Few signs yet of cracks in the regime
By Paul Eedle in Baghdad, Financial Times
Published: Mar 24, 2003
After four days of vivid television pictures of missile strikes on Baghdad, you could be forgiven for imagining that the city of Baghdad is now a charred ruin and both the civilian population and Saddam Hussein's government are in a severe state of shock.
In fact, damage is confined to highly specific targets, mostly government buildings in the centre of Baghdad but also, less explicably, a tourist village overlooking the Tigris and a suburban house.
Away from these sites, the city of 5m people is shuttered and increasingly militarised, but intact. The lights are still on, even the floodlights on the gutted ziggurat of the main presidential offices. Cars and buses are moving on the streets and even the telephones work.
Both the people of Baghdad and their rulers are taking the bombardment largely in their stride. Journalists are now supposed to move around only in officially-conducted bus tours. These have driven past several of the buildings hit in the bombardment. Not far from the information ministry, a missile has smashed into a grey tower block of offices attached to the presidency.
At the entrance to the main presidential compound beside the Tigris, several buildings have been reduced to smoking shells by cruise missiles.
But next door, the red-brick planning ministry appears unscathed except for broken windows and dangling window blinds. Across the street, a row of single-storey brick houses used as carpenters' shops are untouched and in a nearby park, soldiers sit on blankets smoking and chatting.
Beside the motorway to the airport, behind cream stone walls, another missile has smashed through the portico of one of Saddam Hussein's newest palaces, knocking the stone cladding off the side of the central dome but leaving intact the four vast busts of the president in mediaeval armour which stand on the corners of the building.
The bombardment has also hit some apparently civilian targets. Journalists were bussed yesterday to a suburban street not far from the new presidential palace - and only 200 metres from a large teaching hospital - where a large bomb had vaporised a middle-class home.
Despite the relative lack of physical damage, Baghdad is now clearly a city at war. There are more and more armed men on the streets, in many different uniforms and none. Busloads of unsmiling young men in leather jackets are arriving in the city centre, perhaps to join in street fighting when the US-led forces attack.
The spring sky is foul grey from the smoke of fires lit around the edge of the city to interfere with the American and British hi-tech laser targetting systems.
America's hope was that its highly targeted bombardment of the Iraqi capital would break Saddam Hussein's rule without damaging the civilian infrastructure. So far, the infrastructure has certainly been spared but there is no visible sign yet of any cracks in the regime.