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The most successful tyranny is not the one
that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the
awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable
that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an
"This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it." - Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural
It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong. --Voltaire--
consciousness is freedom
Life is religion. Life experiences reflect how one interacts with God. Those who are asleep are those of little faith in terms of their interaction with the creation. Some people think that the world exists for them to overcome or ignore or shut out. For those individuals, the worlds will cease. They will become exactly what they give to life. They will become merely a dream in the "past." People who pay strict attention to objective reality right and left, become the reality of the "Future." [Cassiopaea 09-28-02]
April 9, 2003 Today's edition of Brought to You by The Bush Junta, Produced and Directed by the CIA, based on an original script by Henry Kissinger, with a cast of billions....The "Greatest Shew on Earth," no doubt, and if you don't have a good sense of humor, don't read this page! It is designed to reveal the "unseen." If you can't stand the heat of Objective Reality, get out of the kitchen!
Americans, Iraqis Haul Away Spoils of War From palace ashtrays and pillows to jeeps and a grand piano, the spoils of war are flying fast in Iraq. Civilians have plundered with little fear of retribution and some U.S. soldiers have helped themselves to battlefield souvenirs — a practice that could land them in trouble. Looting has flared in nearly lawless Iraq as coalition forces wipe out the forces of President Saddam Hussein and his ruling Baath Party infrastructure. Opportunists have seized whatever they can — looking for an easy windfall, revenge against the regime or even battlefield mementos. After a tank battle in the town of Az Zubayr, Iraqis leisurely picked through government offices, stealing radios, metal bed frames and an air conditioner. Others made off with a military jeep. In the nearby city of Basra, townspeople raided the offices of the Central Bank, streaming out with chairs, tables and carpets. Looters at the Sheraton Hotel loaded sofas into horse-drawn carts, and even wheeled the hotel's grand piano down a street. But Iraqis aren't alone in seizing the moment. During the march on Baghdad, U.S. troops have nicked items of their own, despite military rules forbidding it. On Monday, troops from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division stormed one of Iraq's presidential palaces. They used Saddam's toilets, but also rifled through documents and helped themselves to ashtrays, pillows, gold-painted Arab glassware and other souvenirs.
Robert Fisk: Is There Some Element In The US Military That Wants To Take Out Journalists? First the Americans killed the correspondent of al-Jazeera yesterday and wounded his cameraman. Then, within four hours, they attacked the Reuters television bureau in Baghdad, killing one of its cameramen and a cameraman for Spain's Tele 5 channel and wounding four other members of the Reuters staff.
Was it possible to believe this was an accident? Or was it possible that the right word for these killings - the first with a jet aircraft, the second with an M1A1 Abrams tank - was murder? These were not, of course, the first journalists to die in the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Terry Lloyd of ITV was shot dead by American troops in southern Iraq, who apparently mistook his car for an Iraqi vehicle. His crew are still missing. Michael Kelly of The Washington Post tragically drowned in a canal. Two journalists have died in Kurdistan. Two journalists - a German and a Spaniard - were killed on Monday night at a US base in Baghdad, with two Americans, when an Iraqi missile exploded amid them.
And we should not forget the Iraqi civilians who are being killed and maimed by the hundred and who - unlike their journalist guests - cannot leave the war and fly home. So the facts of yesterday should speak for themselves. Unfortunately for the Americans, they make it look very like murder.
The US jet turned to rocket al-Jazeera's office on the banks of the Tigris at 7.45am local time yesterday. The television station's chief correspondent in Baghdad, Tariq Ayoub, a Jordanian-Palestinian, was on the roof with his second cameraman, an Iraqi called Zuheir, reporting a pitched battle near the bureau between American and Iraqi troops. Mr Ayoub's colleague Maher Abdullah recalled afterwards that both men saw the plane fire the rocket as it swooped toward their building, which is close to the Jumhuriya Bridge upon which two American tanks had just appeared.
"On the screen, there was this battle and we could see bullets flying and then we heard the aircraft," Mr Abdullah said. "The plane was flying so low that those of us downstairs thought it would land on the roof - that's how close it was. We actually heard the rocket being launched. It was a direct hit - the missile actually exploded against our electrical generator. Tariq died almost at once. Zuheir was injured."
