A nervous Baghdad battens down the hatches as US patrols bring in the tanks

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Shopkeepers in Baghdad are closing early and taking their most valuable stock home with them in case there is an outbreak of mass looting as there was a year ago when US troops entered the capital.

Shopkeepers in Baghdad are closing early and taking their most valuable stock home with them in case there is an outbreak of mass looting as there was a year ago when US troops entered the capital.

Fear is pervasive. Many parents are not letting children go to school. Students, particularly women, are not going to the university. Patrols of edgy US soldiers have increased and are often accompanied by heavy tanks.

Confidence in the future, never high in Baghdad, has collapsed over the past 10 days. Many incidents, particularly if the only victims of shooting and kidnappings are Iraqi, go unreported and unnoticed by the outside world.

Even the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), isolated from the rest of Baghdad in its sprawling and heavily fortified headquarters in Saddam Hussein's old Republican Palace complex, has noticed things are going wrong. In a notice to staff on Monday it said the Allied enclave, the so-called "Green Zone", had been fired on four nights in a row. It directed staff to wear helmets and flak jackets at all times, hideously uncomfortable as Baghdad begins to swelter in the summer heat.

The rockets and mortars are fired in the Green Zone almost every night. They are not accurate but make the CPA staff nervous. Early on Easter Day, a rocket landed in the compound destroying an ice-making van. A day later, another exploded outside the al-Rashid Hotel.

The isolation of the CPA headquarters from the 25 million Iraqis helps explain how Paul Bremer, the chief US civilian official in Iraq, stumbled into a two-front war with Sunnis and Shias.

There is little liaison between the military and the civilians. Both report separately to Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary. Mr Bremer keeps decisions to a restricted circle. "We are never told anything about political developments," one CPA official said. "Our only information is from reading US papers on the internet."

The US soldiers on patrol in Baghdad are baffled about why Iraqis do not like them. Army generals still pump out the year-old propaganda line that all resistance comes from "former regime elements" and "foreign fighters". Angry Iraqi nationalism or rage over the level of Iraqi civilian casualties is not taken into account. Opponents are denounced as terrorists. In the art of making enemies it would be difficult to improve on the performance of the US army in Baghdad.

On Monday night, two Humvees arrived at Mustansariyah university. The soldiers distributed a propaganda sheet in Arabic called Baghdad Now , lauding the achievements of the occupation. Students collected the newspapers and ceremonially burnt them. They also put a poster of Muktada Sadr, the radical Shia cleric, up near the university clock.

An hour later, more US soldiers were back, and angry. Abu Khalid, university guard, said: "They told me to lie down and they took away my rifle and tied my hands behind my back." Guards say the soldiers went through the university asking: "Where are the terrorists? We are going to arrest them."

Offices were smashed and windows broken with rifle butts. After three hours, the US troops withdrew after failing to tear down the poster. A university administrator said: "I feel very angry. Our college looks worse than after the invasion." She said they were not complaining to the US army or the CPA, because nobody knows who to complain to, but Arab satellite channels have been asked to film the damage.

Comments