Archive for March, 2004
The first time I came to Baghdad was last April, a few days after most of the city fell to U.S. troops. I drove in at night, down a road still heavy with gunfights. It was scary but bearable—until I had to stop my car (there was barbed wire across the road) and in dim light saw those giant crossed swords held up by massive reproductions of Saddam’s hands. Then I was really scared. There was something about that massive self-obsessed testament of personal power that made the whole city feel alive with terror. For the next few days I saw such signs everywhere. Saddam’s portraits were still hanging, a few on every block. His other great monuments—the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the many palaces, the huge ministry buildings—grabbed all visual attention. The new U.S. military encampments—small, ad hoc, functional, uninspiring—couldn’t compete at all. Baghdad felt exactly like what it was: a city that had belonged to one man and had been violently wrenched away. It was a place whose aesthetic—dictatorial solipsism—had been somewhat dismantled but not replaced with anything new.