Now for America's problems in explaining this little saga. Back in 2001, the United States fired a cruise missile at al-Jazeera's office in Kabul - from which tapes of Osama bin Laden had been broadcast around the world. No explanation was ever given for this extraordinary attack on the night before the city's "liberation"; the Kabul correspondent, Taiseer Alouni, was unhurt. By the strange coincidence of journalism, Mr Alouni was in the Baghdad office yesterday to endure the USAF's second attack on al-Jazeera.
Far more disturbing, however, is the fact that the al-Jazeera network - the freest Arab television station, which has incurred the fury of both the Americans and the Iraqi authorities for its live coverage of the war - gave the Pentagon the co-ordinates of its Baghdad office two months ago and received assurances that the bureau would not be attacked. Then on Monday, the US State Department's spokesman in Doha, an Arab-American called Nabil Khouri, visited al-Jazeera's offices in the city and, according to a source within the Qatari satellite channel, repeated the Pentagon's assurances. Within 24 hours, the Americans had fired their missile into the Baghdad office.
The next assault, on Reuters, came just before midday when an Abrams tank on the Jamhuriya Bridge suddenly pointed its gun barrel towards the Palestine Hotel where more than 200 foreign journalists are staying to cover the war from the Iraqi side. Sky Television's David Chater noticed the barrel moving. The French television channel France 3 had a crew in a neighbouring room and videotaped the tank on the bridge. The tape shows a bubble of fire emerging from the barrel, the sound of a detonation and then pieces of paintwork falling past the camera as it vibrates with the impact.
In the Reuters bureau on the 15th floor, the shell exploded amid the staff. It mortally wounded a Ukrainian cameraman, Taras Protsyuk, who was also filming the tanks, and seriously wounded another member of the staff, Paul Pasquale from Britain, and two other journalists, including Reuters' Lebanese-Palestinian reporter Samia Nakhoul. On the next floor, Tele 5's cameraman Jose Couso was badly hurt. Mr Protsyuk died shortly afterwards. His camera and its tripod were left in the office, which was swamped with the crew's blood. Mr Couso had a leg amputated but he died half an hour after the operation.
The Americans responded with what all the evidence proves to be a straightforward lie. General Buford Blount of the US 3rd Infantry Division - whose tanks were on the bridge - announced that his vehicles had come under rocket and rifle fire from snipers in the Palestine Hotel, that his tank had fired a single round at the hotel and that the gunfire had then ceased. The general's statement, however, was untrue. I was driving on a road between the tanks and the hotel at the moment the shell was fired - and heard no shooting. The French videotape of the attack runs for more than four minutes and records absolute silence before the tank's armament is fired. And there were no snipers in the building. Indeed, the dozens of journalists and crews living there - myself included - have watched like hawks to make sure that no armed men should ever use the hotel as an assault point.
This is, one should add, the same General Blount who boasted just over a month ago that his crews would be using depleted uranium munitions - the kind many believe to be responsible for an explosion of cancers after the 1991 Gulf War - in their tanks. For General Blount to suggest, as he clearly does, that the Reuters camera crew was in some way involved in shooting at Americans merely turns a meretricious statement into a libellous one.
Again, we should remember that three dead and five wounded journalists do not constitute a massacre - let alone the equivalence of the hundreds of civilians being maimed by the invasion force. And it is a truth that needs to be remembered that the Iraqi regime has killed a few journalists of its own over the years, with tens of thousands of its own people. But something very dangerous appeared to be getting loose yesterday. General Blount's explanation was the kind employed by the Israelis after they have killed the innocent. Is there therefore some message that we reporters are supposed to learn from all this? Is there some element in the American military that has come to hate the press and wants to take out journalists based in Baghdad, to hurt those whom our Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has maliciously claimed to be working "behind enemy lines". Could it be that this claim - that international correspondents are in effect collaborating with Mr Blunkett's enemy (most Britons having never supported this war in the first place) - is turning into some kind of a death sentence?
I knew Mr Ayoub. I have broadcast during the war from the rooftop on which he died. I told him then how easy a target his Baghdad office would make if the Americans wanted to destroy its coverage - seen across the Arab world - of civilian victims of the bombing. Mr Protsyuk of Reuters often shared the Palestine Hotel's elevator with me. Samia Nakhoul, who is 42, has been a friend and colleague since the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. She is married to the Financial Times correspondent David Gardner.
