Bush inauguration: Pomp and circumstance - Americas - World - The Independent

Bush inauguration: Pomp and circumstance

IN WASHINGTON: President Bush vows 'to use US influence in the cause of freedom'. 55th inauguration costs $40m, making it the most expensive ever

IN IRAQ: Ten days before elections, attacks in Mosul, Baghdad and Kirkuk. In Basra, nine British troops injured in suicide bombing

The band played
Hail to the Chief. A 21-gun salute sounded. Then, protected by a bulletproof shield, President George Bush repeated his message to the enemies of democracy.

The band played Hail to the Chief. A 21-gun salute sounded. Then, protected by a bulletproof shield, President George Bush repeated his message to the enemies of democracy.

"The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did, 'Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it'," Mr Bush said. Republican Washington roared its approval. But, in Iraq, where the "outlaw regime" of Saddam Hussein experienced the righteous wrath of President Bush, there was barely time to listen to such noble sentiment.

A couple of hours before President Bush spoke, British soldiers close to Basra were coping with the aftermath of the first suicide attack on their forces in the region. The explosion took place at the Shaibah logistics base, four miles from the southern Shia city, which had previously remained relatively quiet while the Sunni insurgency rages elsewhere in the country. Several British soldiers and Iraqi civilians were injured. The scandal of "Britain's Abu Ghraib" has generated its first reprisal. A statement from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the al-Qa'ida Organisation of Holy War in Iraq, claimed the attack as a "response to the harm inflicted by British occupation forces on our brothers in prison".

The attacks are multiplying and spreading. Insurgents shelled a hospital in Mosul. Five fighters were killed inside a mosque and nine were arrested. Three Iraqi army soldiers were killed by a bomb in Samarra. Two fighters died in Ramadi.

With each suicide bomb and mortar attack, the chances of occupied Iraq enjoying a democratic election on 30 January grow slimmer. The elected president of the Iraqi constitutional assembly, whoever he is, will need more than a bulletproof shield to keep the insurgents at bay.

In Washington, President Bush told the world that, if liberation came at a price, it was a price worth paying: "The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause." As the President spoke, Mohamed al-Saadi was rummaging through rubble in Baghdad. Around him lay a mass of broken glass and tangled electrical wires. This had once been the Saadi family's grocery store. The business had just been all but destroyed in a car bomb explosion.

As he surveyed the devastated scene, Mr Saadi, 25, cursed Mr Bush and the "arrogance" of the Americans who invaded his country. He said: "When the Americans came they opened borders and let all the terrorists in. Is this the freedom they promised?"

Mr Saad said he felt sorry for any country that would undergo Iraq's fate, although he was pleased that former president Saddam Hussein and his clan from the city of Tikrit were no longer in power.

"Whether under American occupation or Tikriti occupation it's just the same," he said. "We haven't gone one step forward or one step backward. Saddam was a cowboy and the Americans are cowboys, too."

Cynicism about President Bush in Baghdad now runs so deep that few people expressed much interest in the inauguration 6,211 miles away. Those who wanted to watch found themselves excluded by Iraq's incessant power shortages. The majority tried to enjoy the Adha holiday, the most important day in the Islamic calendar. But public holidays are not the same these days in Baghdad.

"This holiday is the worst ever because of explosions, inflation, and lack of security, lack of electricity and lack of fuel," said Kareem al-Qarawi, 40, who works for the ministry of electricity.

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