Bombing of phone
By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
29 March 2003
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.
So what's next? Each day,
of course, brings news of events which, on their own, have no great
import but which, together, add a sinister, new dimension to the coming
siege of Baghdad. Yesterday, hundreds of tribesmen from across Iraq
gathered at the Baghdad Hotel before meeting President Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi tribes, ignored
by the military planners and Washington pundits who think Iraq is held
together only by the Baath party and the army, are a powerful force,
their unity cemented by marriage and a network of families loyal to
President Saddam who provide a force as cohesive as the Baath party
Tribesmen guard the grain
silos and electricity generating stations around Baghdad. Two of them
were credited with disabling an Apache helicopter captured last week.
And yesterday, tribal leaders
came from all over Iraq, from Ninevah and Babylon and Basra and Nasiriyah
and all the cities of Mesopotamia.
President Saddam has already
issued one set of orders which tells the tribesmen "to fight [the
Americans and British] in groups and attack their advance and rear lines
to block the way of their progress ... If the enemy settles into a position,
start to harass them at night ..."
Another sign of things to
come. At least 20 international "human shields" hitherto
"guarding" power stations, oil refineries and food production
plants decided to leave Iraq yesterday. So did all Chinese journalists,
on instructions from their government. Not all the optimistic claims
from the Iraqi government, a victory against US Marines outside Nasiriyah
was among them, could change their minds.
The nightly attacks long
ago spread into the daylight hours, so the sound of aircraft and rockets
I have several times actually heard the missiles passing over
the central streets have acquired a kind of normality. A few
stores have reopened. There are fresh vegetables again. And like every
blitzed people, Baghdadis are growing used to what has become a dull,
Is this "shock and awe",
I sometimes ask myself?