Yesterday afternoon, she lay covered in blood in a Baghdad hospital. And General Blount dared to imply that this innocent woman and her brave colleagues were snipers. What, I wonder, does this tell us about the war in Iraq? 'The American forces knew exactly what this hotel is'
The Sky News correspondent David Chater was in the Palestine Hotel when the hotel was hit by American tank fire. This is his account of what happened. "I was about to go out on to the balcony when there was a huge explosion, then shouts and screams from people along our corridor. They were shouting, 'Somebody's been hit. Can somebody find a doctor?' They were saying they could see blood and bone. "There were a lot of French journalists screaming, 'Get a doctor, get a doctor'. There was a great sense of panic because these walls are very thin. "We saw the tanks up on the bridge. They started firing across the bank. The shells were landing either side of us at what we thought were military targets. Then we were hit. We are in the middle of a tank battle.
"I don't understand why they were doing that. There was no fire coming out of this hotel - everyone knows it's full of journalists. "Everybody is putting on flak jackets. Everybody is running for cover. We now feel extremely vulnerable and we are now going to say goodbye to you." The line was cut but minutes later Chater resumed his report, saying journalists had been watching American forces from their balconies and the troops had surely been aware of their presence. "They knew exactly what this hotel is. They know the press corps is here. I don't know why they are trying to target journalists. There are awful scenes around me. There's a Reuters tent just a few yards away from me where people are in tears. It makes you realise how vulnerable you are. What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to carry on if American shells are targeting Western journalists?"
Wolfowitz of Arabia "Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a stark warning to Iran and Syria last week, declaring that any 'hostile acts' they committed on behalf of Iraq might prompt severe consequences, one of President Bush's closest aides stepped into the Oval Office to warn him that his unpredictable defense secretary had just raised the specter of a broader confrontation. Mr. Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Mr. Rumsfeld's brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word - 'Good' - and went back to work."
That is from David Sanger's piece in today's New York Times, which also includes the following chilling quote from "a senior administration official who played a crucial role in putting the strategy together": "Iraq is not just about Iraq."...) War, postwar, and future war all are merging in this moment as the Pentagon, which essentially has become the foreign policy arm of our new imperial government, attempts to push aside the State Department (and the CIA) to set up the unilateralist occupation of Japan... sorry, Germany... sorry, Iraq that the neocons have all been planning for and dreaming about for a decade. Jane Perlez of the Times tells us today that "the Americans are scouring the region for armor-plated vans" for the diplomats and retired generals of the "interim" occupation government to use once they are in Iraq (a defense against bouquets undoubtedly). They are also being "given lessons on what to do in Baghdad if they were taken hostage." The new occupation government, still the object of fierce bureaucratic warfare in Washington, is reportedly to be moved into Umm Qasr sometime this week, a town long declared "liberated" and under "coalition" control. But in a piece in the British Independent, Patrick Nicholson, a Catholic relief worker, indicates that even in the Shia south, where anti-Saddam sentiment was sky high, the "real war" looks quite different from the one seen on American television:
"I have recently returned from Angola where I witnessed haunting scenes of poverty but I never expected to see the same levels of misery in Iraq, a country floating on oil. I visited Umm Qasr as part of a Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod) emergency response team, and had been led to believe it was a town under control, where the needs of the people were being met. The town is not under control. It's like the Wild West, and even the most serious humanitarian concern, water, is not being adequately administered. ... There is a lot of anger toward Westerners in Umm Qasr, triggered by bitter disappointment at their 'liberation'. They feel they have been given false expectations and are scared by the breakdown in social order in the town. I saw no obvious Allied presence and the normal structures of schools, government and police has disappeared. But the people are hopeful for a future without Saddam Hussein. However bad the situation today, they told me, it was better than under Saddam's regime."
Hay Al Ansar, on the outskirts of Najaf in Iraq, was glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party government, when the city was seized by US forces last week. But they appear to be just as terrified, if not more so, of their new rulers - a little-known Iraqi militia backed by the US special forces and headquartered in a compound nearby. The Iraqi Coalition of National Unity (ICNU), which appeared in the city last week riding on US special forces vehicles, has taken to looting and terrorising their neighbourhood with impunity, according to most residents. "They steal and steal," said a man living near the Medresa al Tayif school, calling himself Abu Zeinab. "They threaten us, saying: 'We are with the Americans, you can do nothing to us'." Sa'ida al Hamed, another resident, said she witnessed looting by the ICNU and other armed gangs in the city, which lost its police force when the government fled last week. One man told a US army translator on Monday that he was taken out of his house and beaten by ICNU forces when he refused to give them his car. They took it anyway. If true, the testimony of residents reveals a darker side to US policy in Iraq. In their distaste for peacekeeping and eagerness to hand the ruling of Iraq back to Iraqis, US forces are in danger of losing the peace as rapidly as they have won the war. US special forces said they were looking into the complaints, which had been passed to them by US military sources. They declined, however, to discuss the formation of the group, how its members were chosen, or who they were.
