Wednesday, 26 March 2003

In the long hours of darkness, Baghdad shakes to the constant low rumble of B-52s

by Robert Fisk

click here to visit his website All night, you could hear the carpet-bombing by the B-52s. It was a long, low rumble, sometimes for minutes. The targets, presumably the Republican Guards, must have been 30 miles away but, each time that ominous, dark sound began, the air pressure changed in the room where I'm staying near the Tigris river. I've put some flowers in a vase near the window and the water in it was gently shaking all night as the vibrations came out of the ground and air. God spare anyone under that, I thought.

"When we have our soldiers at the front," Tariq Aziz, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, had told us hours earlier, "you don't expect us to line them up for you to shoot at, do you?" We had laughed merrily but I didn't laugh now. Surely Saddam Hussein's praetorian guard could not be sitting this out in the desert, tanks abreast, soldiers out in the open? So what were the B-52s aiming at?

From time to time, I poked my head out of the window. Far away to the south-west, there would come a pale, dangerous red glow, sometimes for a second, sometimes for five seconds, a glow that would grow to perhaps a square mile then suddenly evaporate, its penumbra moving back into darkness. The forward US Marines were, so the BBC told the world in the early hours yesterday, only 60 miles from Baghdad. I could believe it.

The long hours of darkness are difficult for Iraqis. They play cards. They sleep when the silence between air raids allows. I'm reading by night a biography of Sir Thomas More that becomes more perilously appropriate to this fearful drama. Only a few hundred yards from my bedroom is a massive statue of President Saddam, right arm upraised in greeting to his ghostly people, left hand smartly at his side, as if on parade. The young Thomas More would have understood its meaning. A tyrant, he wrote, is a man who allows his people no freedom, who is "puffed up by pride, driven by the lust of power, impelled by greed, provoked by thirst for fame".

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