The Streets Of Baghdad

Will Iraqis Fight In The Streets Against U.S. Soldiers?

Spend a few days in Baghdad, as Dan Rather did last week, and you will hear a very different story: the party line. Saddam Hussein is more than a king, they say, he is the supreme leader.

Iraqis seem to think war is coming, and they say Saddam will win - again. In the war over Kuwait, much of Saddam's army collapsed and surrendered. But Saddam survived, so Iraqis see him as a victor.

For the Americans to win this time, Iraqis say, they will have to wage a perilous battle in the streets of Baghdad, and if it comes to that, the civilians we spoke with say they will fight, too.

The streets of Baghdad are as crowded as ever, but strangely, there are very few signs the military is seriously planning defense of the city. 60 Minutes II saw no big movements of troops or equipment. 60 Minutes II asked for and were denied access to Saddam's troops.

Officials did allow 60 Minutes II to take pictures of civilians they said are getting ready to fight. Among those people is Kareema, a teacher, who is giving a different kind of class at the elementary school in the town of El Dora. She's letting her fellow teachers in on the finer points of loading and using a high-powered Kalishnikov.

On the other side of the school playground, Fahtmah Abdullah, a medical doctor, is hoping there won't be a war, but just in case, she says knowing some basic first aid can't hurt. Some of the kids hanging out for the teaching session are too young, even by Iraqi standards, to handle Kareema's Kalishnikov, so she says she will teach them to throw stones at the Americans, Intifada style.

She says she is teaching them to use the gun so they can "protect our homeland." If war comes, she says she will fight: "Even my kids will fight."

Mohammed al Adhami, a member of Parliament and Saddam Hussein's Baath party, says bombing and bombing alone will not win this war for the Americans, as it did in Afghanistan.

After an intense bombing campaign, Iraqis would still resist, he says. "The tribes, the party, the families are ready to defend themselves, now they believe, everybody believes, there is no reason for attacking us. In 1991, there was the issue of Kuwait, now, now, we have solved everything, everybody believes the Americans want to control the area, wants to control Iraq, that's all."

To control Iraq, you must control the cities on the ground. The Al Jamooreeah bridge, destroyed in night-time bombing in the last war, has been rebuilt so troops could cross the Tigris. But on the other side of the river, near the Al-Safeer copper market, it's a different story. The alleys are dark and impenetrable, even in the day time. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Baghdad, with very narrow streets and locked passageways. It would be easy to get pinned down, and hard to escape, unless you know the way. It would be a perfect place for Saddam to ambush the invaders.

Saddam is a survivor. He is rarely seen in public places these days. The White House is hoping that in war his people will rise up against him, that soldiers will disobey the orders of their commanders. Or perhaps there will even be a revolution, an implosion from within. Saddam scoffs at this. He has already placed party officials in charge of security. It is said that he has fortified towns and villages. Should he be cornered, there is serious question of what he would do to an invading army or Iraqis who have any thought of trying to replace him.

At least on the surface, Saddam is firmly in control of his country, and of Baghdad's six million people. At his new mosque, called the Mother of All Battles Mosque, there is a copy of the Koran written, not with ink, but in blood - supposedly Saddam's blood. At the market, Saddam is there, to watch and listen. Always armed, he inspires fear in his people and his enemies. No matter where you go, you can't get away from him.

Everyone we met in Baghdad talks the Saddam line, including these women. They are Iraq's version of the liberated woman, the elite and educated of Baghdad: Teachers and doctors, architects and diplomats who meet once a month at an art gallery and restaurant. They are all Saddam supporters, and they don't trust the American government. The owner of the place, Wedad el-Orfali, doesn't trust American journalists either.

"You show in your television that Saddam Hussein is a terrorist," she says. "Who is a terrorist, you or us? You want to grab us, you want to eat, to eat our happiness, you want to grab our happiness. Who is the terrorist?"

