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JOHN ROSS Our Man in Babylon BAGHDAD he afternoon sky over Baghdad browned ominous ly as the sandstorm swirled in from the surround ing desert. Suddenly, the dirt was flying every where, filling the mouth with grit, a choking blast of hot, stifling air that would not abate until near midnight. Some taxi drivers cursed, fearing the worst for their already damaged vehicles, while others were enthused. “God is Great!” rejoiced the ferret-faced, bearded driver who carried me home from a cross-town meeting. Indeed, the storm was a portent of weather to come as the desert heats up to 100-plus degrees. Here the spring and summer sandstorms blow like the Russian snow that snatched victory from Napoleon and the Nazis.The heat here, they say, will fry the brains of the invading army. Because the brains of the U.S. barbarians are now embodied by killer computers, their machines of war will slow and discalibrate, and the 3,000 missiles Bush brags he will drill down upon us in an unprecedented 48-hour blitzkrieg are not guaranteed to kiss their targets with any precision. Well, that’s what they say. Everywhere I travel, the war is in the air. In Mosul, 200 miles to the north where the desert climbs into the cold mountain rain, a bloodbath seems inevitable as U.S. proxy Kurds and Turkish troops \(if their Parliament ever gives them the green army, trapping the civilian population in a deadly squeeze. At least that’s the case if the experience of 1991 is any teacher. A delegation of Human Shields who have come to Iraq to interpose their bodies between the Bush bombs and the people of this unlucky land visit the edge of town and pause before one of this ancient city’s 15 crumbling gates, each embossed with the emblem of the eagle king Asyripanipani, who protected Mosul from other barbarian hordes long centuries ago, much as the Human Shields dream of doing now, although such a defense we know in our open secret hearts is a mere symbol, a kind of metaphor before the coming slaughter. Mosul still bears the unmistakable scars of 1991. We visit sites blasted by the U.S. “smart” bombs a dozen years back the telephone company smashed to smithereens, a Christian church where the roof literally blew in, killing four worshipers at prayer, we are told by the young house priest. Mosul is the site of some of Christiandom’s earliest crusades, a multicultural oasis where 8,000 Orthodox Christian families still reside.We bus down the valley to a fourth-century monastery hewn from the surrounding mountainsthe ruins of a church built in 150 AD are said to be nearby, located in spitting distance of Jesus Christ himself, as an erudite fellow John Ross Marcia Perskie Shield observes. This particular monastery, whose chambers breathe a musty antiquity, was damaged in a firefight between Kurds and Iraqi troops after the U.S. assault, and such engagements are a certainty once the American death machine has done its dirtiest work here. The sinister Moloch, with its head of a snake and fearsome eagle talons, will greet the invading army when it descends upon Babylon, now a dusty, sparsely attended tract an hour south of Baghdad whose reconstructed walls will surely fall when Bush’s missiles zero in on the presidential guest house here in their painstaking search and destroy for Saddam Husseinerasing his ubiquitous portraiture from public buildings alone may take a thousand times the number of heat-seeking rockets in the Yanqui arsenal. We stroll through the ruins, a UNESCO world heritage continued on back page 1114,111g 111F TFYIR 1111RF1111FR 17