People are on the move.
I’ve just been for a drive along Route 4, which leads from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk (controlled by Saddam) into Kurdish-controlled Iraq. Along the road was a steady stream of trucks and lorries, piled high with belongings, from bedding and clothing to cement mixers and furniture. People seem to be gathering up what they can and moving away from the frontline areas to towns further away from the hotspots. Kirkuk in particular is expected to be one of the key battlegrounds and people aren’t taking any chances. They’re afraid that a desperate Saddam will use chemical weapons and they’ll be caught in the middle.
It’s not a mass exodus. I’d say I saw about one vehicle every couple of minutes laden with possessions. Those I spoke to weren’t fleeing in panic. They just don’t want to be at the centre of the action when the bombs start falling so they’re getting out.
Here’s what they said:
Wahid Qadir Salih, 40
“I’m leaving with 7 members of my family because I’m afraid of Saddam Hussein.
“I’m afraid he’ll attack with chemical weapons.
“We’ll come back if Saddam Hussein is removed.
“I escaped before in 1991. I went across the border to Iran and stayed there for one or two months.
“My village is about 50 kilometres away. We’re too scared to stay there.”
Saman Ali, 22
“We’re just waiting to see what happens over the coming hours but we’re in a very bad situation and we’re scared. We’re going to go to the mountains to escape.
“We’re afraid because Saddam Hussein is a dictator. His regime has always tortured us and made us live in fear. He’s still doing it to us and to our innocent children.
“We’re afraid he might use chemical weapons on us. We just don’t know whether he has them or not.”