The war hits home

At the moment the war began, Khadouri Alkeysi was nestled in bed reading the paper in his suburban New Jersey home. His son, who was watching television in the living room, began calling to him: "Dad, Dad! They're bombing Baghdad. Come on!"

Mr. Alkeysi, an Iraqi-born American citizen, did not leap up to watch video of Cruise missile strikes. Instead, gripped with anxiety, he leaned over, picked up the phone, and dialed.

The line was silent for 10 or 15 seconds. Then it started to ring. It rang and rang, until a low buzz came on. Then he was disconnected. His family back in Baghdad wasn't answering.

In Baghdad, the Haidari family thought they were prepared for the start of a bombing campaign they had long anticipated. But as the full power of US bombs shook their neighborhood, this family of well-known artists found they hadn't understood the magnitude of what was going to happen.

Among other things they hadn't anticipated: the sound of a symphony of breaking glass.

"Slappy," meanwhile, was just waking up. Or being awakened, rather, by the beam of a flashlight in his face. His squad commander had called. He was "stepping" - flying an attack mission - in 25 minutes.

That meant there was no time for the Air Force captain to shower. After a dash of baby powder and a shave, he zipped into his flight suit in the tiny trailer he shares with two others from the 75th Tiger Sharks.

"We will sleep better knowing that you're defending freedom for us," said roommate "Tag," still snug beneath the covers. "Make sure you shut the light off when you leave."

In London, Robert Laughlin was already having a bad week. On Monday, antiwar protesters had invaded the floor of the International Petroleum Exchange, where he works as a trader. Work stopped for several hours. On Tuesday, oil prices had fallen 10 percent in a single day. The mood in the trading pit had turned ferocious. Now the phone was ringing at 3:15 a.m. "It's starting," said the voice on the other end.

The onset of the US-led war with Iraq has released a coiled spring of energy and emotion in people all around the globe.

Peace demonstrators have rushed into the streets at the same time that families of troops in conflict have rushed together for support. Iraqi expatriates worry about those they've left behind, while some wish most fervently for their homeland's liberation. Old Europe decries the new imperial America, while American officials retort that France and Germany have lost their moral bearings.

This human vigor will ripple outward for months, if not years, to come. Thus news of military advances tell only one dimension of this conflict. There are personal stories as well. As these accounts from Cairo to the Carolinas show, this "new" war of the 21st century is affecting people in new ways - ways that may foretell how it will ultimately impact the world.

• • •

The day after war started with a US cruise missile strike against Iraqi leadership targets, Khadouri Alkeysi awoke at 8 a.m. He had slept little the night before. Three sisters and their families live in Baghdad; a fourth lives in Basra, in southern Iraq. He had tried to reach them continually, but without success.

The rest of the family - his two grown sons live at home - was still sleeping, so he turned on the news, but kept the volume low. He ate some pita bread and cheese, then dialed Iraq, again without success.

A slight man with gray hair, Mr. Alkeysi was born to an upper-middle-class Iraqi family and came to the US to attend college in 1963. He graduated, married, and settled in the New York area. He became a citizen in 1979 and eventually went to work for Iraqi Airlines.

That job ended in 1991 when the FBI shut the airline's New York office during the first Gulf War. Since then, Alkeysi has been retired. He now spends much of his time as a peace activist with an antiwar nonprofit called the International Action Center (IAC).

After dressing, Alkeysi caught a bus into the city and went to the IAC by 11. He went immediately to his cubicle and tried his sisters again, with no more success. He turned on his computer, hoping for an e-mail message from one of them. Nothing. He sent a few messages and read the Middle Eastern newspapers online.

He picked up the phone again and dialed.

"Same thing," he said, handing the phone to a reporter to hear. "Nothing."

He stepped out of the office around 1:30 for just a few minutes to get some air. When he came back, he was told the ground invasion had started.

He stopped right inside the office door. "Really?"

"Turn up the television," a colleague said.

"I don't want to see it. I'm sorry," he said, and walked over to his cubicle. He picked up the phone and started dialing again, tears in his eyes.

• • •

At the Haidaris' house in Baghdad, windows had long since been taped and covered with plastic. Yet the power of the initial strikes was such that the ground shook and windows still broke. With relatives, they huddled together for support, on mattresses in the dining room, in the middle of the house among green concrete columns.

One of the rooms showered with glass was their art studio, in which stood an unfinished painting by family member Selma al-Allak of a blue Islamic-style dome and a peace dove.

