City of War and Grief
By Nate Thayer
Reporting on the ambiance after the launch of the “Shock and Awe’ air campaign and the declaration of war by the U.S. on Iraq and before their capture of Baghdad
March 24, 2003
The following article by an American journalist still in Baghdad
gives a bit different take on things than the TV coverage. He
reports a great deal of anger against the Americans, rather than
people jumping up and down looking for liberation.
His account may well be biased — we have no way of knowing.
But here’s a what if. What if when the Coalition finishes off the
regime they are stuck with a nation of angry and highly resentful
people? What then?
City of Grief and Rage
By Nate Thayer, SLATE.COM
March 24, 2003
Today, for the first time, the bombs fell and the missiles struck in
daylight. The assault lasted all day. And it came not only from
long-range missiles but from coalition planes that are flying over our
heads and dropping their payloads in the neighborhood of the Palestine
Hotel, where most of the foreign journalists remaining in Baghdad are
TODAY IS ALSO the first time that I am truly frightened. It is not the
American bombs I am primarily afraid of. What frightens me and Mary –
the name I’ll give a photographer with whom I’ve become inseparable –
is the mood of the people. The city is thick with anger and defiance,
and we are Americans.
Every day since Mary and I arrived by road from Jordan, we have been
threatened with expulsion. This morning, once again, we were ordered
out. “You have two choices-you can be a human shield or you can leave
the country,” said my government minder. He offered this without his
usual smarmy smile.
“But what about my visa?” I asked.
“Your visa is now to heaven,” he said, forcing a laugh.
BOMBS AND BLOOD TESTS
I talked my way out of it once again. My minder said we could obtain
visa “extensions” provided we take HIV tests. I brought my own
syringes, and I swabbed Mary’s arm and extracted a vial of blood in my
room. She did the same for me. We then went to the so-called HIV
center together, with bombs dropping around us, to submit our blood to
the Iraqi government. Of course, they insisted on taking their own
samples. Cruise missiles launched 900 miles away exploded around us,
incinerating government buildings as we partook in this ridiculous
This absurdity over, we returned to the Palestine, where we are as
prepared as we can be for whatever may come next. We have 300 bottles
of the water and have filled the bathtubs in each of several rooms for
reserve. We’ve stockpiled enough food for weeks. Should the power
fail, we have a generator and jerry cans filled with petrol purchased
on the black market. If a bomb blows out our window, the duct tape
we’ve covered it with should protect us from flying glass. All of our
electronics-computers, cameras, communications devices-are wrapped in
aluminum foil against so-called e-bombs that will destroy all the data
of electronic devices.
A SEARCH FOR AIRMEN
At 4 p.m. Baghdad time, an American fighter jet dropped its payload so
close that the concussion sucked the air out of our lungs. Mary and I
got in our car and drove toward the site of the explosion.
As we crossed one of the four Tigris bridges, there was an enormous
traffic jam. Hundreds of armed men and civilians were looking down to
the river below. Scores of cars had stopped in the middle of the
bridge. We grabbed our gear and got out.
The rumor was that an allied plane had been shot down. Word spread
through the crowd that two pilots had parachuted from the downed plane
and were floating down the river. One had supposedly already been
captured. Whether there were any pilots in the river, I don’t know.
Small boats with heavily armed soldiers searched among the reeds. From
the banks, people took pot shots at objects in the river. Under the
impression that the airman had been captured, thousands of cheering
Iraqis chanted and clapped, shooting AK-47s in the air for joy. People
in both uniform and civilian clothes eyed us with hostility during
“Where are you from?” demanded an armed Iraqi, looking at me.
“Germany,” interjected my government guide, abruptly grabbing me by
the arm and yanking me away.
“Do not tell them you are American,” he whispered as he rushed me to
the car. “We must leave. It is very dangerous here.”
ROAD TO BABYLON
Then we were on the western side of the Tigris, where the coalition
bombardment has struck hardest. The sounds of imams on speakers
reverberated through the streets-calls for the people to kill all the
Americans. We raced through Baghdad’s most dangerous area, passing
Saddam’s palaces, now piles of burnt rubble.
The Foreign Ministry was a concrete shell with no windows and only sullen soldiers at the
entrance. Apartment buildings recently filled with civilians were
charred, burnt, collapsed, and empty. Hundreds of apartments and no
people-where did they all go? Western medical sources have reported
some 300 civilian injuries in Baghdad but very few killed.
The Iraqi military had now closed all the Tigris River bridges. Mary
and I were stuck. We had to drive north for an hour as bombs continued
dropping around us. “This is the road to Babylon,” said our government
minder. It felt like Babylon. We then took another road-the road to
Kuwait, our guide said. We had to drive north of the city, then west,
and then south to enter Baghdad on the east bank of the Tigris and
return to our hotel.
Explosions are rocking my computer as I write. For the first time,
small-arms fire can be heard throughout the city. Anti-aircraft
emplacements are set up around the perimeter of our hotel. It’s not a
good sign. Yesterday those 500 meters from us were destroyed,
completely destroyed, by American missiles.
Nate Thayer is covering the war for Slate.