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Few signs of flight or fear as enemy nears the gates

Suzanne Goldenberg in Baghdad
Thursday April 3, 2003
The Guardian

Iraq redoubled its defiance of the American forces closing in on Baghdad yesterday, with fresh predictions of victory from Saddam Hussein and shows of strength from imported Arab fighters.

Although American forces claim to have destroyed sections of the Republican Guard, on the streets of the city yesterday there were few signs of flight, or fear.

The sole discordant note - as far as the solidity of the regime goes - was the failure of President Saddam to appear in person for a television address for the second time in as many days. A message read out by the announcer said that Saddam had declared a holy war. Last night pictures were released of the Iraqi leader talking to his generals.

Yesterday, the western, more modern half of the city, home to the presiden tial palaces and other official buildings, was crawling with armed militiamen of the ruling Ba'ath party. They spent the day expanding sandbag posts, and turning them into more formidable defences.

The reinforcements arrived on a day of almost constant American bombardment, with air strikes moving outwards from official buildings to the heart of the city.

Towards the end of the morning rush hour yesterday, several missiles slammed into the Iraqi trade fair, leaving an expanse of rubble and debris the size of a football field. The blast spewed shrapnel and glass into a Red Crescent maternity hospital across the road, and crumpled four cars.

Three people were killed and scores of people were injured: doctors at the hospital, passers-by on the busy main road, and Mohammed Ali, 18, who was on his way to the bank with his father.

Even so, Iraqis displayed no signs of weakening. America's choice of targets during the last week - telephone exchanges, and the trade fair - has deepened their anger, and erased what faint hopes there were that US forces would be welcomed into Baghdad. "Let them go and liberate the Palestinians. We are not afraid of them," said Shalal Farhan, who lives on the outskirts of town.

In the morning, a band of Arab recruits was out in full force, and night fell amid the ululations of yet another organised display of defiance. As Baghdad gets ready for what is expected to be the bloodiest battle of this war, civilians have been evacuated from flats near official areas. Scores of plain-clothes security agents have moved in, scouring the area for suspected spies.


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