The Iraqi people cannot imagine the invasion of their country by Americans, and even the thought of it is forbidden. The topic is taboo. Most of them secretly wish that Saddam would disappear, but not at the price of an American invasion. For it is not war they fear but consequences. Yet without admitting it, the people are waiting for war. And so am I. Over time, the constant tension between the hope for peace and the fear of war becomes so unbearable that everyone ends up wishing that war would just begin.
Baghdad shakes in a never-ending earthquake from the bombing. Daily life is split between the sky and the ground: destructive high technology in the air and resilience on land. The bombing has sent hundreds of civilians and soldiers to the hospitals, where doctors fight a surgical war. At night while families are confined beneath staircases, surgeons defy all odds and perform miracles in ill-equipped emergency rooms. For them, the war set back the clock to medieval times.
At 9 p.m. we went to an area on the outskirts of Baghdad, where 50 people had been killed. The victims were taken to a mosque nearby, which was filled with coffins and people in tears. They were waiting to prepare the bodies for burial. In the middle of the room, the body of a little girl was lying on a marble table and waiting to be washed and wrapped in a white sheet.
Through the window of my hotel room, I saw the U.S. Army tanks taking position on a nearby bridge. One of the tanks had turned its cannon to the direction of our hotel. I saw some flames coming out of the cannon followed by a large blast. The hotel shook but not more than usual. As I looked down at the street, I saw people with their heads up, looking at our building. We had been hit. The people on the 14th floor were in total panic, trying to evacuate the wounded journalists. Two of the them died that day; among them was my friend Taras Protsyuk, a young but experienced Reuters cameraman. But today he was on the wrong story, the wrong balcony, the wrong side of the building. The death of Taras and the other journalist seemed to have interrupted the war. The rest of the day remained quiet, much more quiet than usual.
The Baghdad Mental Hospital has been looted, and some patients have been raped. When I visited, I found many patients and no doctors, only a guard and his friends to bring in food twice a day. There were only a few beds left and no medicine.
I kept wondering if the Iraqis would have a day to celebrate the fall of Saddam, and today I realized: this was it. For three days, crowds of Shiite pilgrims have been pouring into Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Baghdad, to celebrate a festival commemorating the death of Imam Husayn, a grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad. Armed with flags, they arrived on foot from different parts of the country. Once they reached the shrine, they entered into a trance. Some fervent believers cut their heads with the flat edge of swords to show their grief and sorrow. Under Saddam's regime, this ritual was discouraged as too extreme. Today it was seen as a true sign of freedom.
As President Bush declared an end to fighting, I watched Iraqis dig up Saddam's victims. The war is over, but the discovery of those who disappeared long ago is only beginning.