Reached by phone from outside the country, Moayad al-Haidari said he hoped people all over the world would see what was happening in Iraq. "It is very bad, and very barbaric. It is not civilized," he said.

The bombing felt 10 times as heavy as that during the 1991 Gulf War. While electricity and water stayed on, and they had some news via radio, rumors traveling around the city played on their minds. Had the Americans really destroyed a history museum in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown? Had US aircraft killed four Jordanian students and a driver as they flew along the road out Baghdad?

"America has a very brave history, to build such a strong country, but this is ugly," Mr. Haidari said. "Baghdad is not a village in Africa. It is filled with civilized people."

• • •

When Slappy reported for duty, he heard that the air war against Iraq had begun, with a Cruise-missile strike at a leadership target.

(Slappy's name isn't really "Slappy," of course. Nor is his roommate's name "Tag." Those are call signs they use to identify themselves in the air - and that is how embedded journalists must refer to them, per Pentagon restrictions.)

But there was no time to ponder the geopolitical import of the moment. He went straight into a preflight briefing with "Cooter," another Air Force captain and lead pilot on the mission. That meant running through a checklist of topics: intelligence reports, flight paths, radio frequencies, and targeting. Final briefing points were buffed up in the back seat of a Ford F-350 pickup on the way to the flight line.

Once there, Slappy walked around his A-10, a US attack plane built decades ago. Designed for close air support of ground forces, it is equipped with a huge gun, a 30mm Gau-8/A Gatling that can fire 3,900 rounds per minute.

Inspection complete, Slappy climbed in, carrying bottled water and PowerBars. At 6:17 local time, he taxied to the runway. Neal, the crew maintenance chief, watched from the tarmac, and pumped his fist in the air. Slappy responded in kind.

It was only a few minutes' flying time to the Iraqi border. When he reached it, Slappy said a short prayer: "God be with us and keep us safe."

The mission lasted two and half hours, and resulted in the destruction of its intended target. Upon his safe return, Slappy told his crew chief the plane flew "Code 1" - no technical difficulties. Later, Slappy saw a report about the mission on TV. "Hey, that was us," he said.

• • •

After being awakened with news that the war has begun - courtesy of a call from a colleague in New York - Robert Laughlin didn't go back to sleep. After showering and a quick look at the news, he headed off to the front lines.

It's not Baghad or Basra, but there are times when the floor of London's International Petroleum Exchange feels like a battlefield.

Mr. Laughlin has seen it before. He was there during the first Gulf War, and knows what to do in a crisis. Eat, sleep, trade. No time for anything else. That's why he has been staying in a hotel just around the corner for a week, instead of at home some 60 miles away.

"It's just the lack of sleep factor," he says. "You're on your feet all day. It's an aggressive business, a tiring business, and the traveling just takes it out of you even more."

By 10 a.m. the phones were ringing and the shouting frenzied, and the huge electronic "scoreboard" was blinking as prices continued to fall.

In the GNI-Man Financial "box," Laughlin juggled three phones as clients tried to predict how oil prices would move in response to war news.

"Where's the May bid?" barked one, asking after a contract known as a future. "Sell me 500 at best." Laughlin obliged, somehow connecting with a buyer among the cacophony.

The phones are rarely quiet, but on Thursday they were abnormally busy. It was not just clients. The press, too, was calling. Laughlin had interviews with the BBC and Agence France-Presse. They wanted to know why the price of oil was falling so heavily.

"It's what's known as 'buy the rumor, sell the fact,' " Laughlin said. "We've been building up and up in the past few weeks, and now that it's happened, people are betting that it will be a short, sharp war."

• • •

Near the moment when oil trader Laughlin was talking to the press in London, Alaa Moharm was in the afternoon of a routine day in Cairo.

Or at least Dr. Alaa was going through the motions of a routine day: seeing patients at a walk-up neighborhood clinic, buying a geranium plant to present to his wife (Friday, March 21, was Mother's Day in Egypt), sharing a quick falafel lunch with a new friend.

But as he did these things, he was doing something else deep inside his mind. Alaa is an ophthalmologist by profession, but his real calling is Islam. In Alrmaya city, a neighborhood of faded yellow cinder block apartments in the shade of the Pyramids, he is known as "Dr. Imam." Dozens attend Alaa's late-afternoon or early-morning Islamic classes, hundreds come to hear him preach on Fridays at the small Al Rahman Mosque, and everyone in the neighborhood turns to him - day or night - with questions of faith.

