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Last Updated:  Monday, 31 March, 2003, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Baghdad loyalty fails to waver

By Paul Wood
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

It is day 12 of the war and not a single major Iraqi city has fallen.

A man weeps at the grave of a man killed in a Baghdad market explosion
Each casualty boosts the Iraqi regime's call for resistance

Hundreds of civilians have been killed, according to Iraqi figures, and there has been no revolt against President Saddam Hussein - his image still appears hourly on Iraqi television.

In the poor Shia neighbourhood of Shaab in Baghdad last week, I stood in the ruins of a house that had just been bombed and spoke to a woman whose 60-year-old mother was killed in the explosion.

"We don't care what happened to our house," she said. "We care only about the life of our president, Saddam Hussein.

"Through all this we stay with him, we go with him, we fight with him, because he is our father."

We have experience of 1991, the [US and Britain] said they were looking out for the Iraqi people - they didn't mean it
Baghdad resident
People know what they are expected to say in Iraq. But her words, spoken fiercly, seemed sincere. Remember, it is the Shia Muslims, a majority in Iraq, whom President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are relying on to rise up and bloodily eject President Saddam from office.

For the US and Britain, then, in this respect the war may not be going according to plan.

But that is not to underestimate the coalition's successes so far.

The allies now control about half of the territory of Iraq, a country the size of France.

Casualties among coalition troops have been slight.

And what may be the decisive battle is about to be fought - against the Iraqi troops hiding in the fields and villages along the Euphrates river valley south of Baghdad.

Regular thumps

From just over the horizon comes the long, low rumble of a B-52 dropping its massive payload of explosives on those Iraqi soldiers, probably the elite Republican Guards.

Residents of the Kardaba neighbourhood of Baghdad after a US strike
The image seen in Iraq and the Arab world is of suffering civilians

Even some 30 kilometres (20 miles) away, we feel the vibrations.

There are also the regular thumps from laser-guided bombs landing in Baghdad itself.

During the early hours of Friday night, the whole of our 20-storey hotel shook as if in a small earthquake.

That was the biggest bomb dropped on the capital, a 4,500-pound (2041-kilogram) "bunker buster".

Safe to come out

Dotted across Baghdad, plumes of thick, black smoke are billowing upward to form a dark curtain across the skyline.

But this is not the aftermath of bombing. The Iraqis are setting light to oil-filled trenches as a rudimentary defensive measure.

Market in Baghdad's Saddam City
The targeted bombing means many feel safe by day and even at night
It probably does not make any difference to cruise missiles flying to predetermined co-ordinates but it might stop incoming warplanes spotting "targets of opportunity" - Iraqi troops unlucky enough to be caught in the open.

The truth about this continuing air assault is that it is extremely well-targeted on government and military installations.

Ordinary Iraqis feel safe to come out on the streets during the day.

But there are undoubtedly civilian casualties and though they may not be as great as some had feared, that does not lessen their impact in the propaganda war that may determine the course of the conflict on the battlefield.

In one of Baghdad's main teaching hospitals, I met a five-year-old girl whose spine had been severed by shrapnel.

She lay completely motionless. The doctor who had just operated on her told me she would never walk again.

This is the image of the war that is seen in Iraq and in the wider Arab world.

It is one reason why the Iraqi people listen when Saddam Hussein tells them this is a national struggle and not one solely to preserve his regime.

Dilemma

The Pentagon says the Shaab bomb was not one of theirs. It says it could have been an Iraqi surface-to-air missile that came back down on the capital.

Such arguments are simply swept away by the tide of emotion and anger that comes with the pictures of blood-spattered walls and incinerated bodies that have been beamed across the Arab world.

The coalition will face either a long siege of the capital or have to take this city of five million people street-by-street.
Underlining just how unpopular the US and Britain are, one resident in Shaab told me: "The Iraqi people are looking for peace. This war is for the Jews and for oil, not for the Iraqis. Bush and Blair are lying."

But what about being liberated, I asked?

"We have experience of 1991and we know what happened," he replied.

"They said they were looking out for the Iraqi people. They didn't mean it."

There lies the dilemma for the US and Britain.

No one is going to rise up until coalition troops are actually seen in Baghdad, but the US and Britain say they will not come into Baghdad until there is an uprising.

It has been the same story in Basra, where a few thousand loyalists have maintained control in a city of a million people.

London and Washington hope that by sending the Republican Guards south of Baghdad back into the capital defeated and demoralised, it will be the beginning of the end for Saddam Hussein.

The risk is that he will simply withdraw these forces back into the city, daring the coalition to follow.

The US and Britain will face either a long siege of the capital or have to take this city of five million people street-by-street. There would be terrible loss of life.

Whether it is to be siege, frontal assault, or the rapid crumbling of the regime - we will know in the next few days.

The movements of those reporting from Baghdad are restricted and their reports are monitored by the Iraqi authorities.


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