Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "Baghdad set free," April 19, 2003
vi day
Twenty-one days to victory. After more than a decade of fruitless United Nations sanctions and endless resolutions, coalition forces needed just three weeks to topple the man who saw himself as the new Nebuchadnezzar. Like the statue of the biblical king, Saddam Hussein proved to have feet of clay. His government collapsed even more quickly than his army, abandoning public buildings to crowds of looters. With Marines moving freely in every quadrant of the city, April 9 marked the Fall of Baghdad. U.S. Central Command was more circumspect. A military spokesman said Saddam Hussein had clearly lost control of the capital, but he warned that the city was still a dangerous place for coalition forces. The most immediate danger, however, seemed to be that U.S. soldiers might be smothered by mobs of adoring Iraqis. In the streets of Baghdad, Marines were greeted with hugs and flowers and cries of "Thank you, Mr. Bush." One elderly man took off his shoe to beat on a portrait of the former dictator. "If you only knew what this man did to Iraq," he yelled. "He killed our youth, he killed millions." Military experts said the public outpouring in Baghdad marked the war's turning point, if not its unofficial end. With Saddam dead or clearly defeated, fearful citizens could finally show open support for their liberators, overwhelming any remaining Fedayeen or Baathist militia throughout southern and central Iraq. Meanwhile, after restoring order in Baghdad, the U.S. military turned its attention to northern cities like Mosul and Tikrit, Saddam's birthplace.
latest release
Osama bin Laden surfaced again on April 8, calling for jihad against America in an audiotape obtained by the Associated Press. There was no immediate confirmation that the voice was really that of Mr. bin Laden, but the message was clearly in line with his earlier pronouncements. Quoting frequently from the Quran, the putative al-Qaeda leader urged Muslims: "Get up and raise your weapons against America and Britain. If you hesitated today, you will be ashamed in front of Allah.... O Muslim brothers, let us promise to devote our lives to martyrdom in the way of Allah." Mr. bin Laden called on Muslims to avenge the orphans of Iraq, but live television images undercut his message: TV cameras caught shots of Iraqi children throwing flowers to U.S. troops. Indeed, while he urged terrorist attacks on America's allies in the Gulf-Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia-he may wish he'd waited to add one more country to that list.
picking up another un miss
U.S. Marines destroyed the Salman Pak terror-training site near Baghdad on April 5. It was part of a larger military complex and suspected bioweapons facility, and featured a three-story concrete rappelling tower, an obstacle course, and the rusted hull of a Russian-built Tupolev airliner. Defectors say it was a training ground for terrorists from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other "non-Iraqi Arabs." UN inspectors visited the site in 1995 and "went all the way inside the camp," said Sabah Khalifa Khodada Alami, a military officer who worked at the camp for about six months before defecting to Turkey in 1999. He said the UN officials saw it all but "didn't care anything about it, because [the commanders] told the United Nations, 'This is a camp to train police, anti-riot police.'" Former CIA director James Woolsey also testified in March, in a case brought by families of two people killed on 9/11, that he believes the site could provide key evidence of the link between Saddam, al-Qaeda, and 9/11 attacks. That evidence, needless to say, is no longer in enemy hands.
scandal, anyone?
American troops are toppling Saddam Hussein, Iraqis are praising President Bush, and the administration's poll numbers are going through the roof. What's the Democratic Party to do? Call for an investigation. Two senior congressional Democrats, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Cal.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), did just that last week, urging the General Accounting Office to look into ties between Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton, the oil-services company he once lead. The charge: Halliburton has benefited from some $600 million in preferential government contracts, including, most recently, a deal to put out oil-well fires in southern Iraq. From Wall Street to academia, the allegations were met with widespread derision. "Only four or five companies can do this in the world, and Halliburton is one," said Jim Wicklund, an analyst with Bank of America Securities. "This has nothing to do with Dick Cheney."
nasty bug
The United States has a new communicable disease on the books for the first time in 20 years. An executive order signed by President Bush makes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) one of just eight diseases subject to quarantine in case of a widespread outbreak in this country. Worldwide, the SARS death toll hit 100 last week, even as scientists tentatively identified the culprit as a new strain of coronavirus, the bug behind the common cold. Like a cold, SARS has no known cure, but it's much worse, killing nearly 5 percent of its victims. That mortality rate has residents of several Asian nations in a near panic. Singapore has ordered 14-day quarantines for those with flu-like symptoms, and the tiny police state may use Internet cameras to make sure victims don't leave their houses. Vietnam is considering closing its borders to visitors from SARS-afflicted countries as it grapples with indigenous cases. And in Hong Kong, where two dozen have already been killed by SARS, a prominent microbiologist said 80 percent of the population could be infected within two years. Economists now worry that the disease could knock a full percentage point off the growth rate in Southeast Asia, causing a ripple effect throughout world markets. One such ripple has already reached American shores: Chinatown neighborhoods from Boston to San Francisco have seen business drop by up to 70 percent amid rumors that SARS is spreading there. Shop owners are distributing educational leaflets to quell the rumors, but surgical masks are still selling out in drugstores next door.

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