are not daring to go to
the hospitals," Ms. Doumani told Reuters. "Small hospitals have closed
their doors and big hospitals are inaccessible."
At the mansion of Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister who had been
the principal international voice of Mr. Hussein's government for a
decade, the looters carried away all the furnishings, but left a
library that contained the complete works of Mr. Hussein, a book by
former President Richard M. Nixon, and a set of novels by Mario Puzo,
author of "The Godfather."
The house of Ali Hassan al-Majid, a first cousin of Mr. Hussein who is
known to Iraqis as "Chemical Ali" for his role in directing chemical
weapons attacks on the Kurdish city of Halabja, was incomplete, but a
storehouse behind gave a picture of a man with a large taste for
Western indulgences. Among items carried away by the looters was a
battery-powered model of a Ferrari of the kind that wealthy parents buy
their young sons, a Japanese motorized water scooter, a parachute of a
kind used in free-fall jumping, a video library that included dozens of
hit Hollywood movies of the past decade, more than 100 racing car
wheels, and the entire fittings for a luxury European kitchen.
"Everything in this house belongs to Iraq, not to Ali Kimiawy," one
looter said, using the Arab term for Chemical Ali. "We don't have
anything in our houses, not even refrigerators, so we will take them
It may be days, or longer, before a fuller picture emerges of the anger
being vented across Baghdad against Hussein loyalists. But one incident
suggested that fears of revenge killings might be well founded.
Reporters crossing the Sinika Bridge in central Baghdad, trying to
reach the government quarter from the Tigris's eastern bank, were
witnesses to the attempt by a group of young men to catch and kill, or
so they said, a man in his 40's whom they accused of being a Baath
The man reached American troops standing behind rolls of razor wire at
the western edge of the bridge only steps ahead of his pursuers, and
threw himself at their feet.
As the man's pursuers explained later, their quarry, Khalil Abu Sheikh,
worked for years in the east Baghdad neighborhood of Bab-al-Shaikh as a
bounty hunter , turning in army deserters for the equivalent of about
One of his victims was Nazar Ali Hassan, a 26-year-old man who was
leading the men running after him today. Mr. Hassan lifted his shirt to
show reporters two bullet wounds he said he received when Mr. Sheikh
shot him at his home last October.
"We're going to kill him," Mr. Hassan shouted across the razor wire to
the soldiers, who warned the pursuers to step back from the wire. "This
man is mine. He has inflicted so much suffering on our people."
By this time, Mr. Sheikh was crawling at the Americans' feet, trying to
kiss their boots.
"I hate Saddam Hussein," he said. "Please let me go. All I want to do
is to cross the bridge. I come to you as a refugee."
After radioing their officers, the Americans led the man away. Mr.
Hassan and his friends, vowing to get Mr. Sheikh another day, trudged
disconsolately back across the bridge.
April 10, 2003
Cheers, Tears and Looting in Capital's Streets
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 9 — Saddam Hussein's rule collapsed in a matter of
hours today across much of this capital city as ordinary Iraqis took to
the streets in their thousands to topple Mr. Hussein's statues, loot
government ministries and interrogation centers and to give a cheering,
often tearful welcome to advancing American troops.
After three weeks battling their way north from Kuwait against Mr.
Hussein's hard-core loyalists, Army and Marine Corps units moving into
the districts of eastern Baghdad where many of the city's five million
people live finally met the kind of adulation from ordinary Iraqis that
American advocates of a war to topple Mr. Hussein had predicted.
Amid the celebration, many of Mr. Hussein's troops and officials simply
abandoned their posts and ran away.
Much of Baghdad became, in a moment, a showcase of unbridled enthusiasm
for America, as much as it metamorphosed into a crucible of unbridled
hatred for Mr. Hussein and his 24-year rule.
American troops, but almost as much any Westerner caught up in the tide
of people rushing into the streets, were met with scenes that summoned
comparisons to the freeing of Eastern Europe 14 years ago.
There was no word on the fate of Mr. Hussein or his sons, Uday and
Qusay, targeted by American bombs in a western residential area on
Monday. But his whereabouts — even his very existence — seemed
irrelevant as American Marines used an M88 tank recovery vehicle to
topple a large statue of Mr. Hussein in the central Firdos Square.
Crowds surged forward to stomp on the downed statue, whose head had
briefly been covered in an American flag, and several men dragged its
severed head through the streets.
A burly 39-year-old man named Qifa, assigned by Mr. Hussein's
Information Ministry to keep watch on an American reporter, paused at
midmorning, outside the inferno that had been the headquarters of
Iraq's National Olympic Committee, to ask the reporter to grip his
hand. The building, used to torture and kill opponents of Mr. Hussein,
had been one of the most widely feared places in Iraq.
"Touch me, touch me, tell me that this is real, tell me that the
nightmare is really over," the man said, tears running down his face.
It was real, at last. When the city awoke to find that the American
capture on Monday of the government quarter in west Baghdad had been
followed overnight by a deep American thrust into the city's eastern
half, the fear ingrained in most Iraqis evaporated.
Iraqis on foot, on motor scooters, in cars and minivans and trucks,
alone and in groups, children and adults and elderly, headed for any
point on the map where American troops had taken up positions — at
expressway junctions, outside the United Nations headquarters, at two
hotels on the Tigris river where Western journalists had been
sequestered by Mr. Hussein's government — and erupted with enthusiasm.
Shouts to the American soldiers of "Thank you, mister, thank you," in
English, of "Welcome, my friend, welcome," of "Good, good, good," and
"Yes, yes, mister," mingled with cries of "Good, George Bush!" and
But reporters who crossed one of the deserted midtown bridges across
the Tigris into the western area of the city discovered quickly that
Mr. Hussein's hold has not been wholly broken.
Crossing the 14th of July bridge into the district of Atafiya, about
five miles upriver from the Republican Palace compound that American
troops seized on Monday, the reporters found themselves at least a mile
north of the most advanced American positions on the west side of the
river, in a neighborhood filled with angry, nervous-looking fedayeen —
the irregular forces who have been among the most relentless enemies of
the Americans in their 300-mile drive from Kuwait.
One reporter, lulled into a false sense of security by a day of Iraqis
vilifying Mr. Hussein, approached a group of youths at an intersection
to ask how they felt.
"Bush good?" the reporter asked, using the English phrase that had
become the mantra of the city's eastern districts to overcome the
temporary absence of an interpreter.
The youths, quickly joined by older, more threatening-looking men with
Kalashnikov rifles and shoulder-holstered rockets, responded with a
hostility that could have been found almost anywhere in the city until
"Bush down shoes!" the youths answered, one of them spitting on the
ground, meaning that President Bush was good only for being trampled
on. "America down shoes!"
American commanders in the city barely paused to soak up the
celebrations before warning tonight that much hard work remained to be
done in extending the pockets of American control in east and west
Baghdad into areas that remained no-man's lands, or worse, pockets of
Those pockets were clearly still dangerous today, but they were also
isolated. Many people seemed joyous. A middle-aged man pushed through a
crowd attempting to topple a Saddam statue outside the oil ministry
with a bouquet of paper flowers, and passed among American troops
distributing them one at a time, each with a kiss on the cheek.
A woman with two small children perched in the open roof of a car
maneuvering to get close to a Marine Corps unit assisting in toppling a
Hussein statue outside the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, the quarters
for foreign journalists, wept as she shouted, "Thank you, mister, thank
you very much."
The American breakthrough came with stunning speed, only six days after
American troops gained their first foothold in Baghdad with the seizure
of the city's international airport, and after many military experts
had predicted it could take weeks, even months, to besiege Mr.
Hussein's forces and overcome them.
The American advances that began on Tuesday night, from the
southeastern edges of a city plunged into pitch darkness by the failure
of the city's electricity grid, resulted by nightfall today in
extending American control over a wide southeastern quadrant of the
city up to the Tigris river's eastern bank.
To this could be added the American occupation of the government
quarter on the river's west bank, an area of several square miles that
includes many of the principal seats of Mr. Hussein's power, including
his main palaces and many government ministries, after a fierce daylong
battle on Monday.
How far American troops enlarged that western foothold in a day of
light skirmishing today was not clear.
On the eastern side of the river, even in no-man's areas where the
American troops had not yet reached, virtually every Iraqi reporters
encountered among crowds that totaled in the tens of thousands, showed
disdain for Mr. Hussein.
One group of young men who marched out of Saddam City, an impoverished
district that is home to perhaps two million Shiite Muslims — among the
most repressed of all Mr. Hussein's victims — were asked as they dashed
from one American armored vehicle to another with their handshakes and
the cries of welcome why a visitor to Saddam City just a few days ago
had heard only the quietest whispers of dissent.
"Because we were frightened," one young man said. "We were frightened
of being killed."
A few moments earlier, another man, a 27-year-old student named Raad,
had approached to voice the deep suspicions that had been sown among
Iraqis by experience with previous uprisings against Mr. Hussein that
had surged for a day, sometimes for a week, only to be savagely
"The question is, what happens tomorrow?" Raad, a clothing salesman,
said, in faltering English. "To this moment I cannot believe we got rid
of Saddam Hussein. Where is he? Is he died? We don't know it. Is he
going to come back and kill us all Iraqis, to use chemical weapons? We
do not know it."
One man, an official in the Oil Ministry, said flatly that any
government, "Saddam Hussein or no," would be better than any imposed by
the United States.
