First Published: 2003-02-01

 
Smooth sailing chases Baghdadis in case of war
 

Thought of US-led warplanes destroying Baghdad’s bridges again looms high among increasingly worried Baghdadis.

 

Middle East Online

By Nayla Razzouk - BAGHDAD

Allied warplanes destroyed 134 bridges in Iraq during 1991 Gulf War

The old man sat in an uneasy position at the back of his small boat ferrying Baghdadis across the Tigris river, shaking his head at the thought of US-led warplanes destroying his city's bridges again.

"If the Americans decide to go to war, God forbid, then they might hit our bridges like they did in 1991," said Abu Mehdi, arranging his traditional checkered headdress in one hand and holding the handle of his boat's engine with the other.

Abu Mehdi was referring to the 1991 Gulf War in which a US-led military coalition ended Iraq's invasion of neighboring Kuwait.

The allied warplanes then destroyed a total of 134 bridges in Iraq, including three of Baghdad's 12 bridges. They also bombed electricity installations and disrupted fuel distribution.

The Iraqi people were then forced to stop driving their cars, or used them only in emergency situations. They mostly resorted to boats - powered only by the muscles of local fishermen - to cross their war-ravaged city.

Today, the Iraqi people again face mounting fears of an imminent US-led military action against President Saddam Hussein's regime, which is accused of developing weapons of mass destruction.

"If they destroy our bridges and block our petrol distribution system again, we would be forced to stop using our engine-powered boats," said Abu Mehdi.

"We still have old small boats without engines which we are keeping ready in case they are needed again," said the man, squinting in the sunlight of a warm winter day.

But Abu Mehdi - offering his tanned wrinkled face to the wind as the boat sailed across the river - added: "I don't know if I still have the strength to row, I may have become too old for that."

In the case of war, such back-to-basics contingency planning will be essential in Baghdad, where the serpenting Tigris slices the city into the northeast Rasafa and the southwest Karkh areas.

Bridges across the Tigris are vital for Baghdad residents in their daily routines whether it be going to work, visiting relatives or buying food and medicine.

"We live in a city separated by a river and we need to cross over on a daily basis," said tailor Sadek Jaafar before jumping into one of the small, wooden old boats anchored near Martyrs' Bridge, which was damaged during the 1991 conflict.

"I need to cross the river to go from my workshop in Karkh to buy needles or threads from shops in Rasafa. I use the boats because they are quicker and cheaper than going by car or bus," said Jaafar, 55.

The boats have several points of departure from which residents pay some 50 dinars (25 cents) for the two-minute ride rather than the 400 dinars (two dollars) for a 20-minute automobile ride.

The boats also take families and tourists on leisure rides along the Tigris to enjoy Baghdad's historic landmarks including the 13th century former Mustansiriya College, famous for its Islamic architecture.

The waterfront vista includes old mosques with minarets decorated with blue-and-green mosaics, tiled domes, arabesques and Arabic calligraphy.

A variety of old handmade oriental carpets drying on embankments add a colourful touch to the scenery.

"We are prepared for everything, but in case of war, I have just one problem to cross this river. Sea-sickness," quipped Hamza, a university student.

 

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