And as precision-guided missiles rained down on Iraq, the Muslim cleric was mentally planning his Friday sermon - a sermon against the war. "Against" did not even begin to convey his negative feelings.

His Islamic brothers did not need comfort, he felt. They needed instructions in how to respond. They needed to be told to pray for their Muslim brothers, to give alms, to boycott US products completely ... and to prepare for jihad.

Two years ago he might have felt differently. On the Friday after Sept. 11, his sermon focused on peace and healing, and he condemned the actions of Osama bin Laden's foot soldiers.

"But if those soldiers took action today they would have reason, and I would understand," he said. "It is wrong and I hate it - but the US has begun the war and now it's impossible to stop it."

At 1 p.m. in Beit Sahour, West Bank, teacher Hanna Bannoura looked out at the sea of anxious, expectant faces in his English class, feeling as if his eyes were lined with sandpaper.

He hadn't slept at all the night before. He'd stayed up watching the war unfold on television - and trying to contact his son Bashir, a dentistry student in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

In his last year of study, Bashir had refused to leave despite growing danger, fearing that he would never be able to return and his years of academic work would be lost.

Mr. Bannoura was beside himself with worry. Call after call had yielded nothing but but a single, secondhand reassurance from a friend in Jordan who said he had spoken to Bashir and that he was fine.

Now his seventh- and eighth-grade students at Beit Sahour's Evangelical Lutheran School were jittery with their own worries. They didn't want to study English; they wanted to talk about the war.

And they wanted to talk, not about the threat from Iraqi missiles, but about what they saw as the threat from Israelis. Israelis had been issued gas masks and ordered to create safe rooms. Why weren't there Palestinian gas-mask centers?

As he fielded their questions, Bannoura sensed that the kids were waiting for an adult to say, "There's a war, let's go home." He explained why that wouldn't happen: They have already missed so much school because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We can't throw up our hands, we have to go on, we have to face these things," he told his students. "We want you to study, to at least have something."

He told them to write down how they felt, trying to make the moment teachable. He watched their emotions take shape in their notebooks. Confusion and uneasiness abounded.

• • •

Back in the US, around midnight on Thursday, March 20, Elizabeth Clingersmith stepped out into the rain. Her husband Tom, a 15-year Marine veteran, was at war on the other side of the world. He was a mechanic, tending tanks on their way to Baghdad.

To get her mind off her worries, Ms. Clingersmith had gone with friends to a barracks on base - Cherry Point Air Base, Havelock, N.C. - to watch some basketball and see friends. But she'd decided she didn't need to talk after all. Maybe what she needed was to be alone.

She'd met Tom when they both worked at a Burger King outside Lansing, Mich., in 1987. He was 20, she was 17. He said he liked her hair, which warmed her heart, because she had just chopped off long locks for a punk look.

He'd wanted to enlist in the Air Force, but wandered into a Marine office, instead. The recruiter said, "Why don't you sit down here for a minute?" Two weeks later he was at boot camp.

He called her one night from Parris Island. His voice sounded hesitant. Elizabeth was fighting with everybody that day.

"What were you going to tell me?" she asked.

"I was going to ask you to marry me," Tom said.

Their honeymoon lasted one day. Then he went off to Okinawa, for a year.

They've had three kids and years of Marine family experience. Tom fought in the first Gulf War. He went to Okinawa again. But that had felt safe. Now he was in Iraq again. It didn't feel safe.

As Elizabeth stared at the tall pines bending in the wind, she realized that the water on her face was tears.

• • •

On Friday, March 21, Khadouri Alkeysi, the Iraqi-born US citizen, arrived at his office at 11 a.m. He took part in a staff meeting, then went to Union Square to speak, as he had before, at the square's inclusive, free-floating antiwar rally.

Just after 1, as he waited his turn at the microphone, the bombing of Baghdad began in earnest. It was, as the Pentagon had promised, something that inspired shock and awe.

Alkeysi heard the news, but showed little outward emotion. He gave his standard speech about the need to understand the people of Iraq. But he ended it quickly, and hastened to return to his family for the rest of the day.

He wanted to do normal things - errands - with his wife, and to continue to try to reach his relatives in his native land.

"I pray that they're OK. I pray at home, on the street. I pray everywhere," he said.