US-backed militia terrorises town Al Ansar, on the outskirts of Najaf in Iraq, was glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party government, when the city was seized by US forces last week. But they appear to be just as terrified, if not more so, of their new rulers - a little-known Iraqi militia backed by the US special forces and headquartered in a compound nearby. The Iraqi Coalition of National Unity (ICNU), which appeared in the city last week riding on US special forces vehicles, has taken to looting and terrorising their neighbourhood with impunity, according to most residents. "They steal and steal," said a man living near the Medresa al Tayif school, calling himself Abu Zeinab. "They threaten us, saying: 'We are with the Americans, you can do nothing to us'." Sa'ida al Hamed, another resident, said she witnessed looting by the ICNU and other armed gangs in the city, which lost its police force when the government fled last week. One man told a US army translator on Monday that he was taken out of his house and beaten by ICNU forces when he refused to give them his car. They took it anyway. If true, the testimony of residents reveals a darker side to US policy in Iraq. In their distaste for peacekeeping and eagerness to hand the ruling of Iraq back to Iraqis, US forces are in danger of losing the peace as rapidly as they have won the war. US special forces said they were looking into the complaints, which had been passed to them by US military sources. They declined, however, to discuss the formation of the group, how its members were chosen, or who they were. .
Inspectors Admit Asian Travelers With SARS Symptoms U.S. health officials have advised airport immigration inspectors to admit foreign travelers from Asian countries hit hard by a deadly new pneumonia bug ö even if they show symptoms of infection, U.S. inspectors complain.
"A good 90 percent of all passengers arriving from Asia are wearing face masks during the flights that arrive here," said a Bureau of Customs and Border Protection inspector at Los Angeles International Airport, which gets heavy Asian traffic. "Yet there are basically no safeguards set up at the airport to safeguard against the spread of germs here."
He told WorldNetDaily that LAX, the nation's fourth-busiest airport, has no quarantine area set up at any of its four international terminals to detain and isolate passengers with symptoms related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which has now killed more than 100 people and infected some 2,600 in 20 countries. China's southern Guangdong province, which includes Hong Kong, is believed to be the source of the virus, which has about an eight-to-10-day incubation period.
"We are not detaining any persons and requiring them to submit to any test prior to being admitted to the United States," said the officer. In a meeting last week, he and other inspectors were briefed about the fast-spreading virus by Health and Human Services Department officials assigned to LAX.
Travelers from Asia with signs of the illness, such as fever or breathing difficulties, are asked by federal health officials at the airport to fill out a form with their name and the address where they will be staying, as well as other information, he explains. They are then simply advised to see a doctor for testing, and allowed to enter the U.S. The information is forwarded to the federal Centers for Disease Control. "The are doing a numbers game only," the LAX inspector said. CDC personnel have inspected certain flights from Asia after passengers have deplaned, he says. "But there has been no instance where anyone has been detained or isolated due to any symptoms," he said. An HHS spokeswoman here referred questions to the CDC in Atlanta, which did not immediately return phone calls.
SARS linked to sex disease A NEW scare surrounded the spread of the pneumonia virus sweeping the world after it was linked to a sexually transmitted disease. Doctors in China – the country worst hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – have found that the virus appears to be connected to chlamydia. The discovery suggests that those with the STD are more likely to develop or transmit SARS. "SARS is one virus acting with other things and in China it happens to be chlamydia," Chris Powell, of the World Health Organisation, said.