But of the main message that Iraqis wanted transmitted to the world
there could be no reasonable doubt: they had yearned secretly for years
to be rid of Saddam Hussein but had been too cowed to say so.
Throughout the day, there was no sign of Mr. Hussein's vaunted
Republican Guard. One Marine soldier encountered at a junction on the
Canal Expressway, running north-south across Baghdad's eastern
outskirts, expressed his astonishment and relief. "We didn't meet a
single armed Iraqi all night," he said. "They're gone. Just run right
Down the expressway to the south, past the abandoned United Nations
headquarters and on for at least five miles, the median strip on the
expressway, and a sliproad running beside, were littered with abandoned
Iraqi tanks, armored personnel carriers and mobile artillery guns, most
of them marked with the red triangle flash of the Republican Guard.
Camouflaged Iraqi uniforms and combat boots lay strewn near many of the
vehicles, suggesting that the soldiers hastened into civilian clothes
as they fled. Inside the tanks and armored carriers lay half-finished
meals, and half-drunk cans of soda.
As with Iraqi troops, so it was with most officials who until days ago
were swearing undying fealty to Mr. Hussein. The information minister,
Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, who gained a reputation earlier in the war for
daily news conferences that verged on the delusional, failed to show up
today at the Palestine hotel. His last words on Tuesday were: "I now
inform you that you are too far from reality."
Reporters visiting the headquarters of the General Security
Directorate, almost the most feared agency in Iraq until today, found
its sprawling compound near the United Nations offices empty of all but
a handful of looters.
As the reporters probed down corridors and into inner courtyards, they
came across two heavyset men, sweating heavily, who had much of the
thuggish appearance, and now the hunted look, of men who thought they
might have something to answer for.
The men denied that they were officials of the directorate, which had a
reputation for detaining thousands of Iraqis, and executing many of
them without trial, but they refused to say what other reason they
might have for being in the compound. Perhaps apprehensive that the
reporters might turn them in to the Americans, they lingered,
deflecting questions about the directorate and its work, all the time
glancing nervously towards the gates onto the street.
When asked where the detainees were, the men said they had all fled
three days ago, when American troops entered the heart of Baghdad from
the west. How had they fled from locked cells? The men said they did
not know. And how many detainees were there, a reporter asked. "Nobody
ever knew," one man replied. "They were kept in the tunnels
underground. They never saw the day."
In Saddam City, the Shiite enclave on Baghdad's northeastern rim, years
of repression by Mr. Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, were thrown off today.
From shortly after dawn on, word passed like wildfire through the
refuse-strewn streets that every police station, every office of the
ruling Baath Party, every military barracks, every outpost of the
security and intelligence network, had been abandoned, many of them so
fast that Mr. Hussein's loyalists had left behind Kalashnikov rifles,
pistols and in some cases, even machine guns.
Saddam City, in effect, had been captured without even the Americans
having to fire a shot.
Muslim clerics quickly organized an event that could not hardly have
been dreamed of as late as Monday night: the re-opening of Al Mohsen
mosque, the central place of worship for all Shiites in Saddam City,
which was closed four years ago after Republican Guard units opened
fire on demonstrators who gathered around the mosque in protesting
against the killing of one of Iraq's most venerable Shiite clerics.
By lunchtime today, more than 1,000 people had gathered in and around
the cool courtyard of the mosque, and crammed inside to hear the chief
cleric, Sheik Amer al-Minshidawi, give the first sermon there in years
from a raised wooden throne that serves as a pulpit.
His message was directed only in part at Mr. Hussein. "We have to
repair everything that has been destroyed by the tyrant Saddam," he
said. Then, he quickly moved on to a message for Americans.
An American Jewish scholar, he said, without giving a name, had
described Islam as a "religion of terrorism." It was the duty of the
duty of Shiites in Iraq, he said, now that they had been liberated by
American troops, to prove that allegation wrong. "We must teach the
world that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and love."
April 9, 2003
3 Journalists Die in U.S. Strikes on 2 Baghdad Buildings
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 — Scenes of near panic broke out today inside
the Palestine Hotel here, with journalists rushing down darkened
stairwells to the hotel forecourt, many wearing flak jackets and
helmets, to escape a strike on the building that killed two of their
The strike was inflicted by an American tank shell that destroyed a
room on the 15th floor on the hotel's east side with a view of the
battle raging across the Tigris River at the presidential compound.
Several reporters described seeing one of three tanks that had taken up
positions on the western edge of the Jumhuriya bridge, a mile away to
the northwest, raising its barrel and rotating it towards the Palestine
moments before the impact.
In a room four floors down, about 100 feet from the point where the
tank shell hit between the two rooms, the building shuddered as if an
earthquake had struck.
Reports from the American military headquarters in Qatar quoted
officers as saying at first that the tank fired only after it was fired
at from positions in the hotel, an assertion challenged by witnesses.
The military did not reiterate the assertion of sniper fire in a later
briefing. Officials said the strike on the Palestine and two other
journalistic targets were being investigated.
"This coalition does not target journalists," said Brig. Gen. Vincent
K. Brooks at Central Command.
He added that "anything that has happened as a result of our fire or
other fires would always be considered as an accident."
The third journalist killed in an American strike today was Tariq
Ayoub, 34, a reporter and producer for Al Jazeera television, the
Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel. Mr. Ayoub, a Jordanian, was
standing on the roof, preparing a live broadcast of the warfare in
Baghdad, when the building was hit, a spokesman for the channel, Jihad
Ballout, said at its headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
Mr. Ayoub was carried to a car by colleagues but died on the way to the
hospital, Mr. Ballout said.
Abu Dhabi television said its offices, not far from Al Jazeera's, were
hit by small-arms fire.
In the Palestine, many journalists had taken up positions on balconies
on the hotel's northern side, on floors high enough to be able to have
a clear view of the fighting going on. The two journalists killed, both
of them television cameramen, were on balconies on the 14th and 15th
floors, in rooms that were one above the other.
Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian citizen who was working for Reuters,
was pronounced dead at the hospital within an hour, and José Couso, 37,
a Spaniard working for a Spanish channel, Telecinco, died in surgery.
Iraqi officials joined with reporters in carrying the injured
journalists down to the hotel forecourt, some of them in bloodied
bedsheets. The three other Reuters staff members, one of them Lebanese,
one British and one Iraqi, were expected to recover.
Muted scenes of anger were visible among colleagues of the two
cameramen killed by the American tank shell at the Palestine Hotel, and
among friends of Mr. Ayoub, the Al Jazeera cameraman killed during the
The journalists at the Palestine organized a 20-minute candlelit vigil
at the hotel after dark, and debated among themselves whether there was
justification in grieving for three dead journalists in a city where
dozens of Iraqi civilians — people who mostly had no choice about being
in Baghdad, unlike the journalists, all of whom are volunteers for the
wartime assignment — had been killed on the same day.
April 10, 2003
As Tanks Move In, Young Iraqis Trek Out and Take Anything Not Fastened
By JOHN KIFNER and JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 9 — Nobody showed up for work this morning at the
Directorate of General Security. But by the time the United States
Marines arrived at the directorate, the national secret police
headquarters, the looters were plenty busy.
When the high tan wall surrounding the security directorate, the 12th
and last objective of India Company, Third Battalion, First Regimental
Combat Team, was breached by an M1A1 Abrams tank with a snowplowlike
mine-clearing blade, the Americans were witness to a bizarre scene.
Hundreds of Iraqi men scampered about, looting anything they could get
their hands on from the compound that housed one of the dreaded
Mukhabarat, or internal intelligence agencies, that enforced Saddam
Everything was going, whether it had any conceivable use or not, in
what seemed as much an act of self-assertion as acquisition.
Several new police cars were among the first items to go. Men balanced
piles of foam-rubber matresses on their heads. Somebody lugged a huge
cylinder that appeared to be the compressor for an office
air-conditioning unit. A small boy brandished the three blades of a
There was an unmistakable air of celebration. Families pulled up in
cars along the road as the morning progressed. A mother wrapped in a
black chador proudly popped open a trunk for her tiny son to deposit
his prize, an unidentifiable length of machinery. A white four-wheel
drive vehicle that once belonged to some United Nations mission, the
"UN" markings blacked out on the doors but still clearly visible on the
roof, joined the crowd.
A cluster of young men waited politely with broad grins while one of
the marines' Amtrack amphibious vehicles cleared the breach in the
wall, then rushed in to join the looting.
Cars and trucks pulled away with burdens precariously balanced on the
roof: refrigerators, office chairs, desks, even, most strangely, a
plastic Santa Claus.
One of the buildings in the compound housed an arsenal unusual for a
domestic police force, including rocket-propelled grenades,
fragmentation grenades, heavy machine guns, antiaircraft guns,
60-millimeter mortars and booby-trapped mines made of old Pepsi cans.
The marines kept looters away, then blew up the whole building tonight
in a mighty blast, cheered by marines sheltering nearby. More
explosions followed as ammunition ignited.
Amid the crowd of looters, a man turned happily toward the marines,
held up a piece of Iraqi currency bearing Saddam Hussein's likeness and
tore it in half.
It was a scene repeated throughout the city at government ministries
and storehouses, but not at private homes and businesses, most of which
were closed and shuttered after the war began three weeks ago. Although
at least a dozen major government buildings were set on fire, most of
the looters behaved as if at a party, carrying no weapons and showing
no other signs of violence.
