It was like a door slamming deep beneath the surface of the earth; a pulsating, minute-long roar of sound that brought President George Bush's supposed crusade against "terrorism" to Baghdad last night.
There was a thrashing of tracer on the horizon from the Baghdad air defences – the Second World War-era firepower of old Soviet anti-aircraft guns – and then a series of tremendous vibrations that had the ground shaking under our feet. Bubbles of fire tore into the sky around the Iraqi capital, dark red at the base, golden at the top.
Saddam Hussein, of course, has vowed to fight to the end but in Baghdad last night, there was a truly Valhalla quality about the violence. Within minutes, looking out across the Tigris river I could see pin-pricks of fire as bombs and cruise missiles exploded on to Iraq's military and communications centres and, no doubt, upon the innocent as well.
The first of the latter, a taxi driver, was blown to pieces in the first American raid on Baghdad yesterday morning. No one here doubted that the dead would include civilians. Tony Blair said just that in the Commons debate this week but I wondered, listening to this storm of fire across Baghdad last night, if he has any conception of what it looks like, what it feels like, or of the fear of those innocent Iraqis who are, as I write this, cowering in their homes and basements.
Not many hours ago, I talked to an old Shia Muslim lady in a poor area of Baghdad. She was dressed in traditional black with a white veil over her head. I pressed her over and over again as to what she felt. In the end, she just said: "I am afraid."
That this is the start of something that will change the face of the Middle East is in little doubt; that it will be successful in the long term is quite another matter.