Elephant herd rescues antelope from KZN Boma conservation team were left baffled when 11 elephants arrived at their camp in Empangeni, Zululand to rescue a herd of antelope who were being held in a boma. Conservationist Lawrence Anthony said on Tuesday that a private game capture company had been working on the Thula Thula Exclusive Private Game Reserve capturing antelope that were to be relocated for a breeding programme. Shortly before relocation the antelope were being housed in a boma enclosure. The team were settling in for the night when a herd of 11 elephants approached the boma, he said. 'Onlookers realised this was not a mission for free food, but actually a rescue' "The herd circled the enclosure while the capture team watched warily, thinking the herd were after lucerne being used to feed the antelope," Lawrence said. "This went on for quite a while until the herd seemed to back off from the boma perimeter fence." The herd's matriarch, named Nana, approached the enclosure gates and began tampering with the metal latches holding the gates closed. She carefully undid all the latches with her trunk, swung the gate open and stood back with her herd. "At this stage the onlookers realised this was not a mission for free food, but actually a rescue," said Lawrence. The herd watched the antelope leave the boma and dart off before they walked off into the night. Thula Thula resident Ecologist Brendon Whittington-Jones said: "Elephant are naturally inquisitive, but this behaviour is certainly most unusual and cannot be explained in scientific terms".
April 8, 2003 Today's edition of Brought to You by The Bush Junta, Produced and Directed by the CIA, based on an original script by Henry Kissinger, with a cast of billions....The "Greatest Shew on Earth," no doubt, and if you don't have a good sense of humor, don't read this page! It is designed to reveal the "unseen." If you can't stand the heat of Objective Reality, get out of the kitchen!
Committee to Protect Journalists sends letter to Gen. Tommy Franks
about mistreatment of journalists by U.S. forces
At the time of the incident, the journalists had been heading south from Baghdad after U.S forces told some of them they could not work in the area without proper protection against chemical attack. The journalists reported that men they believed to be military police ordered them to lie on the ground face down. Castro alleged that the police kicked the journalists' hands, kept them on the ground for more than 30 minutes, and accused them of being terrorists or spies. Their cameras, phones, and car were confiscated, and they were later forced to stay in their car for several hours.
At one point, Castro asked the troops if the journalists could phone their families. In response, the soldiers threw him to the ground, placed their feet on his hands, neck, and back, and then one of the soldiers kicked him in the ribs. He was then handcuffed, brought near a truck in the troop encampment, and forced to sit on the ground before being returned to the group. Castro said a first lieutenant by the last name Shaw later apologized, saying, "Try to understand, my men are trained like dogs—they just know how to attack. No hard feelings. God bless you." When the journalists arrived in Kuwait, their material was returned to them and they were allowed to leave after several hours.
In a separate incident, U.S. troops detained Christian Science Monitor reporter Phillip Smucker and escorted him out of southern Iraq to Kuwait on March 27. Smucker, a veteran foreign correspondent who was also reporting for London's Daily Telegraph, had been traveling in southern Iraq as an independent journalist with a U.S. Marines unit. Megan Fox, a spokeswoman for the Office of Public Affairs in the Defense Department, said that during an interview Smucker gave to CNN on March 26, the journalist had revealed information that "could harm him and the unit."
Monitor editor Paul Van Slambrouck wrote shortly after the incident that he had "read the transcript of the CNN interview and it does not appear to us that he disclosed anything that wasn't already widely available in maps and in U.S. and British radio, newspaper, and television reports in that same news cycle." Slambrouck added that Smucker had conducted a similar interview with the U.S. National Public Radio the previous day without incident. While leaving Iraq under military escort, Smucker was denied contact with his newspaper and family, according to The Washington Post.
While we recognize that embedded journalists have been given special access to coalition troops, we are extremely concerned by these reports of harassment and violence against independent journalists. As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, we call on you to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into these incidents and to make the findings public. We reiterate our call that U.S. troops allow journalists to fulfill their professional duties freely, without hindrance.
We await your response.
Sincerely, Joel Simon Acting Director
Hotel Attack, Baghdad: Two cameramen have died after an
American tank fired on a Baghdad hotel used by the international
media. Reuters said Taras Protsyuk, 35, from the Ukraine, died and
another three of its journalists were injured. Jose Couso, a
cameraman with the Spanish television channel Telecinco, died later
from his injuries. The Palestine Hotel is where many international
media companies are based, including the Sky News team. The US said
the tank had fired a single round at the hotel in response to
incoming rifle and rocket fire. Reuters has its offices on the 15th
floor of the hotel. The 15th and 17th floors of the hotel were
struck, blowing out windows. Sky's David Chater said he had seen a
tank aiming at the hotel. Planning Ministry attacked "I was
standing on the balcony of our room looking at the city when there
was a huge explosion and then shouts and screams from people along
Jazeera TV Cameraman Killed in Raid on Al Jazeera's
"Smoking gun" WMD site in Iraq turns out to
contain pesticide A facility near
Baghdad that a US officer had claimed might finally be "smoking
gun" evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons production turned out to
contain pesticide, not sarin gas as originally thought. A military
intelligence officer for the US 101st Airborne Division's aviation
brigade, Captain Adam Mastrianni, told AFP that comprehensive tests
Monday determined the presence of the pesticide compounds. Initial
tests had reportedly detected traces of sarin -- a powerful toxin
that quickly affects the nervous system -- after US soldiers
guarding the facility near Hindiyah, 100 kilometres (60 miles)
south of Baghdad, became ill. Mastrianni said: "They thought it was
a nerve agent. That's what it tested. But it is pesticide."
