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[casi] FW: Border Town Seethes as Bombs Fall

Published on Saturday, March 22, 2003 by the Toronto

Border Town Seethes as Bombs Fall

`After tonight, Americans won't be safe anywhere'
Amid the rage, amazing hospitality for one Canadian

by Mitch Potter

particular edge of the war in Iraq fumed in silent
fury last night as the final prayer of the Muslim holy
day was answered with an unprecedented bombardment of
their beloved Baghdad.

By nightfall, as the ferocity of the air strikes
beyond the eastern horizon mounted with each passing
minute, residents of this frontier town were glued to
televisions and radios, each taking the attack as a
personal tragedy.

"Why? Why is this happening?" asked Khalil Mohammed,
32, a lawyer, as he sat transfixed with a dozen men
watching the devastation on Al-Jazeera TV.

Smoke covers the presidential palace compound in
Baghdad during a massive US-led air raid on the Iraqi
capital. (AFP/Ramzi Haidar)

"When the Americans hit Baghdad, they are hitting us.
In this part of Syria, we think of ourselves as
Iraqis. Because we once were — until the Sykes-Picot
Line was drawn on the map, we were Iraq," he said,
referring to the 1916 agreement that divided the
Middle East into areas of influence for, among others,
Britain and France.

Mohammed offered a dark prognosis of how the Arab
Muslim world is likely to respond. Not as a threat,
but a statement of fact: "After tonight, Americans
won't be safe anywhere in the world. They won't be
able to travel, period."

The explosive anti-American sentiment coursing through
the Arab world is felt in the fierce, frosty glares of
passers-by on the streets of Abu Kamal, a town of
40,000 people fed on the bounty of the rich Euphrates

There is only one other Westerner on the frontier, a
freelance French photographer. For the past two days,
a steady stream of residents has approached
aggressively, demanding to know whether the outsiders
are American. Or British. Or Australian.

The safest answer — "Sahaafi Kanadi" (Canadian
journalist) — elicits an astonishing response. Not
only are the people of Abu Kamal keeping score of the
exact complexion of the U.S.-led coalition, they can
also quote word for word Prime Minister Jean
Chrétien's dénouement of war.

"Canada has earned our respect for having the courage
to resist the George Bush," said Anwar, 22, an
engineering student. "We like Chirac the best, but
Chrétien has been good."

Amid the rage, paradoxically, a lesson in breathtaking
hospitality. The entire town seems now to know the
nationalities of the two foreigners in its midst, and
refuses to allow them to spend money. Whether for
sweet chai tea, thick Arabic coffee or restaurant
meals, offers of payment are firmly refused. "You are
our guest. We cannot take your money."

That hospitality did not fade with last night's salvo
over Baghdad, but the mood of the town grew darker

At a billiard room near Abu Kamal's central souk, the
resident shark — Hussam, 19, a leather-jacketed teen
with James Dean eyes and Minnesota Fats hands —
challenged the outsiders to a mean game of pool.

The cues were warped, the table's green felt tattered,
but he delivered the opening break with a force that
sent three balls flying off the table and across the
pool-room floor.

"Are you sure you're not American," he said with fire
in his eyes, then proceeded to clean the table, ending
a perfect game without giving his opponent a single

Over cups of tea later in yet another pool room,
Hussam and a dozen friends enthused over the small
contribution Syria is making to Saddam's war.

"At least 100 Syrians have already gone to Baghdad to
fight," he said. "People of Hamas, people of
Hezbollah. We don't like Saddam, but we are proud of
them for helping the Iraqi people. Nobody wants the
Americans there."

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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