Among the early prizes — and among the only lootable items of value —
was a stable of about 50 racehorses owned by Uday Hussein, Saddam's
oldest son. Uday's stable was at the National Olympic Committee
headquarters in eastern Baghdad, a place that Iraqis say was used as a
torture center in recent years.
By lunchtime, American marines guarding an expressway interchange about
two miles from the Olympic Committee building were watching with
amusement as men from Saddam City, Baghdad's largest slum, moved up the
highway past them leading sleek chestnut, gray and white racehorses.
Some of the horses broke free and raced off down the expressway. The
men who had liberated them from the stables gave chase for a while, and
then gave up. The horses disappeared into the distance, to what fate in
a country with only one working racetrack, and with serious food
shortages, those watching could only guess.
The most favored of the looted items were ceiling fans, floor fans,
air-conditioning units, refrigerators — any items to ward off Baghdad's
approaching summer heat, when temperatiures in this can rise to 130
degrees. Others made off with wheeled office chairs and sofas, and the
gilded frames used for portraits of Mr. Hussein, minus the portraits,
which were torn out, stamped on, or burned.
But the day's objective, for many looters, appeared to be to return
home with some small trophy, however ill-suited to domestic life, that
could be held as a talisman of the day when Saddam Hussein's power
collapsed. One man carried a thick batch of plastic school rulers, some
empty office files, and several pairs of old, decrepit military
goggles. Others fled with reams of paper. A youth ran down a road
wheeling two huge truck tires; another carried several small office
filing cabinets on his back.
It was tiring work for many. The essential technology of the looter
without ransport of his own is wheels, almost kind of wheels. Today,
that meant using office chairs as transporters for larger items like
sofas and tables. Many, lacking wheels, collapsed outside the Air Force
Sports Club, about a mile from Saddam City, commiserating with each
other about their pitiful gains and debating whether it was worth the
effort to load up again.
Many Iraqis, watching the looting, were appalled, and wondered aloud if
it was a foretaste of what life after Mr. Hussein might bring. A
27-year-old man named Jalil, working as a translator for a foreign
reporter, said that he welcomed the American troops, so long as
Amwerican control in Iraq is brief, and power is transferred swiftly to
a representative Iraqi government capable of maintaining control. "We
have reason to be frightened," he said, "because today was just one day
of uncontrol, and you saw what happened."
April 9, 2003
Key Section of City Is Taken in a Street-by-Street Fight
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 — The battle for the heart of Baghdad began
before dawn within the sprawling gardens of Saddam Hussein's Republican
Palace and tapered off by early afternoon with the Americans in control
of an area running perhaps two miles along the Tigris's western
embankment and a mile or more back from the river.
American tanks moving out of the northern end of the presidential
compound into the city's open streets fired repeatedly in the direction
of the Information Ministry and the Iraqi broadcasting headquarters,
and came under heavy rocket, machine-gun and mortar fire in return.
Progress was halting, but the sector under American control by evening
included many of the buildings considered to have been at the heart of
Saddam Hussein's power: several of his palaces, at least six
ministries, the main Baghdad railway station, the Al Rashid hotel, the
Parliament building, the government's main conference center, and the
principal government broadcasting headquarters, beside the Information
Ministry near the river.
Iraqi state television fell silent and the daily statement from the
Iraqi information minister describing all the advances claimed by
American forces as fantasy and lies changed to a vow to "pummel the
invaders." There were clear signs that Mr. Hussein's grip on power was
Until the breakout by the Americans today, it had been possible to
believe, if only just, that the Iraqi minister, Muhammad Said
al-Sahhaf, might not be whistling Dixie, in his accustomed way, when he
predicted that the Americans would be slaughtered in a huge Iraqi
Today, his credibility disintegrated entirely.
One of Mr. Sahhaf's top officials, a man who has frequently sought to
intimidate Western reporters, was seen in the parking lot of the
Palestine Hotel in tears, embracing another official as if for courage.
In the streets for miles around the hotel, the only armed men to be
seen were clumps of exhausted, distracted-looking militiamen, slumped
in battered armchairs, rifles set aside, drawing heavily on cigarettes.
If there is to be a last-ditch fight by the Republican Guard, Mr.
Hussein's vaunted troops, or by fanatical irregular forces, the men in
black tank suits who are the most feared of the Iraqi leader's
enforcers, they were nowhere to be seen.
It was not clear if Mr. Hussein himself was alive. His personal fate
remained uncertain as Iraqi rescue teams worked through the day to dig
into the rubble of several upscale homes in the Mansur district of west
Baghdad that were obliterated by an American bombing attack on Monday
afternoon that United States commanders said was intended to kill the
Rescue workers pulling at the rubble in a crater 60 feet deep told
reporters that they believed as many as 14 people had been killed in
the attack, but responded with blank stares and agitated gestures when
they were asked if the victims might have included Mr. Hussein.
As dusk fell, the area held by the Americans fell silent, suggesting
that Iraqi resistance — fought relentlessly but ultimately hopelessly
with rockets, machine guns and other light arms — had died away.
The American advance was secured in street-by-street battles with tanks
and other armored vehicles; a foothold in Saddam Hussein's main
presidential compound on the Tigris River was transformed into a
bastion of several square miles.
Dogs ran wild in every neighborhood, perhaps abandoned by their owners
as they fled for the countryside. Whipping winds toward the late
afternoon added to the air of desolation, pulling at mounting piles of
garbage on sidewalks and sending some of the refuse rolling like
tumbleweed down the empty streets. Gas stations, with long waits only
days ago, were virtually abandoned, too.
Hospitals were islands of frantic activity, as cars and pickup trucks
joined ambulances in rushing injured civilians to casualty units that
The toll on Iraqis appeared to have been severe. Senior officials at
the Palestine Hotel on the river's eastern bank, where most
international journalists are lodged, were seen clutching each other in
distress. Whether that was from concern about their personal safety or
about the pounding being taken by Iraqi forces could not be known.
The American advance was supported by a lone A-10 Warthog tankbuster
plane that dived repeatedly through clouds of black smoke from oil
fires lighted around the city in the last two weeks in a bid to hinder
The plane appeared to be loosing heavy volleys of large-caliber cannon
rounds at Iraqi positions ahead of and around the tanks. Bursts of fire
and smoke exploded in the battle zone, and some fires continued burning
Later, an A-10 was shot down near Baghdad's international airport by an
Iraqi surface-to-air missile, Central Command announced. The pilot
bailed out and was quickly recovered. It was not clear if this was the
Independent estimates of casualties among American and Iraqi troops, or
of damage to buildings in the area, were unavailable because all four
bridges in the center of the city leading from the Tigris's eastern
bank were blocked by the fighting, and all city telephones in Baghdad
went out under American bombing last week.
The American gains in western Baghdad were matched by similar American
progress in the southeast of the city, where marines supported by
Apache helicopters seized control of Al Rashid military base, about
three miles from the point where the eastern bank of the Tigris faces
the Republican Palace on the west.
Coupled with American advances into northern Baghdad, the advances
appeared to place American commanders in a position to mount a pincers
movement that could give them control of both sides of the river in
central Baghdad far sooner than some commanders had predicted,
presenting the Iraqis with the loss of the core of their capital city
barely three weeks after the war began.
At least three, and possibly all four, of the central bridges
connecting the relatively open terrain of the government quarter in
western Baghdad to the densely-populated business and residential
districts of eastern Baghdad, home to many of this city's 4.5 million
people, appeared to be under effective American control.
American tanks advanced part-way across the bridges to a point where
they could fire at will at any Iraqis approaching the bridges from the
eastern end, where what is left of Mr. Hussein's once-consuming power
Iraqi casualties appeared to be heavy. Reporters visiting only one of
the city's major hospitals, the Kindi in eastern Baghdad, were told by
doctors that the battle for control of the government quarter had
brought in 200 to 300 civilian casualties, among them 35 dead.
On a bloodied gurney inside, a 50-year-old man who gave his name as
Talib said he had been selling cigarettes from a hand cart in Al Alawi
Square, near the city's main bus station about a mile from the Tigris,
when he was hit by shrapnel from an American tank round. Left alone by
doctors who appeared to have judged his injuries not to be
life-threatening, the man let out repeated roars of pain, saying he had
been hit in the back. "Is this Bush's promised `liberation'?" he
Daubing the white tiles of the wall beside him with his blood, he
added: "No this is a red liberation, a liberation written in blood.
Bush said he would disarm Saddam, and look how he's doing it now —
killing us, one by one. Please ask him, how do you liberate people by
One man in a green hospital smock, apparently despairing at the sight
of newly arriving dead and wounded, threw a punch at a French
photographer, striking her only lightly but unbalancing himself and
falling to the ground. Other medical staff members hurriedly urged the
journalists to leave, fearing, they said, that more serious injury
could be done to them if they lingered.
The heavy bombing on Monday aimed at killing Mr. Hussein had a profound
psychological effect on the city. Workers gathered around the wreckage
of a restaurant adjoining the crater left by the bomb, the Sa'ah, on
14th of Ramadan Street, seemed at a loss when asked who had been killed
in the bombing. The restaurant was a favorite of the Iraqi political
elite, with its black marbled facade and fast-food kebabs.
