Reflections on the Battle of Baghdad
by Wade Hudson
April 15, 2003
April 14 -- Lying safely on my bed in Jordan fifteen hours after arriving from Baghdad, I reflect on last night's bad dream, a war scene rooted in what I had witnessed from my balcony in Baghdad, and I cry convulsively for several minutes. After a nap, I wake and start weeping again. I decide to write in order to stop crying.
My thirty-one days in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team (IPT) were both horrific and wonderful. I arrived less than seven days before the bombing began and left the day after BBC TV reported, "Scenes of medics guarding their hospitals with guns may be more etched in memory than scenes of statutes toppling."
The hospitality of the Iraqi people was overwhelming. Even when people learned that we were from the United States, they treated us with immense affection. When Iraqis learned that we opposed the war, spontaneous expressions of appreciation were common. If the chicken hawks had been right about an overwhelming Iraqi desire to be liberated forcibly by America, most of the Iraqis whom we met would have simply kept quiet.
Iraqis were happy when the Saddam regime collapsed. The fear and anger toward Saddam was palpable. Even those with mixed emotions must have felt some satisfaction.
One should not overestimate the joy, however. BBC reported thousands in the streets celebrating, not tens of thousands. And the military brought in a crowd of Shiites, who are vehemently anti-Saddam, to cheer the televised toppling of the statute in front of the media center at the Palestine Hotel. Earlier that day, the Iraqi families in the lobby of our hotel laughed when they watched TV and saw Iraqis stomping on posters of Saddam. But they responded with silence at the climax of that well-crafted media event across the street.
A large portion of the positive response to the arrival of American troops was relief that the bombing was over. For three weeks, bombs and missiles that shake the ground for miles around fell on Baghdad relentlessly. It was like living through 20 or 30 San Francisco earthquakes day after day.
As IPT documented in our report, "Civilian Casualties and Infrastructure Damage in the 2003 U.S.-led Attack on Baghdad – March 20-April 1, 2003," the cost was terrible. When American troops entered Baghdad, the human toll increased. Body parts being blown away by machine-gun fire. Charred bodies lying by the roadside. Tanks trying to kill snipers a mile away, not knowing whom they would hit. Soldiers deciding not to shoot out the tires of approaching cars but killing the occupants inside instead.
Then, as expected, post-invasion, anarchy ensued, adding to the death toll. Not only did the U.S. not bring in a police force to keep order. Not only did the U.S. give the looters a green light by being passive. They actually encouraged the mayhem. On the ground, they blew open banks and buildings and invited in the looters. And at headquarters, they tried to legitimize the banditry by saying that the victims were people who had benefited from the old regime.
No one will ever know how many Iraqis die in this escapade, because the U.S. allowed the burning of key government records, including vital statistics.
One soldier told me that he lost sleep many nights because he knew that he had killed innocent civilians when he made the wrong split-second decision. Another said that he never fired his gun and told others that his gun jammed when asked about it. The damage done to the souls of these kids may persist for the rest of their lives.
The invasion honeymoon was over quickly. Other feelings soon surfaced. One Iraqi, for example, said, "I'm glad that Saddam is gone, but I wish that it had been Iraqis who got rid of him." Another commented, "I think the U.S. will secure Iraqi resources and leave some other crazy guy in charge."
As we left Baghdad yesterday, April 13, all the way to the edge of town we saw burned out cars, looted stores, garbage and debris, abandoned tanks, and devastated buildings. Many times, our driver was forced to change his route because the road was blocked by wreckage of one sort or another.
While stuck at the Jordanian border, an AP reporter who left about two hours after we did told us that he was robbed at gunpoint just outside of Baghdad. Once again, I felt lucky. The Iraqi people have not been so fortunate.
Wade Hudson is a mental health counselor from Boulder Creek, CA. He was in Baghdad until April 13 as a delegate of the Iraq Peace Teace, initiated by Voices in The Wilderness. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at email@example.com. More of Wade’s reports from Iraq can be found at: http://www.inlet.org/wade/