War has finally come to Baghdad, heralding one of the most decisive phases of the conflict. But it can prove to be decisive in more senses than one. For instance, it is now clear that the intensity of the present battles, combined with the earlier daily bombardment of the city, have brought a severe humanitarian disaster in their wake.
Hospitals in the city are said to be under pressure from the huge number of the casualties, both military and civilian, which are flooding the wards. It is obvious that if the US intended to win any hearts and minds in Baghdad, its task has become doubly difficult. In contrast, Basra was handled with relatively greater sophistication by the British. Instead of making dramatic incursions into the city, as the US has done in Baghdad, the British played a waiting game, wearing down the opposition first before entering the town.
Arguably, the British could afford to play a waiting game because they were sure that once the Iraqi resistance could be effectively countered, it would be easier to reach out to Basra’s Shi’te population, whose loyalty to the Saddam Hussein regime has always been suspect. The Americans, however, could not follow similar tactics in Baghdad. For one thing, a long wait outside the city gates would have only enabled the Iraqis to consolidate their position. For another, such a delay might have sent the wrong message about American prowess.
As it is, the Iraqis have fought quite fiercely wherever they could. Considering their vastly inferior firepower — and the fact that they have no air support at all — they have managed to wage fairly prolonged battles against an overwhelmingly powerful adversary. The end result has been that Baghdad has borne the brunt of the war in a devastating manner unlike any other town — big and small — whether it is Basra or Nasiriyah or Karbala. What impact the awesome might of the Americans will have on the ordinary citizens is open to question. It doesn’t seem likely, however, that, at least in the near future, they will regard the Americans as ‘liberators’, as the US troops would like them to.