• • •

In Kuwait, Slappy arrived at the A-10 operations building, known as "ops," at 5:15 local time. By then he'd learned at least one thing about life in a war zone: There are too many missile alarms. Four times during the night he was woken up by the base's giant PA system voice saying, "Alarm red. MOPP level 4. Take cover." He got tired of putting on his chemical protection suit, and then taking it off. He ended up sleeping in it until morning.

It was his turn to serve as "top three," a job for which he had little evident enthusiasm. Top three meant sitting in the middle - assigning flights and settling disputes as they came up. And despite all those recruiting commercials about soaring into the blue that showed happy people slapping each other on the back, disputes did come up.

Today, Slappy knew, someone was going to get upset. He was not disappointed.

Of course, it was something of a surprise that it took only 45 minutes, and that the unhappy person was him.

By 6 flights were already beginning to back up. Some planes were coming back with mechanical problems, and others were coming back late. Flight times were getting pushed back, and Slappy was becoming concerned that his unit wouldn't be able to fly all its assigned missions.

So he started urging Capt. Trey Chastain, a good friend and neighbor back home at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., to quicken his pace. As maintenance officer, Captain Chastain was supposed to keep the planes moving and cockpits filled.

By noon, despite a little less-than-neighborly jawing, Chastain was turning around jets at a good clip - under two and a half hours for refueling, maintenance, and bomb reloading. Missions were back on schedule.

Lunch consisted of sandwiches and peanut M&M's brought in from the mess hall. Then - of course - the siren blew. Code Red.

As they waited for the all-clear, Chastain made hand motions at Slappy, as if throwing darts. He was thinking of better days, thought Slappy, when they often played darts in his garage at home. The gesture also meant their clashes of the day had been forgotten.

• • •

Over in London, meanwhile, the oil markets were nervous. The news was mixed - a US helicopter was down, and oil wells in Iraq were apparently on fire. Oil markets don't like burning oil wells. Was a US victory in this war not a foregone conclusion, after all?

But by 9:30 local time the signs of sabotage looked a little thin on the ground. A grand total of seven of Iraq's 2,500 wells appeared to be burning. Selling resumed, sending the price per barrel below $25 for the first time since January.

Trader Robert Laughlin, a thick-set man with receding hair and gray stubble, knew he was only doing his job. Sure, war created opportunity, and possible profit, for him, while for others it produced misery and want. But if not him, who? If not oil, what? Traders are nothing if not pragmatic.

Besides, he didn't even support this war, did he? He didn't see the evidence, and he had a wife and kids to feed.

Of course, he'd missed one kid's birthday this week - for the first time. At 6:30, he packed up and left to see him, shattered by the week's journey.

• • •

On Friday afternoon in Cairo, just as US and British forces began to roll forward quickly in Iraq, Alaa Moharm decided to lead his own little demonstration. After all, said the Muslim cleric, it is better to vent one's frustrations than to weep.

No police bothered him as he and his fellows marched in protest around his modest Alrmaya neighborhood, past the apartment buildings, the little kiosk and the library, and the wall graffiti that reads "Israel and US - Nazis."

Elsewhere in Cairo, police used water cannons and physical force to beat back demonstrators, who in turn hurled rocks, shoes, and panes of glass, chanting, "Baghdad today, Cairo tomorrow."

After his demonstration, Alaa went home for lunch with his cousins. He sat with his wife on his pink sofa, sipping sweet tea and watching Iraqi troops surrender on TV.

"They are not good Muslims," he told his visitors. "A good Muslim is not afraid of death. I would not surrender."

Then it was time for his nap. Control of the television passed to the children, who flipped idly through the channels until they hit something they thought promising on Nile TV - the US-produced movie "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

But there was to be no cheap irony at Imam's house. In slippers, he silently walked over with an Egyptian children's video.

"America," he said to his visitors and progeny, "has no place in this home."

• • •

At 4:30 on Friday in the West Bank, Hanna Bannoura was finally happy.

Tired, yes, he was still tired. He had had another sleepless night, watching cruise missiles slam into Baghdad, the city of his youth. He snatched naps when he could.

Finally, he and his wife, Firial, got a call through to their son Bashir in Mosul, and learned that he was fine. They had needed to hear his voice, for their own peace of mind.

Hanna discussed the call for a while, then fell silent. The war was far from over. Forty-eight hours. It was only beginning.

"I hope this will end soon," he said.