Russian Military Analysis Event Chronicles
of the last 2 days have made further work of Ramzaj group in its
current format impossible. With the embassy personnel and
journalists having left Iraq and most of Iraqi information services
evacuated from Baghdad, analysis of the situation in Baghdad and
Iraq as a whole becomes ineffective. The quickly changing course of
street fights leaves any informational updates far behind. Direct
TV broadcasts are far more evident than any analytics. At the same
time, we do not have the right to reveal classified, “top
Russian GRU Estimates of Killed and Missing in
War Provides Cover for a Fresh Israeli Crackdown While the world focuses on Iraq, 17 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1000 detained as Israeli forces step up 'anti-terrorism' raids. Robert Tait in Jerusalem reports IN Tulkarm, just inside the Palestinian side of the imaginary green line separating the occupied West Bank from Israel proper, few now doubt that the war in Iraq has brought about their worst nightmares. Early on Wednesday morning, residents in the town's refugee camp woke to the sound of gunfire, stun grenades and helicopters. The Israeli army had descended in force and for Palestinians, it provided proof that Ariel Sharon, Israel's hawkish prime minister, was doing what they always said he would -- using the US-British war on Iraq as camouflage for a crackdown. While the world focuses on Iraq, 17 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1000 detained as Israeli forces step up 'anti-terrorism' raids
Robert Fisk: It seemed as if Baghdad would fall within hours. But the day was characterised by crazed normality, high farce and death 08 April 2003
It started with a series of massive vibrations, a great "stomping" sound that shook my room. "Stomp, stomp, stomp," it went. I lay in bed trying to fathom the cause. It was like the moment in Jurassic Park when the tourists first hear footfalls of the dinosaur, an ever increasing, ever more frightening thunder of a regular, monstrous heartbeat.
From my window on the east bank of the Tigris, I saw an Iraqi anti- aircraft gun firing from the roof of a building half a mile away, shooting across the river at something. "Stomp, stomp," it went again, the sound so enormous it set off alarms in cars along the bank.
And it was only when I stood on the road at dawn that I knew what had happened. Not since the war in 1991 had I heard the sound of American artillery. And there, only a few hundred metres away on the far bank of the Tigris, I saw them. At first they looked like tiny, armoured centipedes, stopping and starting, dappled brown and grey, weird little creatures that had come to inspect an alien land and search for water.
You had to keep your eye on the centipedes to interpret reality, to realise each creature was a Bradley fighting vehicle, its tail was a cluster of US Marines hiding behind the armour, moving forward together each time their protection revved its engines and manoeuvred closer to the Tigris. There was a burst of gunfire from the Americans and a smart clatter of rocket-propelled grenades and puffs of white smoke from the Iraqi soldiers and militiamen dug into their foxholes and trenches on the same river bank further south. It was that quick and that simple and that awesome.
Indeed, the sight was so extraordinary, so unexpected – despite all the Pentagon boasts and Bush promises – that one somehow forgot the precedents that it was setting for the future history of the Middle East.
Amid the crack of gunfire and the tracer streaking across the river, and the huge oil fires that the Iraqis lit to give them cover to retreat, one had to look away – to the great river bridges further north, into the pale green waters of that most ancient of rivers – to realise that a Western army on a moral crusade had broken through to the heart of an Arab city for the first time since General Allenby marched into Jerusalem in 1918. But Allenby walked into Jerusalem on foot, in reverence for Christ's birthplace and yesterday's American thrust into Baghdad had neither humility nor honour about it.
