Tuesday 8 April 2003

It seemed as if Baghdad would fall within hours.

But the day was characterised by crazed normality, high farce and death

by Robert Fisk in Baghdad

click here to visit his website It started with a series of massive vibrations, a great "stomping" sound that shook my room. "Stomp, stomp, stomp," it went. I lay in bed trying to fathom the cause. It was like the moment in Jurassic Park when the tourists first hear footfalls of the dinosaur, an ever increasing, ever more frightening thunder of a regular, monstrous heartbeat.

From my window on the east bank of the Tigris, I saw an Iraqi anti-aircraft gun firing from the roof of a building half a mile away, shooting across the river at something. "Stomp, stomp," it went again, the sound so enormous it set off alarms in cars along the bank.

And it was only when I stood on the road at dawn that I knew what had happened. Not since the war in 1991 had I heard the sound of American artillery. And there, only a few hundred metres away on the far bank of the Tigris, I saw them. At first they looked like tiny, armoured centipedes, stopping and starting, dappled brown and grey, weird little creatures that had come to inspect an alien land and search for water.

You had to keep your eye on the centipedes to interpret reality, to realise each creature was a Bradley fighting vehicle, its tail was a cluster of US Marines hiding behind the armour, moving forward together each time their protection revved its engines and manoeuvred closer to the Tigris. There was a burst of gunfire from the Americans and a smart clatter of rocket-propelled grenades and puffs of white smoke from the Iraqi soldiers and militiamen dug into their foxholes and trenches on the same river bank further south. It was that quick and that simple and that awesome.

Indeed, the sight was so extraordinary, so unexpected – despite all the Pentagon boasts and Bush promises – that one somehow forgot the precedents that it was setting for the future history of the Middle East.

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