• • •

On Friday In North Carolina the youngest Clingersmith, Andrew, was sent home from school for hurting other kids. To calm down, Mom Elizabeth arranged her collection of old books - Adam Smith, Plutarch, Tolstoy - on the mantle.

The war was making all the kids behave worse. Well, maybe not the oldest, Kristin. She'd been through the Young Marines program. She'd sit quietly with her mom and talk about the prognosis for the fighting. She seemed old enough to articulate her feelings.

But Andrew and the middle child, Nicole, still found war inexplicable, their father's role in it a mystery. Elizabeth kept war news off the TV, thinking they all seemed better when kept in the dark.

But Andrew was taking frustration out on classmates, with tiny fists. Andrew's health wasn't good, either. He had to take a pill in his applesauce every morning. Then Andrew appeared at her side. "I love you, Mommy," he said. "And I'll love you even when you're gone."

Elizabeth smiled a crooked smile.

"He's very random," she said.

Contributing to this report were staff writers Alexandra Marks in New York; Ben Arnoldy at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait; Scott Peterson in Baghdad and London; Danna Harman in Cairo; and Nicole Gaouette in Beit Sahour, West Bank; as well as Mark Rice-Oxley in London and Patrik Jonsson in Havelock, N.C.

'Our daily life is full of explosions'

Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.

The phone rings in Yair and Sara Sachs' apartment, a harsh, insistent sound that's out of place in a living room filled with Asian antiques and anchored, at one end, by a grand piano. It is Sara's 91-year-old mother. The army has told Israelis to "assemble" their gas masks, but the Hebrew word they used is ambiguous. What does it mean, she asks, what should she do?

Sara explains what's required and, apart from tuning in to a TV news broadcast, that is the only concession she and her husband make to the looming war. They do not seal a room or break out their government-issued gas masks to check them over. They don't even worry much. Instead, they go see a movie.

The Sachs' aren't unusual in Jerusalem, which isn't considered a likely Iraqi target as it is home to important Islamic holy sites. Despite the fact that 39 Iraqi missiles hit Israel during the last Gulf War, there's a strong sense in Israel that this war will provide, as Mr. Sachs puts it, "less of everything than last time."

Israelis go out without their gas masks, ignoring army recommendations. Many say they haven't bothered to seal a room, stockpile food, or take other suggested steps.

"What a contrast to the first night of the previous war," says Yair, a computer specialist. "We had three little children and my mother was alone. I remember driving over to her house and wondering whether a shower of missiles would come down on me."

Twelve years later, there are some major differences. Israelis have already lived through one Gulf War, their army is that much better prepared and Saddam Hussein is weaker. Israel also has what Mrs. Sachs calls a "real" war to worry about - the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

"You have to remember that on a regular basis our daily life is full of explosions," says Sara, who works for the Ministry of Health. "It's around us all the time and all the time we're wondering 'When is it going to happen to me?' "

Thursday, 9 a.m.

Yair and Sara Sachs turn on the TV, an unusual step as their Jerusalem home usually only echoes with the sound of radio. This morning, though, they want intensive commentary about what has happened while they slept.

They are apprehensive about the war and against it. "It's very hard to see a reason for this war," says Sara, a striking woman whose pale skin is offset by deep green eyes and a flattering mane of bright pink hair. "I'm underwhelmed by Bush's rhetoric," adds Yair, who says the argument that a US victory in Iraq will eliminate one of Israel's enemies is wishful thinking. Saddam Hussein's departure won't necessarily make Iraq more sympathetic to Israel, he says, and the argument that democracy in Iraq will lead to democracies elsewhere in the region seems naive to him.

Sara goes to work, where she stays logged on all day so that she can check news websites quickly. The news she's looking for though, is about the intifada, not the second Gulf War.

When Yair leaves for work, he carries his gas mask with him. But when he gets to his car, he pauses and then stashes it in the trunk. It's a gesture of defiance.

"Why should I carry a gas mask because of this war between Iraq, the US and Kuwait?" asks Yair, whose thick wavy hair and steel-rimmed glasses give him a professorial look. "The whole thing is so bizarre it lends an extra legitimacy to this quest for a normal life. And trying to live your life in the face of crazy times has been a Jewish specialty for centuries," he adds.

"It's not as if we're oblivious, we're just not concerned."

