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Baghdadis take pills to sleep

Baghdad residents falling asleep only in the wee hours after taking sleeping pills or finally being overwhelmed by fatigue.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2003 19:53 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Baghdad residents spent a night in terror under a sky lit up by the heaviest US bombing yet, falling asleep only in the wee hours on Friday after taking sleeping pills or finally being overwhelmed by fatigue.

"Nobody could sleep," said Fahd Alawi, a 38-year-old upholstery-shop owner, who had huge bags under his eyes.

"We even had to give Valium pills to the children to force them to rest and stop hearing the bombings that made them scream hysterically," he said.

Taking advantage of clearer skies, the US-led coalition mounted its most severe bombing yet since the launch of the war on March 20, targeting presidential palaces and communication centres lying in residential neighbourhoods.

The bombings illuminated the horizon throughout the night and shook the foundations of even the sturdiest buildings, leaving columns of smoke billowing across the city of five million.

"A missile slammed on a car in our street and burned it completely early on in the night," Alawi said.

"This gave us a rehearsal for the night that was to come, which was a really terrifying sound-and-light show," he said.

Alawi feared more intense bombings "because of the successes of our valiant fighters in the south," where US and British troops have been meeting heavy resistance from Iraqi fighters.

Information Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf said seven civilians were killed and 92 wounded in the overnight strikes by the coalition, which is seeking to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Witnesses said another eight civilians died and 33 were injured around midday when two missiles hit a residential area.

"We had first thought that the Americans wanted to show a good image of themselves by avoiding civilian targets, but now we changed our minds," Alawi said.

"They are in a difficult position which makes them forget their senses. They do not care about their image anymore, they just want to score any victory to tell their people that they are strong," he said.

"This a big mistake because now the people have all rallied behind President Saddam Hussein and to the defence of their nation against such criminals invading and bombing their country and civilian population," he said.

The US-led coalition says it does not target civilians and has charged that Iraqi forces have placed military hardware in civilian areas.

But Luai Hussein, who spent the night huddled with his family, charged that the coalition was "hitting civilian targets indiscriminately."

The 42-year-old cosmetics-shop owner called it a "black night for all of us."

"For the children it was a complete nightmare," Hussein said. "We have nowhere to hide, we rely only on God."

Hussein said he headed with his family to what they thought would be the safest place, a small room on the first floor of a small two-story house.

"Every adult was hugging a child to comfort them, trying to distract them by talking about cheerful things," he said.

"It felt like the house was falling on our heads. I did military service and I know how to handle arms, but this kind of bombing frightened not only the children, but even me."

Hussein, fighting his yawns, said no one got a wink of sleep.

"But just after dawn, one after the other, we just fell asleep from fatigue."

Ali Hashim, an established doctor who lives next to the al-Ulwiyya communication centre that was destroyed by missiles overnight, thought he had done everything possible to avoid the sound of bombs.

But even his sophisticated isolation system, which also protects against germ warfare, felt the blasts.

"I didn't hear anything of course, but the bombing was so powerful that I woke up because the building was shaking like there was an earthquake," he said.

Jassem Ahmad, a grocer, said his six-year-old daughter Zina wet her bed.

"She kept crying all night long.

"We are scared that this leaves emotional scars on her because she kept saying, "I want to shoot America!" as if America was a person."

First Published: Mar 28, 2003 19:53 IST