This morning, the official Iraqi television failed to broadcast a
regular news bulletin, and showed instead only old footage of Mr.
Hussein receiving popular adulation at rallies.
Shortly after 11 a.m., amid the rage of battle around the broadcast
center, television screens went blank, and the government radio went
off the air.
Iraqi drivers for some senior officials said they had fled the
Palestine and an adjoining hotel and headed out into the Iraqi
hinterland by the one exit road apparently not yet blocked by American
forces: north-eastward toward the Iranian border.
The growing dominance of American forces became clear toward evening
when two F-18 Hornets came high out of the milky sun of the late
afternoon, launching missile after missile at a 15-storey building on
the Tigris River's eastern bank that has served as a sniper's nest for
Iraqi fighters firing at American tanks on the opposite bank.
Their target, caramel yellow with black trim, and arched upper windows
that served perfectly all day as a launch pad for the rockets and
machine-gun and mortar fire the Iraqis rained on the Americans, was the
Board of Youth and Sports, a totemic stronghold of Mr. Hussein's older
That made the attack deeply symbolic, since Uday, 38, has used his
father's power to proclaim himself the czar of Iraqi sports — with the
malevolent twist that several of the sports buildings he controls,
according to Iraqis and countless Western human rights reports, have
been used as centers for torturing all who vex the younger Mr. Hussein.
Those unfortunates, Iraqis say, have ranged from losing members of the
national soccer team to anyone who whispers criticism of Mr. Hussein
the father or Mr. Hussein, the firstborn son.
How Iraqis will respond when the Iraqi ruler and his sons are finally
toppled will be central to the judgments history makes of the war, and
perhaps a foretaste came on the fifth or sixth run of one of the F-18's.
A missile was fired from low altitude and struck a bulls-eye on the
building's southern facade, at about the 10th floor, setting off a
fireball leaping into the sky, followed by a plume of thick black smoke.
An Iraqi man of about 30, wearing a track suit and watching from a
window on an upper floor of the Sheraton Hotel a mile down the river to
the south, leaned out to shout something to two reporters for American
publications who had made of their own 12th-floor balcony a grandstand
Thumbs up, grinning, the man punched the air, triumphant.
Only in afterthought, perhaps concerned that he might have been
overheard by other Iraqis, or perhaps that he might be identified from
reports the Americans would write, did he retract — with a scatological
outburst about America, but still with the same broad grin.
Until today, American airstrikes had come mostly like thunderbolts,
bombs and missiles invisible until impact, the aircraft delivering the
bombs so high, so fast, or so enveloped by night that they were
phantoms to the people of Baghdad.
No longer. For 30 minutes, the American planes soared and banked and
dived, disappearing at one moment into skies turned inky black by the
burning oil trenches around Baghdad that have been lit in an attempt to
foil American air attacks, returning the next lower, faster, gunmetal
gray in the evening sun.
April 8, 2003
Two Iraqi Ministries Are Afire After U.S. Warplanes Strike
By JOHN F. BURNS with JANE PERLEZ
BAGHDAD, April 8 — United States forces launched an air and artillery
assault on central Baghdad this morning, targeting government buildings
in the heart of the city. The Planning Ministry and the Information
Ministry were on fire after low flying American planes attacked the
center, and bursts of Howitzer fire sounded across the city.
Armored vehicles fired cannons and machine guns across the Sinak bridge
at Iraqi forces on the eastern side. In a show of force that also
symbolized American ease of movement, two Abrams tanks drove onto the
central Jumhuriya bridge over the river Tigris and fired from their
An A-10 Thunderbolt tank-busting plane that had apparently taken part
in the assault crashed near the Baghdad airport. The pilot ejected and
was safe, American military officials said.
On the southeast edge of Baghdad, in an area of low sand-colored
houses, American marines encountered bursts of small arms fire at
midmorning and one Marine was wounded in the leg.
At least three journalists were reported killed and several others
injured during the fighting.
On Monday an Air Force bomber dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on a
Baghdad neighborhood in an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein and his sons.
Bush administration and military officials said that the attack came
just 45 minutes after the C.I.A. passed on a tip to military planners
that Mr. Hussein and other Iraqi leaders were meeting at a house in
Mansur, an exclusive residential neighborhood where top leaders are
known to assemble.
It was unclear whether anyone was killed or wounded in the bombardment,
which American military officials said left a "huge smoking hole."
President Bush said today that he did not know whether or not the Iraqi
leader survived the attack.
"The only thing I know is that he is losing power," the president said
at a news conference in Ulster at the conclusion of a two-day meeting
with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "The grip I used to describe
that Saddam had around the throats of the Iraqi people are loosening. I
can't tell you if all ten fingers are off their throats, but
finger-by-finger it's coming off."
Mr. Bush added: "We will not stop until they are free. Saddam Hussein
will be gone. It might have been yesterday."
In the hours just after dawn today, two Arab satellite television
offices were hit in downtown Baghdad. Al Jazeera television said its
base at a house not far from the Ministry of Information was hit by two
air to surface missiles. An Al Jazeera reporter, Tariq Ayoub, was
killed. Abu Dhabi television said its office, not far, from Al Jazeera
was hit by small arms fire.
At least two other journalists were killed when the Palestine Hotel,
where international journalists are working, was hit during a round of
shelling by the Americans.
Reuters announced that one of its television cameramen — Taras
Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian national based in Warsaw — died when the
hotel room where he working was hit by a tank shell. At least three
other employees of the news agency were wounded.
In Madrid, officials of the Telecino Spanish television station said
today that one of their cameramen had died of injuries he sustained in
the blast. The cameraman, Jose Couso, 37, lost a leg and suffered
injuries to the jaw.
For a second day in a row, the defiant information minister, Mohammed
Saeed al-Sahaf, appeared at a roadside news conference to tell
reporters that the invaders were being defeated even though his own
ministry was not secure enough for him to preside over.
The raging battles have left the Americans in firm control of an area
encompassing the principal seats of governmental power.
American forces held an area stretching upwards of a mile and a half
along the western bank of the Tigris River, and inland at least a mile
deep. That area contains several presidential palaces and ministries,
including the Information and Planning departments, the radio and
television center, and the Al Rashid and Mansour hotels. The Americans
also took at least one of the three bridges across the Tigris.
Today's battle lasted six or seven hours and appeared to have involved
American tanks and infantry moving north from the Republican palace
that the Americans seized in a raid from the airport at dawn on Monday.
Overnight these forces battled through pitched blackness, without a
moon and with the city's electrical system shut down. Iraqi forces
fought back from inside the palace and suicide bombers threw themselves
The toll on Iraqis appeared to have been severe, and senior Iraqi
officials at the Palestine Hotel were seen clutching each other with
tears rolling down their faces, whether for concern about their
personal safety or about the pounding being taken by Iraqi forces could
not be known. That pounding includes a devastating assault Monday that
targeted Saddam Hussein and his two sons at a large residential
compound in the Mansour district.
[International aid agencies warned today that medical supplies in
Baghdad were critically low and hospitals were overburdened with
["They have reached the limit of their capacity," Nada Doumani, a
spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in
At the height of the battle in the presidential compound, Iraqi
television devoted its broadcasts through this morning to old film of
Mr. Hussein being greeted by an adoring crowd accompanied by choirs
singing praises to him and his sons, routine fare for Baghdad TV, and
thus no firm indicator of whether the leader had survived.
The TV went off the air in the late morning after American troops
pushed out of the presidential compound and made their way up a
boulevard about a thousand yards further north, to the area of the
Information Ministry and broadcast center.
The battle heightened as American troops reached the point where the
compound abuts the Al Jumhiriya bridge, one of three midtown bridges.
Bursts of fire escaped from the muzzles of Abrams tanks, and Iraqi
defenders fought back with machine gun and rocket fire. American A-10
Thunderbolts — the tank-buster aircraft nicknamed the Warthog — hovered
in the dense black smoke above the battle, diving every few minutes and
releasing bombs on Iraqi positions.
At about 8:45 a.m., three Abrams tanks moved onto the bridge and
advanced about 500 yards toward the eastern bank, halting for three
hours at the first bridge support. The tanks could be seen firing
shells at Iraqi targets on the bank, including a 10-story building
south of the bridge, from which rifle, rocket and machine gun fire had
been directed at the tanks.
Resistance from the building appeared to subside after the Americans
fired about a dozen shells. The tanks later turned their barrels across
the river and to the south, in the direction of Iraqi targets a mile or
At this point reporters in the Sheraton Hotel adjacent to the Palestine
could see an intensive battle raging along Al Rashid military airfield
about five miles away; that apparently was the point of the furthest
advance of American marines, who crossed a tributary of the Tigris on
It was in the early afternoon when a shell evidently struck the
Palestine Hotel, destroying a room on the 15th floor on the east side
with a view to the battle that was raging across the river at the
The wounded were carried out of the hotel and taken by car to Iraqi
Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the United States Army Third Infantry
Division, was quoted on the Reuters news agency shortly after the
incident saying that an American tank had fired a single round at the
"The tank was receiving small arms fire and RPG fire from the hotel and
engaged the target with one tank round," the general said, referring to
In the hours before the strike, Iraqi fighters had taken positions in
buildings adjacent to the Palestine and Sheraton hotels to fire against
The attack led to scenes of near panic inside the Palestine Hotel, with
journalists rushing down darkened stairwells to the hotel forecourt,
many in flak jackets and helmets.
