Wednesday, March 26, 2003

'THE STORM IS FROM GOD'

By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post Foreign Service, BAGHDAD, March 25 -- Excerpt: To Mohammed, the relentless sandstorm was foreboding, a portent of divine will. "The storm is from God," he said, looking out his trembling window. "Until the aggression started, never in my life did I see a storm like this. We all believe in God, we all have faith in God. And God is setting obstacles against the Americans." ... "I want to be safe. I want to be with my family," Khalid said. "Is there anybody who likes war? Who doesn't want to live peacefully, to live an ordinary life? I want to go to work, I want to finish my business. No one likes war." ... "Where's the bombing? Up until now, I don't see it," he said, with a touch of bravado. "All we do is hear it. I don't see it." ... Ali Jassim, the barber, nodded. "There's fear," he said. "Nobody knows where the bombs are going to fall, on homes, on government offices, on innocent people. Nothing can stop the Americans. The bombing will go on." ... But like Ahmed, he said he was resigned to his fate, a fate that could be decided by either the United States or his own government. "It's not in our hands," he said, speaking in a vague vernacular so common here to speech in public. "We don't have a choice." ... "God gave us the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, he gave us the beautiful north and the marshes in the south," said Ibrahim, a mechanic. "But I feel pity for Baghdad. I feel pity on us who live here." ... By evening, the sandstorm gave way to rain. Drops of mud fell on the city, clearing the sky for the last light of dusk. But the wind soon returned with even more force than before, driving the last cars off the road and shaking houses. Imad Mohammed, who saw in the storm divine intervention, marveled at its force. "The only time I saw a storm like this was in the American movie 'Twister' and in the words of the holy Koran," he said. With his two sons, Mohammed sat in his house in the wealthy quarter of Mansour. Like other Iraqis, he boasted of his stockpiled supplies -- water, kerosene for cooking, frozen meat and such staples as rice -- to get him through a war that could last weeks, perhaps months. Before his family, he declared himself fearless, his fate in God's hands. "What God wishes for us, we will see," he said. But when his sons left the room, he turned more thoughtful. "I can't show my fear in front of my children," he said softly, with a hint of guilt. "If I'm afraid, they'll become afraid." ... "It will be very bloody," he said. "It won't be easy to take Baghdad, you can imagine." ... Iraq, he acknowledged, could never defeat the Americans and the British. It is a Third World country, and the United States is a superpower. But a U.S. victory would have to come at a cost -- suicide perhaps, but with a sense of dignity. It was a sentiment, he said, that was wrapped up in his identity as an Iraqi and his faith as a Muslim ... "You can't surrender easily; we should fight," said Ahmed, the man at the barber shop. "Our religion says we should fight for our honor. We fear God. We're more afraid of God than we're afraid of the Americans."

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