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Filed February 18, 2003 By Jeremy Scahill

BAGHDAD—While Washington continues to face unprecedented global opposition to its war plan, Baghdad is focusing its attention inward and at foreign news cameras. The government has been staging large military parades in cities across Iraq. The events are meant to reinforce the message to America, as well as ordinary Iraqis, that there will be stiff resistance to any attempted invasion.

At the parades, there are the "suicide bombers dressed in Hezbollah-type garb, complete with fake sticks of dynamite strapped to their chests; there are the members of the Al-Quds Army, originally formed to liberate Jerusalem, with pictures of Saddam Hussein pinned to their uniforms. Some of the forces look like something out of a World War I movie. Others are clearly not in top physical shape. There are women's battalions, Kurdish militias. There are children's divisions.

The faces of some of the men tell a sad tale of a people exhausted from 20 years of war. At the parade grounds, people present themselves, eager to repeat the line given often to foreign journalists.

Members of the Jerusalem Army costumed as suicide bombers march in a parade of some 40,000 members of the civil militia in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. It is estimated that the Jerusalem Army has one million members throughout Iraq who are pledged to defend their country against an American invasion. Photo by Thorne Anderson.
"From this place we want to express our feeling that we refuse any intrusion of America, said Jalen Mahmood Hussein Al Jaburi, a university Biology student. He and his friends attended a recent military parade in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. "We want to tell them that we are soldiers of our president, Saddam Hussein, and we want to tell them that our country is strong and we can cut them to small pieces.

But with the prospect of a massive bombing very real, many Iraqis say they are not enthusiastic about fighting America. Iraqis are survivors and most are primarily concerned with protecting their children and their families. While, many people say they would reject a foreign occupation, they say they would fight only if their family was being directly threatened. At a military parade in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, one of the marchers displayed a picture of his naked 5-year-old son, Jassem, deformed from a severe birth defect.

The actual forces that will likely resist a US invasion-the Special Republican Guard Units, the Fedayee Saddam (Saddam Militia), controlled by the president's son Uday, and other militias-are not the ones on display at these marches.

Members of the Jerusalem Army gather for a parade of some 40,000 members of the civil militia in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Photo by Thorne Anderson.
In years past, Saddam Hussein was the guest of honor at such parades. But he has not appeared in public for years. Instead, the red-mustached Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council Izzat Ibrahim sits atop a balcony, saluting the forces as they pass through the parade grounds.

The men marching in the parades are not the powerful forces of the pre-Gulf War Iraqi military. Their guns are empty of ammunition and their march is a bit out of step. But these forces-on display for the cameras and domestic TV-are not the forces that will be tasked with protecting the regime.

Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party has been distributing weapons to its members. They are organizing citizen militias in areas around Iraq. Meanwhile, gun shop owners report a significant increase in sales. "Iraqis are searching anywhere for any kind of gun to face the American invasion, says a Baghdad gun dealer clad in a black and white tribal headdress.

A gun shop owner in Baghdad says sales of weapons has increased amid fears of an impending American invasion of Iraq. Photo by Thorne Anderson.
Taking a rifle from a display cabinet, he says, "This is an American gun. I hope we can kill them with their own guns. The Americans will see something they have never seen before. We are not Afghanistan. We are willing to fight for generations. Let them come, let them come. We will take revenge for the Palestinians and the Arabs. Where are they? Let them come.

Baghdad's strongest and most loyal forces are not parading in cities across Iraq. Those forces are training for urban warfare against America. And they will likely be seen only when Saddam Hussein needs them to be.

Jeremy Scahill is an independent journalist, who reports for the nationally syndicated Radio and TV show Democracy Now! He is currently based in Baghdad, Iraq, where he and filmmaker Jacquie Soohen are coordinating, the only website providing regular independent reporting from the ground in Baghdad.

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