Some senior Iraqi officials appeared to have abandoned the hotel where
they took up residence during the first 20 days of the war in an
apparent attempt to find safety for themselves in a building they
assumed would be immune from bombing and ground fire. Journalists
tempted to leave the immediate area were ordered to remain.
Despite the ferocious fighting, some elements of normal daily life
continued. Taxis painted their regulation orange and white could be
seen cruising for fares, and a horse-drawn dray moved slowly down the
street behind the Palestine Hotel delivering water supplies to homes
People could be seen clustering under building eaves, seeking
protection from the battle, while others dashed across the street,
glancing to the battles in the north. By lunchtime, as the battle
subsided, government workers appeared to check through the neighborhood
April 8, 2003
Capital Has Look of a Battlefield
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Tuesday, April 8 — Gunfire erupted on the grounds of the
Republican Palace early this morning, almost 24 hours after an American
tank column entered the compound, which has been repeatedly bombed by
allied planes since the war began. The explosions shook awake residents
of a city that has now come to resemble a battlefield, with Iraqi
special forces and militiamen taking up position on crucial streets and
Low flying aircraft bombed targets around the north end of the
presidential compound and near the Planning Ministry. An enormous
amount of gunfire — artillery, mortars and machine guns — thundered
over the city in a ceaseless cacophony that began at first light.
The battle appeared to be for the area to the north of the site that
American forces took on Monday.
There was fierce resistance by Iraqis whop were making attempts at a
counterattack, with some of the fighting taking place inside the
presidential compound itself.
The American units seemed to be making forays from the compound and
taking control of areas farther around it and to the north, the heart
of the Iraqi government area.
The Iraqis blocked three bridges across Tigris River from the eastern
side with large concrete blocks and dump trucks, moving antiaircraft
and artillery weapons on their side of the bridges. The area
immediately around the Palestine Hotel was being used as firing
positions, with the Iraqi forces apparently betting that they would
receive no return fire because most foreign journalists still in the
capital live there.
In the exchange the skies filled with the smoke of multiple rocket
launchers, artillery and antiaircraft fire.
The battle for the center of government's quarter of Baghdad followed a
battle through the night in the heart of the presidential compound.
American officers at the international airport said that the relentless
fighting included waves of suicide bombers, and that 600 Iraqis had
died inside the presidential compound alone.
A tank battle was under way at the north end of the presidential
compound near the Jumhuriya Bridge on the west back of the river,
extending a mile to the north. The white smoke of American tank fire
responding to the Iraqi machine guns and rifles came within 600 yards
of Information Ministry.
About 9:30, two M1A1 Abrams tanks moved eastward across the Jumhuriya
Bridge at the north end of the presidential compound until they had a
clear line of sight and then fired several rounds at Iraq positions at
the foot of bridge. The move by the tanks, enveloped with white smoke
from their volleys, appeared to be the sign that American forces
intended to advance to a crowded residential neighborhood on the east
bank of the river.
At the same time, an intensive tank and infantry battle continued
behind the tanks and appeared to be centered on a struggle for control
of an area that included the Information Ministry and the main radio
and television headquarters.
A-10 Warthog tank-buster jets circled the sky above the battle, diving
every now and then through the thick black smoke to drop ordnance, each
bomb exploding with a burst of fire and black smoke. As the battle wore
on, Iraqi resistance appeared to be diminishing.
Shortly after the mortar fire and other explosions around 4:50 a.m., a
fire burned in the palace compound on the west bank of the Tigris.
American troops and tanks from the Third Infantry Division had rumbled
in there on Monday morning as more than 1,000 marines battled their way
across the Diyala River in the southeast of the city. Dozens of Iraqi
soldiers were killed Monday in the fighting.
At Al Kindi Hospital, officials said at least 75 civilians were brought
in on Monday with various injuries.
Iraqi forces defending the city center from the east bank of the Tigris
fired back at the Americans with artillery and rocket-propelled
grenades, but as night fell on Monday, some American troops remained in
the bombed palaces in the compound, the Iraqi equivalent of the White
House, which once symbolized President Saddam Hussein's absolute power.
At least nine people died, Iraqi officials said, in an attack that left
a deep crater in the upscale Mansur neighborhood of the city.
In Washington, American officials said hours later that they had tried
to kill Mr. Hussein in a strike on the same neighborhood. There was no
indication here that Mr. Hussein or any member of his family had
In clear view across the river from the Palestine Hotel, two American
Abrams tanks idled on the embankment Monday morning at the point where
the sprawling palace grounds meet a bend in the Tigris.
A squad of American infantrymen in light brown camouflage uniforms,
with flak jackets and combat rifles, scoured the cluster of date palms
between the palaces and the water.
At one moment a group of about 20 Iraqi soldiers could be seen
scurrying away from the tanks, up the riverbank to the north, only one
of them carrying a rifle and several wearing nothing but boxer shorts.
Reaching a slipway guarded on their approach by a fence running down
into the water, some of the men plunged into the river and began
swimming upstream. The Americans opened fire, throwing cascades of
water into the air but not, apparently, striking any of the men.
A minute or two later, huts along the sandspit near the Americans
exploded into infernos, followed by the pop-pop of exploding munitions.
The scene seemed to illustrate the plight of Mr. Hussein's government,
whose army has mustered little effective resistance in the capital
despite much oratory about the grim fate awaiting American soldiers.
That official defiance continued despite the Americans' increasingly
On the eastern bank of the Tigris, a semblance of normality persisted.
Cafes were still thronged with people and street vendors did their
trade. But passage across the river was tightly controlled by
Most of the city has been without electricity and water for a week.
Working telephone lines are scarce. Long lines formed Monday outside
the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross as people
waited to place international calls. Bus stations were full of people
trying to leave, but buses were scarce.
As for the government, it showed no sign of wavering. Less than two
hours after the American incursion began, the Iraqi information
minister, Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, was at the television networks'
"stand-up" positions on the second-story roof of the Palestine Hotel's
conference center, to insist that the reporters had not seen what they
If reporters believed that they had witnessed an American drive deep
into the heart of the capital, Mr. Sahhaf, in the green uniform and
black beret of the ruling Baath Party, wished to disabuse them.
He implied that they, and American military commanders, were
hallucinating about the tanks.
"They are really sick in their minds," he said. "They said they entered
with 65 tanks into the center of the capital. I inform you that this is
too far from the reality. This story is part of their sickness. The
real truth is that there was no entry of American or British troops
into Baghdad at all." The truth, he said, was that the Americans had
pushed only a short distance out of the airport into a suburb where
they had been surrounded by Iraqi troops, with "three-quarters of them
American television images of soldiers surrounded by the marbled
sumptuousness of Mr. Hussein's palace, Mr. Sahhaf said, were shot in
"the reception hall" of the airport. "They are just cheap liars!" he
To that, Mr. Sahhaf added a genial word of advice for reporters. "Just
make sure to be accurate," he said. "Don't repeat their lies. Otherwise
you will play a marketing role for the Americans."
April 7, 2003
Sound of Guns Heralds Ground War in Baghdad
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 6 — After being subjected to two weeks of
relentless bombing that has destroyed many of the power centers of
President Saddam Hussein's government, the Iraqi capital found itself
today deep into the ground battle that promises to be the decisive
phase of America's war to topple the Iraqi leader.
From the heart of the capital, a new cacophony of battle signaled the
shift from a war fought primarily from the air to one where the outcome
will depend increasingly on American ground troops.
The earth-shaking devastation of bombs and missiles was mostly stilled
today, overtaken by the more distant sounds of artillery and rocket
fire, by the staccato of machine-gun and rifle bursts, and by the
scream of American jets flying what appeared to be low-level ground
Most of the fighting appeared to be concentrated away to the southwest
of the city, in the area of what, until its capture by American troops
on Friday, was Saddam International Airport.
Now symbolically stripped of the Iraqi leader's name by the Americans,
the airport has become a magnetic point on the personal compass of
almost everybody in this city of 4.5 million people, whether the hard
core of loyalists to Mr. Hussein or the increasingly venturous Iraqis,
numerous if not yet demonstrably a majority, who have begun to shake
off decades of fear and to whisper hauntingly that they wait anxiously
for the end.
The government has up to now held to its official line, even since the
capture of the airport three days ago: the Americans, the information
minister has repeated with a cherubic air at daily news conferences,
have fallen into the Iraqi trap by advancing to the gates of the city.
But for those listening for shifts, for the minor notes that rise even
as the major ones pound out the familiar theme, there have been hints
of a wavering certainty.
Today, the minister, Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, was no longer contending,
as he did on Saturday, that the Americans had been routed from the
airport by an Iraqi counterattack, and divided into isolated pockets
where they were surrendering en masse. Instead, he told a news
conference, the Republican Guards were "tightening the noose around the
U.S. enemy in the area surrounding the airport," having killed 50
American soldiers and destroyed six American tanks.
That appeared to be a subtle but important shift, an acknowledgment
that American forces really are close by and ready to fight. As for the
citizens of Baghdad, the question being posed by many is this: when
will American tanks and infantry try to storm the city, not as they did
for a few hours early Saturday, but in earnest, with intent to seize
the city's heart, to haul down the Iraqi flag that still flutters atop
the Republican Palace.
