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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 21:24 GMT 22:24 UK
Baghdad diary: Back to normal?

By Martin Asser
BBC News Online correspondent in Baghdad

Baghdad citizens watch al-Jazeera channel on television in the street
Iraqis are trying to enjoy the little things in life - such as television

In the first of his daily diary entries, BBC News Online's Martin Asser reports on the precarious situation in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Much has changed in Baghdad since my arrival nearly a week ago.

There is regular mains water and electricity. That means that water is being pumped to the taps most of the time - not just when our generator is running.

On Wednesday I saw a municipal dustcart collecting rubbish in the street where the BBC News house is located.

The Iraqis are also getting back to life as normal, with people not just queuing for staple requirements and safeguarding their homes, but also enjoying the little pleasures such as ice cream, restaurants and smoking water pipes in cafes.

Widespread frustration

But the lawlessness remains. Around any corner you might bump into people looting public buildings or stripping vehicles in the street.

Soon after touring the [Arch of Croesus] site, which included abandoned Iraqi military hardware and allied bomb craters nearby, I found myself conducting an interview with a man brandishing a long screwdriver
And among those not looting, there is widespread frustration about the chronic lack of security - especially after dark when gun battles erupt all around the city, even where there is a high concentration of US soldiers.

Attitudes to the Americans still range from warm welcome and gratitude, to visceral hatred.

That is probably something that has not changed, but many of those now co-operating with the "liberators" say it will not be long before they view the US troops as "occupiers".

And then you go to a place like Mada'in - ancient Ctesiphon - as I did on Wednesday, about 18 miles (30 km) south of Baghdad and famous for its massive pre-Islamic vaulted Arch of Croesus.

Threatened

I should have known what sort of place I was coming to from the start - one mural of Saddam Hussein on the outskirts of town had not been defaced at all, while another where the face had been blotted out showed signs that someone had come to clean off the paint.

US marines and Iraqis during a standoff in Baghdad
Some Iraqis are still resistant to the presence of US troops

I might think twice about stopping in a place if I see such a thing again, but I had set my heart on seeing the arch - something I had long read about but never had a chance to visit.

Soon after touring the site, which included abandoned Iraqi military hardware and allied bomb craters nearby, I found myself conducting an interview with a man brandishing a long screwdriver.

This was not an ideal circumstance for me, but it was the interviewee who had insisted on giving me a piece of his mind.

He wanted to says that the people of Mada'in still love Saddam Hussein "in their hearts" and since I (yes, me personally - despite my protestations) had come here to change the regime - helped by traitors in Baghdad - I had now better get out quickly and leave the Iraqis to govern themselves.

I was happy to take his advice.

I curtailed the interview as soon as was polite and headed back to the relative safety of Baghdad.




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