By Nicole Gaouette

Return to Baghdad

SULAYMANIYAH, IRAQ - In 1970, two years after Saddam Hussein's Baath Party came to power to stay, the Revolutionary Court in Baghdad sentenced a young Kurdish activist named Noshirwan Mustafa to death. He fled.

Now Mr. Mustafa is plotting his return to Iraq's capital.

Mustafa, who was a Marxist in the 1970s and who says he was convicted on bogus political charges, went to Austria to study. He returned to Iraqi Kurdistan in 1975 to help found the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and to fight for Kurdish rights from the mountains.

He was a pesh merga - one who faces death, as the Kurds call their warriors - until 1991. That year, after the Kurds gained some measure of autonomy in northern Iraq, he put down the gun to write books and plan strategy for the PUK, which administers the eastern portion of northern Iraq.

Although he says he is no longer a politician, Mustafa is considered the party's second man, after leader Jalal Talabani.

Tall, with close-cropped grey hair and squinty-eyed good looks, Mustafa tracks two wars these days. One is the PUK's battle against Islamist groups in its territory. Early Saturday, the US provided long-sought support for the PUK, sending cruise missiles and war planes to attack the Islamists

The other is the US-led invasion of Iraq. "It is a matter of time," he says of the fall of Mr. Hussein. "A couple of days."

Once that happens, Mustafa will head to Baghdad to represent the PUK in the Iraqi capital. For decades, he says, Kurds have sought to advance their cause from the periphery. No more.

"Now we will try to move all our capacity to the center of Iraq to have influence in the central government," he explains, in part by encouraging Kurdish businesspeople and students to go to capital.

In 1970, before his conviction, Mustafa was running a political magazine. Now he plans to open a PUK newspaper and radio station - in Arabic, not Kurdish - in Baghdad.

By Cameron W. Barr

The view from Toulon

PARIS - It's 7:45 a.m. on Thursday, March 20, in Toulon, in the southwest of France, and World War II veteran François Corbasson is enjoying his usual breakfast of a baguette and strong black coffee.

Morning TV shows are breaking the news of the previous night's air raids on Baghdad to early-risers in France, but the octogenarian former soldier is totally unaware of these events. He doesn't own a television set or radio because, he says, the programs bore him.

A Roman Catholic, he decides to skip his usual attendance at morning mass and instead writes a letter to a friend before lunch of homemade vegetable soup.

It's not until 4 p.m., when he arrives at the school where he helps children with learning difficulties do their homework, that Mr. Corbasson finds out about the start of the war. As his pupils talk excitedly about vivid television images of bombs raining down on Baghdad, his temper flares.

"I knew he [American President George W Bush] would attack, but I still feel so angry. Even if he [Bush] thinks he's the strongest person in the world, he can't do this. He simply can't..."

But later that night, alone in his tiny apartment, the great-grandfather of six is filled with a deep sense of sadness. Images of destroyed lives and destroyed cities after the German bombardments when he was a young man flood his memory. "I feel so sad and concerned for the Iraqis, the Americans and for all of us," he says. "I think the Western world is making a grave mistake."

For months, the outspoken Mr. Corbasson had been debating the pros and cons of what he calls an "illegal and immoral" war with his friends. He poured out his anger against the American president in vehement letters to local newspapers, all of which went unpublished. Equally futile had been his attempts to persuade his son, Neil, who works for a French company in Dubai, that this war is "complete madness."

Neil, who sees a threat Saddam Hussein poses to Iraq's neighbors in the region, is among only about 17 percent of the French population who backs Bush in his efforts to rid the world of the Iraqi leader.

"I tried to talk to him about it, but it doesn't work on the phone," says the disappointed father. "I will see him when he comes to France next week. Maybe I can talk to him again then."

For the former Marine, who took part in the Allied landing in Normandy in 1944 with General Charles De Gaulle, this war flies in the face of everything he'd fought for all his life.

"We are not barbarians anymore," Corbasson says. "We are civilized people. We created the United Nations so there could be peace in the world." This war is illegal, he says, because Bush doesn't have the full backing of the UN. The only way a war could have been justified, he adds, is if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had directly attacked America.

Apart from the legality issue, he says, there's also a moral problem. "In the last Gulf war [in which France was a member of the US-led coalition] we killed thousands of Iraqi civilians," he says. "It was not a war, it was a massacre... But at least in that war "we were right" because Kuwait had been attacked."

Even though he quit the military after the war and became a successful financial adviser for companies across the world, it's clear that in his heart, Corbasson will always be a soldier.