To Mr. Hussein's die-hard supporters, the very notion that the Iraqi
ruler's days might be numbered remains unthinkable, or at least
inadmissible. But today the information minister's talk of the
"scoundrels" and "villains" and "criminals" who have invaded Iraq was
in a lesser key, subordinated to more pressing, more practical
concerns. Iraqis, he said, should be on the lookout everywhere for the
enemy, and "should not ignore" sightings of American units, or fail to
report them to the Iraqi military.
From the official Iraqi standpoint, Mr. Sahhaf has made himself the
media star of the war, if anybody other than Mr. Hussein would dare
claim that distinction for himself.
A sort of Iraqi Donald H. Rumsfeld with the rhetorical flourishes of
Soviet-era Moscow, he likes to muse on stage, developing his thrusts,
amusing himself with his caustic wit at the Americans' expense.
But he was in a distinctly more sober mood today. In a statement read
on state television, he said Iraqis should not be prey to "rumors,"
especially of a kind that suggested that American forces were gaining
the upper hand.
The allies, he said, "might attempt to release rumors, believing that
they can cause confusion, and tell lies, asserting that there is a
landing here and there."
At about the time that statement was being broadcast, Iraqis who had
filled up at a Baghdad gas station were reporting that drivers arriving
from points west and northwest of the city were telling of seeing
American paratroopers descending from the sky alongside the access
roads that American commanders, in Qatar, were saying they were seizing
so as to tighten the encirclement of Baghdad. There was no way of
knowing if those sightings were merely the work of the imaginations of
Mr. Sahhaf had other words of advice, and warning. Iraqi fighters, he
said, should refrain from firing their guns in Baghdad "for no reason,"
as many appear to have done through the prolonged heavy bombing,
conducted from an altitude that made the endless rattle of antiaircraft
guns and automatic rifle seem more like a reaffirmation of
vulnerability than an act of meaningful defense.
But if that sounded like an appeal for conserving ammunition, there was
an intriguing, slightly menacing, counterpoint. With the enemy in
Baghdad, he said, it was the duty now for "anybody who wants to do so
to use his weapon," and anybody who failed to do so would be considered
"cursed." Violators, he said, would not be treated leniently.
Later in the day, Mr. Hussein himself weighed in, in the form of a
message to Iraqi fighters read on television. The smiling Iraqi leader
was shown in his field marshal's uniform presiding at a meeting with
senior officials that was said to have taken place today.
In a film broadcast on Friday that showed Mr. Hussein, or a double,
strolling about some of Baghdad's western neighborhoods, the message
was of a leader on top of his game, full of beaming, hand-slapping,
But the statement read on his behalf today suggested an awareness that
the Iraqi Army was not getting its job done. First, the statement said
that anybody who destroyed an allied tank, armored personnel carrier or
artillery gun would be awarded 15 million Iraqi dinars, about $5,000.
Second, any Iraqi fighter losing touch with his unit during battle "let
him join a unit of the same kind that he is able to join."
To some Iraqis, that sounded like a warning against giving up when
units are decimated by American firepower, as American commanders have
reported Iraqi soldiers and paramilitaries doing in droves. Reporters
traveling with American units pushing north to Baghdad have described
roadsides littered with abandoned combat boots and uniforms, and large
numbers of young men in civilian clothes waving white strips of cloth.
In the effort to show Iraqi defenses as holding, and even prevailing,
the Information Ministry organized a press tour of a sole, burned-out
American M1A1 Abrams tank that had been abandoned on an expressway
during the probing reconnaissance that a unit of the Third Infantry
Division conducted on Saturday.
The tank, presumably, was one of the six that Mr. Sahhaf claimed as
trophies of Iraq's counterattack on the American forces near the
airport. An Iraqi officer, Brig. Muhammad Jassim, told reporters that
the tank was one of five American tanks destroyed in the battle, the
other four having been towed away by the Iraqis to make way for traffic.
The American account acknowledged the loss of one tank.
The Iraqis at the site of the abandoned tank gave another version, one
that made the American probe not so much a tour de force as a debacle.
Senior army officers joined with officials of the ruling Baath Party in
clambering atop the tank and chanting devotions to Mr. Hussein.
"God is great, and to him we owe thanks," someone had scribbled in
Arabic on the blackened hulk. Soldiers were produced to describe the
withering fire that had been trained on the Americans, and to affirm
that all Iraqis were ready to die for their leader.
The lone tank hardly made the triumphal point Iraqi officials intended,
especially when Western newsmen were conducted to the scene along a
highway littered with the tangled, burned-out wreckage of at least 30
Iraqi tanks, armored carriers, army trucks, artillery guns and pick-up
trucks of the kind favored by the Fedayeen Saddam.
What the tour also showed was that large areas of Baghdad are being
turned into a military camp. Tanks, armored cars and artillery guns
could be seen posted near bridges, in civilian neighborhoods and
alongside the expressways, at places where no major defenses were
visible only days ago. Soldiers and paramilitaries were visible digging
bunkers. Some flashed victory signs at the Westerners as they drove by.
April 6, 2003
Defiant Iraqis Say U.S. Advance Has Been Broken
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 5 — Senior Iraqi officials remained defiant today
in the face of American military might, asserting that Iraqi soldiers
and suicide bombers had "crushed" American troops at Baghdad's
international airport and broken the American advance on the capital
into isolated pockets that were surrendering to relentless Iraqi
On a day when American commanders sent advance units probing within
miles of central Baghdad, the official Iraqi response was mocking and
triumphalist, much as it has been throughout the 17 days of war.
To Westerners here who have kept abreast of the military situation by
satellite telephone links to the outside world, the situation appeared
to confirm, ever more strongly, that the rigidities of the system built
by Saddam Hussein have become a debilitating handicap to Iraq's ability
to confront American power. After years of unquestioning fealty, senior
Iraqi officials seemed unwilling to provide any interpretation of
military events that might prejudice Mr. Hussein's claim to be the
embodiment of Iraq's invincibility.
Nothing seemed to demonstrate this more clearly than the events that
shook the capital this morning. Not long after dawn, Iraqis venturing
into southwestern Baghdad toward the international airport returned to
the east side of the Tigris River to report having seen American tanks
a few miles from the palaces and ministries in the city center that
have been the most visible symbols of Mr. Hussein's dominance. They
began speaking as if the day might end with the government's collapse
and the Stars and Stripes flying over the capital.
That this response was not peculiar to Iraqis favoring Mr. Hussein's
fall was apparent from the sudden frantic stirrings in the streets
around the Palestine Hotel, quarters for the foreign journalists
sequestered by the government on the Tigris's eastern bank. Cars driven
by loyalists of the governing Baath Party began touring the
neighborhood with loudspeakers proclaiming Mr. Hussein's glories and
Iraqis' resolve to fight Americans to the death.
Simultaneously, a cavalcade of police cars, sirens wailing, set out on
a demonstration of their own, as if to remind any waverers that Mr.
Hussein remained the decisive force in the neighborhood.
By sunset, the excitement had subsided. It became clear that the
probing advances by the American forces had been, mostly, just that —
thrusts into the city, as an American military spokesman at the Central
Command headquarters in Qatar said, intended to shake Iraqi confidence
without yet making a challenge for outright control.
The thrusts, Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart said, according to a Reuters
report, were intended to "demonstrate to the Iraqi leadership that they
do not have control in the way they continue to say on their
But if this was the American strategy, it was far removed from the
Iraqi construction of the day's realities. Information Minister
Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf made his regular daily foray to the Palestine
Hotel to put things into perspective, Iraqi style. His main point was
that the American capture of the airport on Friday had been reversed by
an Iraqi counterattack using regular units and "a very innovative way
of war" involving suicide bombers.
General Renuart, in Qatar, said today that the Americans remained in
firm control of the airport and that they would continue moving into
Baghdad as and when they chose.
But Mr. Sahhaf said, essentially, that the Americans were in the world
"We have defeated them, in fact we have crushed them in the place of
Saddam International Airport," he said. "We have pushed them outside
the whole area of the airport."
To drive home this claim of American desperation, he added this account
of the battle: "They have done everything crazy, everything crazy, in
order to lessen the pressure we have put on their troops."
The Iraqi strategy, Mr. Sahhaf said, was to drive the Americans back to
pockets of resistance outside Baghdad. One place mentioned was Abu
Ghraib, west of the capital, notorious as the site of the grimmest
prison in Mr. Hussein's gulag.
Travelers reaching Baghdad in recent days described American troops
with tanks at checkpoints on the expressway that passes Abu Ghraib on
the way to Jordan. But Mr. Sahhaf said that the American units there,
and at two other locations he named as Hadithi and Qadisiya, were
surrounded by Iraqi troops.
"We nailed them down," he said.
These expressions of bravado appeared to have been reinforced by film
shown on television on Friday and again today of a man identified as
Mr. Hussein visiting neighborhoods in western Baghdad and being greeted
with jubilation by ordinary citizens. Iraqis who saw the broadcast said
they had no doubt that the man was indeed Mr. Hussein, not a double.
While questions lingered, including when the video was made, the effect
on Mr. Hussein's most zealous loyalists was beyond doubt. At the
Palestine Hotel, the mood among Iraqi officials brightened.
For two weeks, they had pointed to the nightly television broadcasts of
Mr. Hussein meeting senior officials as proof that he was still in
command. But perhaps they, like officials in Washington, had begun to
doubt whether these scenes were new or recycled from the past.
