Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The Bombardment of Iraq

Video link

The Bombardment

Of Baghdad



Hello, this is the Witness History podcast from the BBC World Service. And we started broadcasting our first-hand accounts from the past back in 2009, and all this week ten years on we’re bringing you some of our favourite programs from the early days.

In 2003 the US and its allies invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein from power. For Iraqis bombardment and struggle would become the norm. Robin Lustig heard from one ordinary Iraqi, Lubna Naji, about her experiences of the war.  

Robin Lustig:

It’s the evening of March the 19th and seventeen-year-old Lubna Naji is at home with her relatives in Baghdad.

Lubna Naji:

Well, actually we were all in the living room, we were watching TV. And the Iraqi TV which was like the government TV at that time, was showing like an American movie about monkeys taking over the earth, yeah.

Robert Lustig:

Planet of the Apes.

Lubna Naji:

Exactly, exactly. We were all watching that movie and we were really interested in it. And suddenly the program changed and they started featuring patriotic songs. About the regime, about Saddam, so we knew something was wrong.

But you know noting happened. We went to sleep and it was like 5a.m. in the morning when we heard the first noises of bombardment.

[War correspondent from 2003]

About 15 minutes ago their air-raid sirens sounded across Baghdad, anti-aircraft artillery began firing across the night sky. There were a couple of large explosions that uh and I can see a few large plumes of smoke. I presume that that may have been targets being hit but I can’t be certain.

Robin Lustig:

When you woke up on that first night as the first bombs fell, can you remember what went through your mind?

Lubna Naji:

I thought I was going to die obviously. I was really worried about me and about my family as well. You worry that you’re not going to die but that you’re going to end up crippled or being disabled. And it would be dreadful in Iraq because you know, healthy and well people in Iraq do not get things right, so what’s it going to be like for disabled and crippled people?

Trust me in Iraq death is not the worst thing that could ever happen to you, there are many far worse things that can happen. It was it was really terrifying. It was really terrifying.

We had electricity and we had access to the radio, and we started to search for you know international you know media, like BBC Arabic radio, and in Monte Carlo International. Because we really wanted to know what was going on.

We knew what was going on, but we wanted to be really sure about it. Sometimes you would hear some really close noises.

Robin Lustig:

A few days before the invasion had begun Lubna, her sister and their two aunts had moved in with an uncle and his family. And they’d all set about trying to get ready for the coming onslaught.

Lubna Naiji:

We taped the windows, we bought like an enormous of food and actually we, we had this room we called it the shelter. It was like an internal room inside the house with no windows whatsoever, whenever there was a bombardment all the eight of us would just sit inside the room and hide and wait until the bombardment is over.

I was really fond of this room because it was it was more like my safety nets really.

Robin Lustig:

Were you able to stay in touch with other members of the family who were elsewhere in Baghdad, elsewhere in Iraq?

Lubna Naji:

No. Because they all fled Baghdad, some of them went to Kerbala, some of them went to Najaf. Yes, in more safe places.

Robin Lustig:

For three weeks then, you did not leave the house?

Lubna Naji:

I did not leave the house. Actually my, my cousin was missing, he went out a short while before this war started and we’ve never heard from him. So, we spent those three weeks obsessing about his destiny. And his parents were sick worried about him, and we were all sick worried about him. We had no idea where he was, what happened to him. It was a very very dreadful you know thing.

I mean I do I do remember that every night before we go to sleep, we would say the Shahada, which is like the final prayer that a Muslim would say if he/she were about to die. Because you never know you’re going to die, you know while you’re asleep. I used to hug the Holy Quran because I was really scared you know.

We tried, we tried to make conversations, we tried to laugh to chat but it was it was impossible, not to worry.

Robin Lustig:

Every night you went to bed you didn’t know if you were going to wake up the next morning. You did wake up; how did the day proceed?

Lubna Naji:

Well actually my uncle’s wife used to handle all of those you know day-to-day activities; dinner, breakfast, lunch. We’ve had an enormous amount of food in the house.

Robin Lustig:

What kind of food?

Lubna Naji:

Everything, canned food.

Robin Lustig:

No fresh bread?

Lubna Naji:

No fresh bread. The thing is that when it comes to Iraq we cannot live without fresh bread. We love all kinds of breads. So, when there was no bread you start to eat, and eat and eat and eat trying to compensate the absence of bread.

 It was like every five minutes I’d go to the fridge and try to take out something in order to eat. Because that was the only way to defuse the tension.

Robin Lustig:

What was the weather like at that time. Was it already getting very hot?

Lubna Naji:

My God, It was this dreadful sandstorm that lasted for like days. And actually you’ve had this smoke I believe that there were people who were trying to burn stuff.

Robin Lustig:

There were reports at the time of ditched being filled with oil and set alight.

Luba Naji:

Exactly, there was always smoke in the air which was really really unpleasant combined with the sandstorm.

Robin Lustig:

 You could hardly breathe.

Lubna Njai:

Of course.

Robin Lustig:

Did you dare to open windows?

Lubna Naji:

No, no we did not, because we had the windows taped already and one of my aunties is actually pretty old. She was the typical frightened elderly woman, so whenever we tried to open the windows, she would beg us to close them.

Robin Lustig:

But after three long weeks cooped up in their house not daring to go out, American troops rolled into Baghdad, and on the 9th of April live on television, down came that giant statue of Saddam Hussein in the centre of the city.

[News commentator 9th of April]


Its making a grinding sound the armoured personnel carrier, tightening the tension of the ropes and the chains around the neck of the statue of Saddam Hussein. The engine of the armoured personnel carrier is roaring- here it comes.

[Cheering and whistling]

Lubna Naji:

We knew that Saddam has gone, you know when they destroyed the statue. To tell you the truth we hated Saddam, my entire family hated him, I hated him. We were so relieved that he was gone. So, the 9th of April 2003 was a very happy day for us.

But afterwards you start you know every year on the 9th of April you start to think back about that dream that you had that’s been taken away from you. Because on the 9th of April, you had you had a time to think and you say “yes this is going to be a democratic prosperous country. We’re going to be as prosperous as the United Arab Emirates or maybe even more. “

But, as time you know went by, you started to see all of those hopes and dreams getting crushed really really slowly and gradually. So, it was a very big disappointment, a very very big disappointment.

Robin Lustig:

Lubna Naji returned to school in June 2003 and she went on to study medicine.

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