Iraqis Caught in Propaganda War

Baghdad residents don't believe news from either side, say bombing seeks to break their spirit

ON the second morning after the coalition assault against Iraq, heavy smoke enveloped Baghdad. During the night the city was a target for some of the most intensive bombing since the beginning of the war more than five weeks ago. Although the fiercest battles were taking place hundreds of miles away, Iraqis here went through another fearful night. Thunderous blasts rocked the capital, while the sky was lit with colorful fire traces. At least twice, the sky turned into a big white ball as a result of the intensity of the explosions. In the morning, the whole city was shrouded with gray smoke. Initially, Iraqis on the street and journalists thought it was fog. But the burning sensations that irritated the eyes and the heavy acrid smell filling the air left no doubt that Baghdad would continue to be a major target. By midday smoke obscured the view. Air raid sirens went off three times yesterday morning, although there were no further explosions. Even so, Baghdad's residents were haunted by the sound of the bombers, which had not flown that low over the capital since the war began. In the quieter hours, Iraqis have remained glued to their radios following the news from the front. But many complain that there is nothing much to learn and are confused by the conflicting reports. While the coalition claims that its forces are achieving their objectives, Radio Baghdad insists that the Iraqi Army is successfully repelling the attacks. Ordinary Iraqis believe that both sides are exaggerating. For them it is a war of propaganda and they are the target. ``We know that Baghdad Radio exaggerates, but we no longer trust the Western-run radios. They lied at the beginning of the war,'' says Mounir, an Iraqi technician. He was referring to reports at the outset of the war, in which Western reports quoted coalition forces' officials as saying that the Iraqis were on the verge of surrender. Sunday night's intensive bombardment of Baghdad, however, brought concerns and suspicions here that the coalition forces were determined to completely disrupt normal life in Baghdad as a means of breaking the Iraqi spirit. ``Why do they [the coalition forces] not engage in an honorable battle at the front?'' asks an Iraqi woman, almost in tears. ``Why do they send their bombers to Baghdad? What do they want?'' Iraqis argue that the coalition forces are hoping to pressure people to revolt against the leadership. Ordinary Iraqis have become more outspoken in their criticism of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council since the beginning of the war. But their main target of anger and frustration so far has been the US and its coalition forces. ``Why did France join in the war against us? We thought the French were our friends,'' screamed an old man angrily at journalists in the downtown Shourjeh souk. He then cursed the American president. The war, coupled with Iraqi isolation, has brought about unprecedented political debate in which many people have been discussing their views relatively freely. Well-placed Iraqi officials who were contacted by the Monitor did not express surprise at the ongoing political debate and appeared more tolerant of criticism and the growing diversity of political opinions. ``People are asked to make big sacrifices. Officials have to listen to what they think,'' a well-placed Iraqi source said. The Iraqi leadership apparently has given up on any effective Arab or international support and feels that its only hope lies in its people. In his speech on Sunday, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did not claim victory was inevitable. Instead he called on his people to put up an honorable fight, and he made it clear to them that they had no alternative. By midday yesterday, unconfirmed reports spread in the capital that the Iraqi Army was doing well in Kuwait. There was no way of confirming the reports. But for many in the Baghdad the news brightened their day as they clung to any spark of hope that they would get their sons back alive and life would be normal again. -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/91/mar/week10/oand.

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