Death Metal Falls Silent
On the day before war, Jo Wilding sent this communique back from inside Baghdad.
18th March 2003
There was a big puddle in the doorway into the classroom at Qataiba boys' school in Saddam City, the poorest part of Baghdad. A woman in black dragged rags across it by way of a mop, but made little impact. The room itself is bare, without resources or a full complement of windows. Wooden benches are framed with the remnants of seat covers. Outside a fence surrounds a peeling statue of a schoolboy in a suit, gazing philosophically into the distance; his pedestal, an island in a swamp. Behind him stands a crumbling building devoid of any windows at all. The principal's office is as battered as the rest, deprived of maintenance for twelve-and-a-half years of sanctions.
Twelve and a half years of sanctions, of incalculable deprivation, and yet tomorrow is the day before the war.
Twenty-two teachers take mixed-age classes of 745 students between 16-23, because a lot of the boys have missed a lot of time: many of them have to work, some go to the army and then return to school. The area is noticeably more run down than the rest of Baghdad. Around half of the city's five million strong population live here. It's a Shi'a district, touted as the most likely starting point for civil unrest after bombing starts. People tell you not to go there, even now: "It's dangerous."
"We will not fight for Saddam Hussein, but we will fight for our land. I will accept any Arab as president but I will not accept a foreigner. If the Americans come, they will be very strong at first, but after some time they will see resistance. We will fight them. It doesn't matter about sects, Shi'a, Sunne, Kurd, Christian. I am Kurd. We will all fight together, not for the government. For our land." It was the first time I'd seen anyone vent frustration so openly here.
"We need to change the government, but I don't want America invasion. This not bring freedom. I can't talk here, because of security," muttered amid the clamour of the classroom.
Metal sheets seal the windows of most of the non-food shops throughout the city; men were bricking up the entire front of one, against looters, apparently, rather than bombs. Pick-ups loaded with furniture, chandeliers, antiques, toys pass by. Here in the internet centre the staff have moved mattresses and bedding in so they can protect the equipment from theft. Zaid's computer has gone into storage - he listened to all the music on it one last time before packing it up. Waleed's death metal band can't play anymore because one of its members is a soldier. There are tents at the roadside with soldiers sitting around them. A boy in a uniform sat in his position in the street, head almost between his knees.
Tomorrow is the day before the war.