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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Baghdad not in party mood

By Jonny Dymond
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Iraqi highway
Baghdad is awash with US troops not Baath party revellers this year
Palestine Street was a forlorn sight on a day that previously played host to vibrant celebrations marking the 1968 Baathist revolution.

Few residents were to be seen on the pavements of this north-south thoroughfare through Baghdad this year.

Some cars zipped along the highway but it takes hours to get petrol in Baghdad now, keeping many cars off the roads.

Towards the northern end of the kilometres-long street are the buildings from where Saddam Hussein and his Baath party once controlled the country.

The burnt-out hulks of the Olympic committee building and the ministry of irrigation stand ruined next to the perfectly preserved oil ministry, which is now heavily protected by coalition troops.

Party's party

In years gone by, Palestine Street was the site of one of the biggest celebrations of Baath party control.

Students would flood out of El Mustansariya University at its northern end to parade.

Loudspeakers would boom out slogans and songs and flags and banners would decorate the street.

The only remains of a Saddam Hussein statue on Palestine Road
Remains of a once proud statue of Saddam Hussein
Along the main entrance to the university, tiered seating would rise up, providing senior party members with a privileged vantage point.

But at the university on Thursday there was nothing but chained gates.

And in the square that marks the end of the street, two rusted hooves were all that remained of a once-proud statue of Saddam Hussein astride a rearing horse.

They are the only remaining evidence the dictator commanded the square with a fixed stare that looked down on his subjects.

Kerim, 40, was trying to sell soft drinks from a coolbox along the deserted street.

He said he did not like the anniversary which he said was imposed on many Iraqis.

Somehow there is more freedom, but it's not real freedom from my point of view. It's chaos
Kerim, street vendor
"Some people were forced to go to the celebrations after receiving threats from the Baath party," he said.

Kerim said he did not feel any more liberated under the present situation.

"Somehow there is more freedom, but it's not real freedom from my point of view. It's chaos," he said.

Common view

Voices across Baghdad echoed Kerim's sentiments of joy that no one was this year being forced to celebrate against their will, but felt gloom about the present situation.

Sitting outside a travel agency, retired civil servant Kemal Al Ali massaged a long strand of brown and cream worry beads as he spoke.

"There were celebrations through the government," he said, "Not through the people. In the 1970s everyone voluntarily celebrated with lights and music, but that changed."

Iraqi military
Saddam Hussein's army would commemorate the Baath revolution
As for the new national holiday declared for 9 April - the day Saddam Hussein was toppled - Kemal was in two minds.

"It means two things - either occupation or liberation. If it's liberation then I'll celebrate. If it's an occupation, then I won't," he said.

Some had expected demonstrations of support for the old regime on this anniversary, but there were none.

When two coaches cruised down Palestine Street hooting their horns, some of its passengers hanging from doors cheering, it looked like a glimmer of protest celebration, but was instead a wedding group on its way to a party.

The cheering could just be heard above the crashing of hammers on metalwork from a nearby blacksmiths.

Hussein Kadim
I see only two kinds of freedom when I walk around - satellite dishes being sold in shops and alcohol available to buy on the street
Hussein Kadim
Here Hussein Kadim, 47, and his friends toiled to keep the family business alive.

Last year they broke the rules to work through the holiday. He said he never supported the old holiday. But he was bitter about the new situation in Iraq.

"I don't think Iraq has any freedom," he said.

"I see only two kinds of freedom when I walk around - satellite dishes being sold in shops and alcohol available to buy on the street".

As for celebrating the new holiday, Hussein was scornful.

"Impossible," he said. "I don't consider 9 April a day of liberation. That was the day of our occupation."




SEE ALSO:
'Time running out' to secure Iraq
18 Jul 03  |  Middle East


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