Now, with the Iraqi leader's appearance on the streets, they seemed to
rediscover the confidence shaken when the war began on March 20 with a
cruise missile strike aimed at a meeting in Baghdad of senior officials
who, the Pentagon said, might have included Mr. Hussein.
Oddly, the political flourish involved in the Iraqi leader's televised
walkabout was followed today by a reversion to one of the expedients
that had led American intelligence analysts — and many Iraqis — to
conclude that Mr. Hussein might have been killed or incapacitated by
the missile strike. This afternoon, Mr. Sahhaf was back on television
reading a message from Mr. Hussein, without any explanation as to why
the leader could not have delivered the message himself.
The message made no reference to the American seizure of the airport or
the Iraqi counterattack that followed, curious perhaps given that most
television viewers — a small minority, because Baghdad has been without
electricity for 48 hours — must have known of the fighting on the
city's southern rim.
Mr. Hussein's statement was economical in his references to the
fighting, saying only that the "invaders" were concentrating on Baghdad
but weakening elsewhere.
"The criminals will be humiliated," he said.
Later, scenes of Mr. Hussein presiding over a gathering of top aides
were broadcast, but it was unclear when or where the meeting took place.
Twice today, the Information Ministry took reporters on a tour of the
city's western districts where the American thrusts had been reported
around dawn. The Iraqis seemed particularly keen to show that the
district of Yarmouk, about five miles from the airport, remained under
Iraqi control. Reporters who saw the Yarmouk hospital this afternoon
reported no sign of American troops, or of any battle in the area.
But there were other signs that something had happened in the area, and
that the Iraqis were not eager for it to be known. An American
photographer who reached the hospital this morning described large
numbers of Iraqi casualties arriving on stretchers. When the busload of
reporters arrived hours later, they were told the visit to the hospital
was canceled, without explanation.
What the bus tours did show was that defenses in the city center had
been strengthened. Today, tanks and artillery were positioned beside
tall buildings or in parks. Soldiers could be seen digging bunkers.
Just about everywhere, families were busy loading up cars with
possessions, mostly food and clothing. But the question on almost every
Iraqi's lips when meeting Westerners was the one that nobody could
answer: How long before the Americans push into the city to stay? How
long before this war will be over?
April 5, 2003
Iraqi TV Presents a Relaxed Hussein
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 4 — With American troops moving cautiously toward
placing the city under siege, Iraqi television tonight showed a
12-minute film of a relaxed and cheerful man it said was Saddam Hussein
strolling with apparent nonchalance around Baghdad and stopping to
exchange greetings with ordinary Iraqis.
The film, shown several times during the evening, appeared to be Iraq's
riposte to conjecture among officials in Washington that the
65-year-old ruler might have been killed or incapacitated in the
opening American missile strikes of the war, 16 days ago. The man shown
looked like a champion returning to neighborhoods where he has been
The Pentagon had said that the war's opening salvos on March 20 were
aimed at a meeting of top Iraqi leaders in a military compound in
southern Baghdad that intelligence had indicated might have included
Mr. Hussein and possibly his two sons, Uday and Qusay.
Today, at what appeared to be a critical juncture of the war, with
American troops occupying the airport just to the west of the city,
Iraq produced what amounted to a coup de théâtre, one that put Mr.
Hussein back on the public stage in a way that sought to puncture the
notion that he and his associates were on the ropes.
Whatever the impression the film made in Washington, most people here
believed it was Saddam Hussein, alive, well and garrulous. It was him,
down to his loping walk, his thick, almost lisping Arabic with the
accent of his native district of Tikrit, and the thick mustache now
The message conveyed, people here said, was as powerful as any the
Iraqi leader has contrived in a long time — at least for those Iraqis
who saw it, a dwindling number in Baghdad, where the power went out
across the city just as a new wave of heavy American air attacks began
on Thursday night.
With Baghdad plunged into darkness, and American artillery audible in
the city, the increased tension in the capital stood in marked contrast
to the casual air affected by the Iraqi leader in the film, if it was
A few hours before the broadcast, state television also showed images
of Mr. Hussein with a new speech from what appeared to be the same
low-ceilinged bunker he used before, sitting at the same lectern and
beside the same Iraqi flag as he did on March 24. This time, he urged
Iraqis to fight against the growing encirclement of Baghdad.
"Strike them with the power of faith wherever they approach you, and
resist them, O courageous citizens of Baghdad," Mr. Hussein said. "With
the grace of God, you will be the victors, and they will be the
vanquished. Our martyrs will go to paradise, and their dead will go to
Leafing through a text roughly handwritten on a fold-over notepad, he
made no mention of the capture of the airport.
But his remarks appeared to have been drafted in the light of the
sudden change in the military map that had occurred in the past 48
hours, with the American Third Infantry Division and the Marines' First
Division driving rapidly north from the southwest and southeast into
the outer reaches of the city.
"The enemy has evaded the defenses of our armed forces around Baghdad
and other cities and has progressed, as we expected, to some landings
here and there," the Iraqi leader said. Belittling this, he said, "In
most cases, these landings have been made on the highways and involve a
small number of troops that you can confront and destroy with the arms
that you have."
Few films, if any, seem certain to receive closer scrutiny than the one
showing Mr. Hussein in the streets of Baghdad. But the provisional
answers to the questions it posed that were given tonight by Iraqis
friendly enough to Western reporters to speak candidly about Mr.
Hussein — and to whisper that they yearned for an Iraq without him —
offered little comfort to American war planners.
The man was Mr. Hussein, they insisted. That was the Iraqi leader's
slight paunch visible when the man in the film turned sideways to the
camera as he accepted the cheers of the crowd. That was his gesture —
chopping the air with his right hand, palm clenched, thumb upward, just
as Mr. Hussein is shown doing in a battalion of statues around Baghdad.
As for the dating of the film, it seemed unarguable that it was shot
after the start of the war.
The black smoke that has plumed skyward over Baghdad since March 22,
when trenches filled with a heavy oil were first lit in an attempt to
blind American pilots and the guidance systems of bombs and missiles,
was clearly visible on the horizon.
The black car carrying Mr. Hussein, apparently a luxury Mercedes or one
of its Japanese equivalents, was shown driving past streets of
shuttered shops, some with their windows taped, a step almost no Iraqis
took until the war began.
Other glimpses of street life resembled what Western reporters have
seen during the war: men fanning open air spits at restaurants still
offering kebabs, and traffic much diminished but still busy enough,
with double-decker buses and battered white-and-orange taxis and
At least one place where he stopped was easy to identify: across the
street from an auction house in the Mansour district where many Iraqis
have gone to sell their furniture and household appliances in recent
years to stave off penury as the economy collapsed under the weight of
Mr. Hussein's wars and international sanctions.
This placed the Iraqi leader — if it was him — at least halfway to the
airport from the largest of his vast compounds in Baghdad, the now
almost-obliterated Republican Palace grounds. The weather, too, was a
clue — overcast, just as it was in Baghdad today, and a sharp break
from Thursday, when clear blue skies aided American attacks that were
among the heaviest of the war.
All in all, Iraqis friendly to Americans concluded, this was almost
certainly Mr. Hussein, and the day he was filmed most probably today.
For years, Mr. Hussein has limited his public appearances to rare
moments atop the reviewing stand at Army Day parades and other
portentous events. When he has been seen moving among ordinary Iraqis,
it has been on old film, endlessly recycled on television, showing him
being enveloped by adoring, chanting crowds. The more these films have
been shown, the more many ordinary Iraqis have seen them as the obverse
of the essential truth, that Mr. Hussein is an isolated, secretive,
cruel leader. Against this sense of the Iraqi president, today's film
A handful of security men could be seen around Mr. Hussein, but nothing
like the layers of steely eyed men described by the few foreigners who
have met him in his palaces.
Principally, his security seemed to be left to two bulky men in sports
shirts carrying Kalashnikov rifles, and their concern appeared to be to
keep a way clear for Mr. Hussein as he moved forward to greet people,
not to watch for potential assassins.
At one point, a small, curly haired boy of about 2 was thrust into his
arms. Like any politician on the hustings, Mr. Hussein held the boy up,
Beside Mr. Hussein, throughout, were two senior-looking officials in
the green uniforms that are the common dress among military men and
officials of the ruling Baath Party. Aside from them, there was no
obvious sign of the Baath Party officials who normally lurk among the
crowds to orchestrate adulation for the leader.
Film shot from what appeared to be the front passenger seat of the
Iraqi leader's car gave glimpses of the heart-stopping moments other
drivers must have had as his car drove by, assuming the drivers knew
who he was.
At one point, as the car crossed a bridge over an expressway and pulled
to the right to make an off-ramp, it pulled past a battered taxi that
could have been a totem for the humiliations that have befallen
ordinary people in Mr. Hussein's Iraq.
But it was triumph rather than humiliation that the government sought
to project today.
The information minister, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, positively chirped
as he laid out the Iraqi version of events at the Palestine Hotel,
quarters for all foreign reporters covering the war.
He said American advances in a broad crescent across Baghdad's southern
approaches were all part of an Iraqi plan to lure the Americans into a
catastrophic defeat at the gates of Baghdad.
The minister said Iraqi forces had battled the Americans at every point
of their advance, inflicting "heavy injuries and killings" and
destroying large numbers of tanks and other vehicles.
