BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Persian Pashto Turkish French
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Middle East  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Monday, 14 October, 2002, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Return to Baghdad
Poster of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad
Iraqis have been on a war footing for two decades

In the first of a series of postcards, BBC correspondent Roger Hearing reflects on the city at the centre of the latest Gulf crisis - a city he has known throughout a decade of war and sanctions.

There are many strange things about visiting Baghdad - not least the fact that this sprawling dusty, concrete maze has changed hardly at all from the day at the beginning of September 12 years ago when I first arrived.


There is no detectable sense of panic in Baghdad, despite a near universal acceptance that the bombs being loaded now on board the US aircraft carriers are meant for them

Of course it has been through a war and numerous bombings since then, but what was shattered has been defiantly rebuilt, what was flattened has been stubbornly replaced.

And once again it is a city that stands proudly but horribly close to the edge of another very deep abyss.

And that is another strange thing about arriving here - the sensation of crossing from the ordinary world into a state that is outside the polite circles of international intercourse, a state that is vilified and ostracised.

Yet it is still part of that world.

My bags were labelled at Heathrow for Saddam Airport, Baghdad; the telephones connect with Britain quite adequately, even if the politicians do not; Iraqi stamps, I'm told, are honoured by American postmen despite the fact that US planes may soon be levelling the telecommunications ministry that issues those stamps.

Long-suffering

And what is also strange is that there is no detectable sense of panic in Baghdad, despite a near universal acceptance that the bombs being loaded now on board the US aircraft carriers are meant for them, and that war is just a matter of time. And that they will lose.

Iraqi children perform at celebrations for the referendum
Iraqis appear resigned to their fate

It is easy to forget that for Iraqis this is not the 12th but the 22nd year of crisis - the Iran/Iraq war in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died, led into the invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War and more than a decade of sanctions and bombings.

They are no strangers to suffering, and sanguine about what the coming months may bring.

And there is little interest here in the cause for which the coming conflict is, in theory, going to be fought.

Weapons of mass destruction are scarcely mentioned in the local newspapers.

The only concern officials have is in showing off some of the sites listed by the British and American governments to demonstrate their harmlessness to the newly arrived hoards of foreign journalists - themselves memorably described by one Iraqi as "weapons of mass INStruction".

Certainty

And strangest of all we have arrived in what is supposed to be the middle of an election.

Referendum papers are stamped in Baghdad
The referendum is a foregone conclusion
Saddam Hussein is seeking the people's approval for another seven-year term as President.

There are a few slogans around - calls to support the Great Leader - but most it seems, oddly, in English. And no rallies, no leaflets.

It is actually a referendum - a straight yes or no to an extension of Saddam Hussein's presidency, and there is little doubt as to the outcome.

After all, the last time he won with 99.96% of the vote.

The renewal of the rule of President Hussein is one of the few certainties, for a people now deeply unsure about what may be just around the corner.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad
"Public criticism of him remains unthinkable"

Key stories

Analysis

CLICKABLE GUIDE

BBC WORLD SERVICE

AUDIO VIDEO

TALKING POINT
See also:

13 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Americas
02 Oct 02 | Americas
01 Oct 02 | Middle East
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes