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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
'Mood of fear in Baghdad'

By Paul Wood
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

The main presidential palace on the banks of the Tigris
The main presidential palace has taken a battering
The BBC's Paul Wood was taken by the Iraqis on an official tour of Baghdad on Monday morning. Here he talks us through what he sees of the city.

There is almost a surreal, spectral quality about Baghdad this morning.

There is a white mist enveloping the whole city, partly unusual weather conditions and partly the after effects of bombing and the oil fires the Iraqis have been furiously lighting as a defensive measure.

Every so often I see a figure moving through this mist. But it is only fighters we see in this part of town now, every single shop has got the shutters down and there is tape over the windows to stop the effect of blasts.

We are now coming into Soudoun street, which is one of the main shopping boulevards in Baghdad.

One or two shops are still open and the familiar picture of Saddam Hussein is on the corner, as it is on every street corner in Baghdad.

Militia standing guard

We are now being taken on the eastern side of the river Tigris, but the fighting this morning was on the western side.

People are out this morning, I'm not sure if they think it was air strikes they have been hearing this morning, or if they believe the Americans are here or if they believe the Americans have gone.

On the tour we saw no American soldiers in the city.

An Iraqi militiaman walks near the Ministry of Information
The Ministry of Information appeared to be in Iraqi control
We are now heading to the Ministry of Information, which is on the other side of the bridge, a little way away from here.

It was reported to be in American hands this morning but that was flatly denied by the Information Minister. Perhaps they are going to take us there to see for ourselves.

We are just driving past the Ministry now and it is in Iraqi hands.

I can see militia men with rocket propelled grenades. One or two police men are giving us the "V" for victory sign.

Bomb damage

The Ministry does look pretty battered, but then it has been attacked in an earlier phase of this conflict by air strikes. It is not clear if the damage is caused by infantry fighting or not.

We are now heading towards the Rashid Hotel, where earlier an eyewitness told me that the Americans had taken up positions and were sniping from there at the Iraqi militia men.

People are now crouching down on the bus because of a single shot that was fired somewhere to the right of us.

I think it was just happy fire but the situation is a bit uncertain now on this bus, I can hear more repeated fire from somewhere now.

BAGHDAD SKYLINE

We are driving down a completely empty road and there is heavy machine gun fire to our left.

We are now going under an underpass, I can see army trucks parked under this overhang, there are some howitzers the Iraqis have positioned, defensive positions right in the centre of the road.

We are now driving around the outside of the palace. There seems to be a lot of damage around, not sure if that is from the bombing or the fighting, this does now look like a city that is at war.

We're passing a long empty road which leads to the Rashid Hotel, there is a picture of Saddam Hussein looking particularly happy on the corner, I can see militia fighters in traditional head dress.

Mood of fear

Some of them are telling cameramen not to film, some of them are just looking at us and giving us the "V" sign for victory.

Crucially we did not go to the Rashid Hotel which we understand from sources outside Iraq, is in American hands.

We seem to be heading back across the bridge now, looking down side streets there are militia fighters in the alleyways and on the high rise buildings. There is a man carrying six RPG rockets passing us by now.

We're passing a row of shops now and every single window is broken, also a Baath party building with all its windows broken too. It doesn't look like the effects of bombing to me. It might have been fighting, it might have been looting

As I drove around the city last night in complete darkness, it was a city that seemed not preparing to defend itself, but preparing for the effects of disorder and looting. People had bricked up their windows and shopkeepers had guns.

There were chains on many doors.

There is a real mood of fear in Baghdad and I think that it is not just from the coalition forces.

We are heading back to our hotel now after what has been an attempt by the Iraqi Ministry of Information to demonstrate that it is the Iraqi authorities who are still in control in Baghdad.



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