Allied Air Raids Spur Hostility Among Iraqis
Civilians believe the coalition forces' aim is to disrupt their lives and cause a popular revolt
THE pattern and intensity of the continuous air and missile raids on Iraq, according to Iraqi civilians interviewed in Baghdad, has provoked deep resentment toward the United States and the coalition forces. Iraqi and Arab analysts in Baghdad have concluded that the coalition forces were trying to provoke a popular uprising against the leadership by making life difficult for the people.
And many Iraqi people apparently feel the target is not the Iraqi government and military, but disruption of civilian life.
From the first night of extensive attacks, they point out, shelling resulted in the destruction of power stations, water supplies, and telecommunications facilities.
During the following few days, the raids targeted oil refineries, which has resulted in gasoline shortages and heavy air pollution.
``This is a war against the Iraqi people, against Iraq, against Baghdad against our existence,'' says Muhammad, who served in the Iraqi Army during the Iran-Iraq war.
The growing anti-Western sentiment is reflected in attempts by ordinary Iraqis, and sometimes by soldiers, to capture Western pilots and kill them.
The pilots have come to symbolize the Western governments and armies in the Gulf region, according to the Iraqis. As intensive raids continue, the resentment felt by ordinary Iraqis and soldiers has been building up against what they view as the ``invisible enemy'' in the sky which throws thousands of tons of explosives on Iraqi cities.
``We dare them to confront us face to face,'' says a young Iraqi with a K-78 Kalashnikov. Some young Iraqis say they are waiting for the moment when the coalition forces attempt to land in Iraq or start a ground war.
``They will have a bitter taste of Iraqi resistance,'' says Qassem.
On the second day of the war, the Iraqi Army distributed hundred of thousands of rounds of ammunition to the Iraqi people. Young and old alike could be seen in the streets of Baghdad toting machine guns.
Popular Iraqi hostility was further reinforced by an increase in civilian casualties as civilian buildings across Baghdad were hit.
In the first three days of the war only a few civilian sites were hit. But from the fourth day on, Iraqi Information Ministry officials and residents of Baghdad reported an increasing number of casualties and damaged civilian buildings.
Initially, Iraqi Information Ministry officials were reticent about discussing the number of casualties. When this reporter began to report seeing houses which had collapsed on their residents, Iraqi censors asked that the report be played down. The Iraqi government seemed undecided about whether or not to play up the civilian casualties and risk demoralizing the population.
Only on the sixth day of the war did the Iraqi press begin publishing pictures of demolished houses and of men and women weeping over the ruins of their homes.
On the same day, the Information Ministry also started distributing video tapes of civilian buildings which had been hit. Later on, the ministry took the Cable News Network crew and the Jordanian crew of World Television News to the civilian targets.
But so far the government has been reluctant to disclose the total number of casualties.
As of the seventh day, when this reporter left Baghdad, no public funerals of the type familiar during the Iran-Iraq war were seen around Baghdad. The government is apparently either suppressing outward manifestation of mourning or the toll so far is not that high that the black mourning banners have as yet become a feature of Baghdad as they were during the eight-year conflict.
Some residents of Baghdad, however, worry that if the bombardment continues at the same rate - an average of three raids in the night and two in the daytime - destruction and the death count will rise considerably.
So far the emerging hostility has been directed at the captured pilots. One Iraqi woman said that she saw a mob throwing stones at a pilot as soon as he landed after his plane was hit.
Iraqi Radio has been issuing daily appeals to people not to harm pilots and to turn them over alive to the Army in return for an award of 30,000 Iraqi dinars.
The Iraqi armed forces are hoping, according Iraqi sources, to extract from the pilots information about the coalition troops.
The authorities showed the pilots on television with the aim, Iraqis say, of boosting public morale and fueling the anti-war movement in the West.
But the ``interviews'' with the captured pilots - some of whom were badly bruised - have drawn some criticism inside Iraq and among Arab supporters of Baghdad.
``These shows will create further resentment among ordinary people in the West,'' says an Arab writer who lives here.
But Baghdad is evidently also trying to demoralize the pilots of the coalition forces. The government has said it will place the pilots ``in strategic sites'' to prevent further bombardment of these sites.
Iraqi officials deny that the pilots were tortured. According to eyewitnesses, some of them were badly wounded when they were attacked by angry Iraqis. They say the Iraqi Army had to impose strict penalties on soldiers who harmed captured pilots.
Arab and Iraqi analysts warn that, regardless of the outcome of the war, the bombardment will create a big gap between the Iraqi people and the West.