The US Marines and special forces who spread out along the west bank of the river broke into Saddam Hussein's largest palace, filmed its lavatories and bathrooms and lay resting on its lawns before moving down towards the Rashid Hotel and sniping at soldiers and civilians. Hundreds of Iraqi men, women and children were brought to Baghdad's hospitals in the hours that followed – victims of bullets, shrapnel and cluster bombs. We could actually see the twin-engined American A- 10s firing their depleted uranium rounds into the far shore of the river.
From the eastern bank, I watched the marines run towards a ditch with their rifles to their shoulders and search for Iraqi troops. But their enemies went on firing from the mudflats to the south until, one after another, I saw them running for their lives. The Iraqis clambered out of foxholes amid the American shellfire and began an Olympic sprint of terror along the waterside; most kept their weapons, some fell back to an exhausted walk, others splashed right into the waters of the Tigris, up to their knees, even their necks. Three climbed from a trench with hands in the air, in front of a group of marines. But others fought on. The "stomp, stomp, stomp" went on for more than an hour. Then the A-10s came back, and an F/A- 18 sent a ripple of fire along the trenches after which the shooting died away. It seemed as if Baghdad would fall within hours.
But the day was to be characterised with that most curious of war's attributes, a crazed mixture of normality, death and high farce. For even as the Americans were fighting their way up the river and the F/A-18s were returning to bombard the bank, the Iraqi Minister of Information gave a press conference on the roof of the Palestine Hotel, scarcely half a mile from the battle.
As shells exploded to his left and the air was shredded by the power- diving American jets, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf announced to perhaps 100 journalists that the whole thing was a propaganda exercise, the Americans were no longer in possession of Baghdad airport, that reporters must "check their facts and re-check their facts – that's all I ask you to do." Mercifully, the oil fires, bomb explosions and cordite smoke now obscured the western bank of the river, so fact- checking could no longer be accomplished by looking behind Mr Sahaf's back.
What the world wanted to know, of course, was the Question of All Questions – where was President Saddam? But Mr Sahaf used his time to condemn the Arabic television channel al-Jazeera for its bias towards the US and to excoriate the Americans for using "the lounges and halls" of Saddam Hussein to make "cheap propaganda". The Americans "will be buried here," he shouted above the battle. "Don't believe these invaders. They will be defeated."
And the more he spoke, the more one wanted to interrupt Mr Sahaf, to say: "But hang on, Mr Minister, take a look over your right shoulder." But, of course, that's not the way things happen. Why didn't we all take a drive around town, he suggested defiantly.
So I did. The corporation's double-decker buses were running and, if the shops were shut, stallholders were open, men had gathered in tea houses to discuss the war. I went off to buy fruit when a low-flying American jet crossed the street and dropped its payload 1,000 metres away in an explosion that changed the air pressure in our ears. But every street corner had its clutch of militiamen and, when I reached the side of the Foreign Ministry, upstream from the US Marines, an Iraqi artillery crew was firing a 120mm gun at the Americans from the middle of a dual carriageway, its tongue of fire bright against the grey-black fog drifting over Baghdad.
Within an hour and a half, the Americans had moved up the southern waterfront and were in danger of over-running the old ministry of information. Outside the Rashid Hotel, the marines opened fire on civilians and militiamen, blasting a passing motorcyclist onto the road and shooting at a Reuters photographer who managed to escape with bullet holes in his car.
All across Baghdad, hospitals were inundated with wounded, many of them women and children hit by fragments of cluster bombs. By dusk, the Americans were flying F/A-18s in close air support to the US Marines, so confident of their destruction of Iraq's anti-aircraft gunners that they could clearly be seen cruising the brown and grey skies in pairs.
Was this what they call "rich in history"? General Stanley Maude invaded Iraq in 1917 and occupied Baghdad. We repeated the performance in 1941 when the former prime minister Rashid Ali decided to back Nazi Germany. The British, Australians and Arabs "liberated" Damascus from the Turks in 1918. The Israelis occupied Beirut in 1982 and lived – not all of them – to regret it. Now the armies of America and, far behind them, the British – a pale ghost of Maude's army – are moving steadily into this most north-eastern of Arab capitals to dominate a land that borders Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
As night fell, I came across three Iraqi defenders at the eastern end of the great Rashid Bridge.These three – two Baathist militiamen and a policeman – were ready to defend the eastern shore from the greatest army known to man.
That in itself, I thought, said something about both the courage and the hopelessness of the Arabs
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