There’s an old Arab saying that Iraqis like to quote when talking about another US war against their country: “The wet man is not afraid of the rain.”
With talk of war dominating every conversation in the days just prior to the US decision to move ahead with invasion plans despite a lack of sanction, men told stories of their time in the Iraqi Army during the first Gulf War, against Iran. “I went there almost unable to grow a beard and I came back with a head of gray hair,” said Ahmed, who spent seven years on the frontlines of the bloody eight-year war between Baghdad and Teheran. (As with all the ordinary Iraqis quoted in this piece, his name has been changed.) Almost every Iraqi household lost someone in the war. They had only two years to struggle for a return to any semblance of a normal life when Iraq invaded Kuwait, sparking the second Gulf War, which took the lives of more than 200,000 Iraqis. The rest, as one Iraqi put it, was “our well-known destiny.”
“I know war too much. With wars I am like Sylvester Stallone, like Rocky. We had too many sequels. We don’t need another,” said Mohammed, whose days are now consumed by sleep and his nights by listening to shortwave radio.
The official line from the Iraqi leadership is that every citizen will resist an attempted US invasion. The government has been staging regular military parades in cities across Iraq. Saddam Hussein, once the guest of honor at such events, has not appeared in public for years. Instead, the red-mustached Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim, sits on balconies above the parade grounds, saluting the soldiers as they march past.
Some carry unloaded Kalashnikovs, others are dressed in white Hezbollah-type garb with fake sticks of dynamite strapped to their chests. Members of the volunteer Al Quds (Jerusalem) Army, originally formed to “liberate” Jerusalem, have pictures of Saddam taped to their chests. Women in black hijab march in unison, some throwing mint candies on the ground. At times, the marches resemble a children’s Halloween parade. Indeed, there are children’s divisions. But the faces of the ordinary army soldiers in these parades tell a sad tale. They look tired, nervous and beaten down. Commanding officers shout orders at the men to keep in step.
Months ago, when a US attack seemed like an event far in the distance, people spoke enthusiastically about “fighting the Americans.” But the war quickly grew imminent and the people knew it. Panic set in.
Iraqi forces have dug large pits in areas throughout the capital, some of them as deep as four to five yards. Foreign diplomats and Iraqi officials say the holes will soon be filled with oil. The point, they say, is to torch them at the onset of attacks to create a black cloud over Baghdad to confuse laser-guided munitions. Also, many Iraqis say they have heard that the army will dump oil into the Tigris River, which stretches past the main presidential palace and several key government buildings. As with the pits around Baghdad, the plan is to set fire to the Tigris to shroud the center of power with thick black smoke.