Saturday, 29 March 2003

Bombing of phone system another little degradation

by Robert Fisk

click here to visit his website It's difficult to weep about a telephone exchange. True, the destruction of the local phone system in Baghdad is a miserable experience for tens of thousands of Iraqi families who want to keep in contact with their relatives during the long dark hours of bombing. But the shattered exchanges and umbilical wires and broken concrete of the Mimoun International Communications Centre scarcely equals the exposed bones and intestines and torn flesh of the civilian wounded of Baghdad.

The point, of course, is that it represents another of those little degradations which we (as in "we, the West") routinely undertake when things aren't going our way in a war. Obviously, "we" hoped it wouldn't come to this. The Anglo-American armies wanted to maintain the infrastructure of Baghdad for themselves – after they had "liberated" the city under a hail of roses from its rejoicing people – because they would need working phone lines on their arrival.

But after a night of massive explosions across the city, dawn yesterday brought the realisation that communications had been sacrificed. The huge Rashid telecommunications centre was struck by a cruise missile which penetrated the basement of the building. The exchange in Karada, where Baghdadis pay their phone bills, was ripped open. No more. Because "we" have decided to destroy the phones and all those "command and control" systems that may be included, dual use, into the network.

So yesterday, most Baghdadis had to drive across town to see each other; there was more traffic on the roads than at any time since the start of the war. Down, too, went Baghdad's internet system. Iraqi television, a pale shadow of itself since the Americans bombed the studios on Wednesday night, can be watched only between an increasing number of power cuts.

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