The airport, he said, will be "the Americans' graveyard now."
April 4, 2003
Both the New and Routinely Old Shape Daily Life in Baghdad
By JOHN F. BURNS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 3 — For one motorcycle patrolman here today, it
seemed to matter little that columns of American troops were nearing
the capital, or that the drivers still on the roads might have reasons
to hasten in a city under heavy bombing, or even that the government
whose laws he enforces might not be quite so solid as its ceaseless
announcements of battlefield triumphs have implied.
Idling on the embankment beside the Tigris on a perfect spring day, the
leather-jacketed patrolman spotted a car careering though a red light,
and gave chase.
From an 11th-floor balcony of the Palestine Hotel, it was not possible
to hear what the driver of the red Mercedes said when he was pulled
over halfway down the block, but his gestures conveyed the essence
powerfully enough. "Get real," the driver seemed to be saying. "Look at
the sky. Look across the river. The old is giving way to the new."
Across the river, in plain view not 1,000 yards away, lay Saddam
Hussein's principal palace complex, and within it the burned-out,
blackened ruins of the old seats of power. Above, through much of the
day, were the vapor trails of American bombers. Some were visible
through field glasses as B-52's that arrowed in needle-straight from
Untroubled by antiaircraft fire, they curved southward toward the front
lines where American troops were pushing through the battered lines of
the Republican Guard, or banked to the east to home in on targets in
the heart of Baghdad.
Since the war began two weeks ago, the people of Baghdad have been
exposed to a reality so stark, so astonishing, so overwhelming, that
those who have witnessed it have struggled to find words adequate to
express what they have seen.
To have been in Berlin or Dresden or Hamburg in the last months of
World War II would surely have been more ghastly, for the sheer numbers
of casualties caused by the Allies' bombing.
But American air power, as the 21st century begins, is a terrible swift
sword that strikes with a suddenness, a devastation and a precision, in
most cases, that moves even agnostics to reach for words associated
with the power of gods.
Along with this, life under the bombing has continued to roll forward
with an everyday nonchalance that, in its own way, has been as hard to
adjust to as the bombing.
On the same street where the driver was pulled over this morning, a man
who owns a boutique selling expensive perfumes to the Iraqi elite — a
man dependent on the custom of people grown rich and powerful under the
nearly 24-year-old rule of Mr. Hussein, and thus a man whose fortunes
could be about to tank — was busy washing his open-top Japanese jeep,
with red flashes on the side to mark him as a man with zip. Car washed,
he took the hose to the plants flanking his boutique's doorway.
If there was any doubt that Iraqis in the neighborhood had some idea of
what was going on just beyond the horizon, it disappeared at another
sight on the same street, of policemen at a precinct house gathering on
the sidewalk, six or seven at a time, to gaze down the Tigris past the
point where the muddy green river turns from its southbound course
through the city's heart to curve southwest.
For days, those gazing across the river have been measuring the
devastation wrought by the bombing on the Republican Palace compound
that is enfolded by the river's curve, but today the policemen's arms
were pointing past the palace grounds, down the river, to an invisible
point 10 or 20 miles away where the American Third Infantry Division
was rapidly moving north.
The officer chasing the motorist, the perfume man washing his car, the
policemen standing in the street: All were testaments, in the way they
ignored today's bombing raids, to how little threatened, individually,
most people in Baghdad seem to have felt by the air attacks.
The news this morning that American troops were nearing Saddam
International Airport, 10 miles from the city center to the southwest,
and had taken control of the highway leading west to Jordan at Abu
Ghraib, 15 miles from the capital's heart, caused many families who had
sat out the bombing to leave the city, many to the north where there
has been no massed American advance, others to the east toward Iran,
some even southward toward the American front lines.
The fear driving the exodus, by car, bus and truck, was of
street-to-street fighting, revenge killings, a last-minute paroxysm of
violence by the enforcers of the terror that has bludgeoned Iraq for
three decades. For many Iraqis, this has been the nightmare all along,
the least calculable part of the "price" they tell Westerners they have
known would come with any American invasion to topple Mr. Hussein.
The implication in these whispered conversations has been that there
has been a price, in limited casualties, that many, perhaps even most,
Iraqis would be prepared to pay for their freedom, but that equally
there was a price that would be too high.
With the battle for Baghdad about to be joined, that price will now be
set, and with it, an outsider can imagine, the estimate many Iraqis
will ultimately make of the war. But many people in Baghdad seem to
have made their judgment about the air campaign already.
After the first few days, life in the city's streets gradually began
reviving as confidence grew that there was not going to be widespread
carnage, with American bombs and missiles striking wildly at civilians.
Today, as for many days past, city-center gathering spots like
Liberation Square, site of the lamppost hangings of nine Iraqi Jews
condemned for spying in 1969, were busy with fruit and vegetable
sellers, and hawkers doing brisk trade in the water canisters and
buckets, duct tape and canned food, sacks of flour and candles, that
have been the biggest sellers in recent weeks.
That American bombs and missiles have gone astray is beyond challenge.
Pentagon officials acknowledged before the war that even with the
advances in satellite-guided targeting systems since the Persian Gulf
war in 1991, no technology was foolproof, and mistakes would be made.
How many there have been in this war will be clearer when the fighting
ends, but the impression gained from living the war in the center of
Baghdad has been that many of the strikes that have been visible —
either from the grandstand view afforded by the Palestine Hotel's
balconies, or from the guided bus tours of bomb sites around the city
organized by Iraqi Information Ministry officials — have been
On visits to neighborhoods around the city, reporters have seen homes,
workshops and sidewalks where airstrikes have killed dozens of
civilians and wounded many more. In some cases, the huge size of the
craters, the proximity to military installations and witnesses'
accounts have lent credibility to the Iraqi claims that the strikes
In others, including the marketplace bombing that Iraq said killed 62
people in the Shula district of western Baghdad on Friday, there have
been more questions than answers. Often, as in Shula, officials have
delayed taking reporters to the site for hours, and have met with
evasions the inquiries about the unusually small crater at the
marketplace, and the fact that most victims appeared to have died from
shrapnel wounds and not from the kind of blast associated with
high-energy bombs and missiles.
Iraqi officials asserted today that their toll for civilian casualties
from all forms of American arms was 677 killed and 5,062 wounded, of
whom about one third have been in Baghdad.
The information minister, Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, said at a news
conference at noon that the civilian toll from the bombing in the
capital in the previous 24 hours alone was 27 dead and 193 wounded. But
he gave no incident-by-incident breakdown, and, as has often been the
case, Western reporters and photographers dependent on Iraqi permission
to visit bombing sites were given no opportunity to judge for
For many journalists who have witnessed it, the most powerful image of
the bombing, apart from visits to sites where significant numbers of
Iraqis died, has been of target after target that has been struck with
the precision of a sniper's bullet.
Over a few days in the last week, at least six inner-city telephone
exchanges were destroyed, apparently to disrupt the Iraqi leadership's
ability to conduct the war from the safety of underground bunkers and
other hideouts. In almost every case, the missiles or bombs used
appeared to have struck bulls-eyes in the roofs, plunging downward into
the buildings' hearts before exploding with a force that left nothing
but dangling wires, shattered concrete and twisted steel. At two
exchanges, hours later, a lone beeper continued to wail in the
wreckage, like a bell tolling for the departed.
But the striking thing, in these cases, was that even Iraqi officials
made no claims of deaths. The neighborhoods where the exchanges and
other probable targets are situated were mostly abandoned days ahead of
the strikes, as were the targets.
The Information Ministry, struck three times by cruise missiles in as
many days, emptied out after the Pentagon gave what turned out to be 48
hours' notice that it would be attacked. Iraqi officials said only one
man had been wounded.
One destroyed telephone exchange, in the Salhiya district near the
Baghdad railway station, was obliterated, with no visible damage apart
from debris falling in the garden to the adjacent compound, 100 feet
away, that houses the Saddam Center for Cardiac Surgery.
Putting together the American war in Iraq as told by Americans, and
Iraq's war with America as told by Iraqis, has been one of the more
bizarre aspects of the conflict as experienced from Baghdad.
To hear the Iraqi ministers tell it, American and British forces have
suffered defeat after humiliating defeat.
Today, Mr. Sahhaf, the information minister, bounced into the daily
briefings, a short, stocky, burnished man in green uniform and black
beret, ever ready to rock back with laughter at the felicity of his
Soviet-style phrase-making about the "criminals" and "villains" and
"mercenaries" and "lackeys" who have invaded Iraq.
Unfailingly courteous, he could almost be called a jolly fellow, save
for the pistol he wears at his hip, a reminder that the government he
serves has rarely stinted to resort to more persuasive forms of
argumentation when discourse has run its course.
By early this afternoon, American reports from the battlefront
suggested that Iraqi defenses around Baghdad, as well as at Basra,
Nasiriya, Najaf and Kut, were taking a pounding. But Mr. Sahhaf was as
bullish as ever. At Kut, he said, the Americans had been "bitterly
defeated." At Hilla, too.
"We're giving them a real lesson today," he burbled. " `Heavy' doesn't
accurately describe the level of casualties we have inflicted."
As for reports that American troops were nearing the airport at
Baghdad, he chuckled. "The Americans aren't even 100 miles from
Baghdad," he said.
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