He speaks proudly of the "clean war" he fought in - and the "13 German ships I sank," for which he was highly decorated - and speaks about the first Gulf war in 1991 as if he had been there. But this time, he clearly distances himself from what he describes as "a total catastrophe."

"If I were a soldier now and (French President Jacques) Chirac decided to help America, I would not have gone to war," he says determinedly.

As a French participant in the Marshall Plan negotiations in Washington after World War II, Corbasson readily admits that France is indebted to the US. "It means we have to help America as much as we can if they are attacked," he says, "but it doesn't mean we must run after them when they start a stupid war without reason," he says.

Along with many of his countrymen, the self-described "French patriot" speculates that the war has mostly to do with Bush's failure to capture Osama bin Laden, America's Middle East oil interests, and Bush's desire to succeed "where daddy had failed."

"I don't hate America," Corbasson said. "I love America. I lived there for three years. It's sad that the American government is telling its people to hate us. But in the long term they will come to respect Chirac."

Saturday morning, as France wakes up to the news of devastating air assaults on Baghdad, Corbasson is again blissfully unaware that the war has taken on a new dimension. Only in discussion with his friends before morning mass does he begin to grasp the extent of the US's "shock and awe" air campaign. For the first time, the former military man sounds defeated. "It's inhuman. We couldn't stop it. We're back to the law of the jungle. It's awful. What more can I say?"

Corbasson leaves for Paris, where police say 90,000 people took to the streets on Saturday as a new wave of antiwar protests swept across the world. Even though he has no plans to join in demonstrations, the war will be much on the veteran's mind on his 85th birthday, which he will celebrate with family and friends Monday. "It will be a very sad day," he says. "This is the end of the world for me."

By Chené Blignaut

'Only monsters could do this'

MOSCOW - In the past few days, Ali al-Amel's mood has swung from joy to despair as he sits glued to his TV set absorbing every scrap of news about the war in his homeland, Iraq.

Ali, a 20-year political exile from Saddam Hussein, and his Russian wife, Lyudmila, have hardly slept since the first US Cruise missiles crashed into Baghdad. "My first thoughts when I heard this news were. 'At last, we are going to be free of the bloody dictator'," says Ali. "I felt elated. I prayed that all Iraqi soldiers will give themselves up and the war would end quickly."

Ali says he is still hopeful the conflict will be over soon, but the harsh images of war - in particular Saturday's massive aerial bombardment of his hometown, Baghdad, played over and over again on Russian TV - have sobered and saddened him.

"I was stunned to see that monstrous spectacle of destruction crashing over Baghdad," he says. "At first I couldn't think, I was mesmerized by all those huge explosions. Then I began to try to identify from my memory the places that were being hit, and to listen carefully for any news about the targets."

Ali's mother and brother live very near the Rihab Palace, one of Saddam Hussein's Baghdad complexes that was struck hard during Saturday's raid. "As soon as I learned this, I reached instinctively for the telephone," he says. "But I cannot even attempt to call them. As long as Saddam is in power, it will be extremely dangerous for my family if I were to contact them."

The last news Ali had of his family was two weeks ago, when his brother phoned him according to a prearranged routine. "I am just beside myself with worry," he says.

As a youth in Baghdad, Ali joined the once-powerful Iraqi Communist Party, but had to flee from Mr. Hussein's secret police in 1981. Like many Iraqi communists, he took refuge in the Soviet Union, where he studied physics at a Moscow institute.

After the demise of the USSR, Ali went into business with some Russian friends, and is now part owner of a wholesale clothing company. "My whole daily routine is shattered," he says. Since learning of the war's onset, he rarely leaves his small flat in central Moscow. "I hardly sleep or eat, and keep drifting back to the TV set."

Despite the nightly display of US and British destructive might, Ali does not blame them for the war. "Of course it feels humiliating to see Iraqi soldiers surrendering like cowards, but it is Saddam who brought them to this," he says.

But he says he felt enraged when he learned that US Marines had raised an American flag over a captured Iraqi town. "I just want to know if they're coming as liberators or conquerors?" he says. "I haven't made up my mind about that." Ali says Lyudmila - who has never visited Iraq - has become "completely anti-American" while watching the TV images of Baghdad being bombarded. "She just sat crying through all those pictures of bombs exploding over the city last night," he says. "She told me over and over again: 'Only monsters could do this.' "

By Fred Weir

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