These women fear that war is coming, and that's why their monthly gathering seems so eerie. They laugh and sing, drink and smoke and dance. Mrs. El Orfali says they are like the birds in an old Arabic saying.

"I tell you we have a proverb in Arabic, the birds dance the moment you kill them, he dance, dancing not from happiness, from pain," she says.

Most Iraqis, including some students at Al-Mustansiriyya University, say the pain is caused by Israel and the United States and has in fact strengthened their support for Saddam. Keeping in mind that Iraqis are restricted in what they can say publicly, we asked the students what they would say to President Bush.

"You are the worst, I would tell him, you are the worst," one student said.

"Don't interfere with my affairs," said another.

"Leave us alone. We don't want war," said a third.

60 Minutes II heard comments like that all over Baghdad. But the harshest words came from the students' soft-spoken professor, Dr. Al Obaydi.

What would he tell Bush? "You are making a big mistake. You should learn the lessons of the 11th of September.

"When I saw it for the first time on the TV, I said 'Poor people, it is very cruel,' but then I said 'Maybe now they can feel one percent of what we felt one day for what they did to us.' I am sorry, I am ashamed sometimes to feel like that."

Dr. Al Obaydi is angry not only at the United States but also at what most Iraqis think are American puppets: the U.N. inspectors. The inspectors fan out every day, looking for evidence of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

That day they made a surprise visit, a first-time visit to a "very sensitive" site, sensitive because itis the main Baghdad Presidential Palace. Saddam Hussein is sometimes there holding cabinet meetings, strategy sessions with his military men. These are ceremonial occasions. He also has a bunker beneath the palace, so it is sensitive. Another reason for the sensitivity: In a war ,it could be a target for air and or missile strikes.

While 60 Minutes II was in Baghdad, the inspectors did find empty chemical weapons warheads. They also searched scientists' homes and farms, but Saddam's party faithful say they won't find a smoking gun. The weapons they're looking for were destroyed several years ago, according to Iraqi Member of Parliament Mohammed Al Adhami.

"If we today recognize Israel, there will be no war. So this is a faith, because of Palestine, because of our wealth, they are coming to control us," says Al Adhami. "They know very well, the CIA, the American administration, they know very well, no more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after 1998."

60 Minutes II visited another site, a remote landing strip, that the inspectors had come to several times. After years of U.N. sanctions, it's a helicopter graveyard. Chopper carcasses litter the runways. The inspectors wanted to find out whether the nozzles and tanks on the helicopters had ever been outfitted to spread biological or chemical weapons. They found no evidence. 60 Minutes II found that only a few Polish-made helicopters could even get off the ground. These rickety machines are missing parts. The one we went up in was loud and sounded more like a flying washing machine than a weapons delivery system.

While the inspections continue, 60 Minutes II found that families all over Iraq are getting ready for war. Mrs. Al Dami, an artist, is stockpiling fuel and supplies on her apartment house balcony.

60 Minutes II found other Iraqi civilians out buying weapons at the Al Soquour gun shop, a veritable arms bazaar in a souk about 30 minutes from downtown. People think war is coming and they want to be ready.

If you've got the money, the owner of the shop, Abdul Kareem Jabbar, probably has what you want: rifles, shotguns, ammunition, Berettas, all kinds of hand guns from around the world.

One man said he wanted three guns, one for himself and two for his brothers. Are people buying weapons now because of the threat of war? These weapons are to protect themselves and their families, he said, but added, if something happens, of course they need these weapons to protect the country.

Is there any possibility that Saddam will agree to go into exile, in exchange for asylum?

"I don't think so," says Al Adhami. "Saddam Hussein is not just a president or a king who is chosen or elected by others. He is a leader, he considers himself as a leader. He is a believer; he believes in his principles."

Those who believe that this could happen are "dreaming, really, they are dreaming," he says. "President Saddam Hussein will fight until the last moment."
  • David Kohn

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.