2 September 2003

Sleepless in Baghdad:
Words will never describe the relief. We chased around after the looters before I hitched a ride back to the city to file a story. The others went off in different directions, with Burns at one stage getting ahead of the US advance. When he came across a well-armed, menacing group of young men, he opted for the language of the morning. 'Bush good?' he asked. But they snarled back: 'Bush down shoes! America down shoes!' As they spat on the ground, the message was clear - Bush and the US were good enough only for the soles of their shoes, a terrible insult in this part of the world. Burns beat a hasty retreat.

Washington's glee [at taking the city] was obvious. But a Pentagon spin-doctor might have been disappointed with the turnout in the streets of Baghdad when the marines came to town. At first glance, the numbers looked good; but if you put the looters to one side, things became a little dicey. And if you took the foreign press and the marines out of the crowd in Firdos Square as the marines stage-managed the demolition of a towering bronze of Saddam Hussein, then the numbers were disappointing for an army that came here as liberators. For such a momentous occasion in Iraqi history, perhaps only 500 Iraqis watched.

Most of them were so consumed with questions and worries about the future that they didn't even stop to savour the moment, let alone the day. And, in the face of so many imponderables, many simply shrugged their shoulders.

Edited extracts from Paul McGeough's In Baghdad, published this week by Allen & Unwin

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