Marylanders react with patriotism, anxiety

Many choose to support troops despite politics

War In Iraq

March 20, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Moments after President Bush told the nation that the United States had launched a military strike to "disarm Iraq, to free its people," Marylanders expressed both disgust and patriotism at the news, all the while wishing the standoff with Iraq had not come to war.

From Owings Mills to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the quiet, yet anxious hours that passed after 8 p.m. - Bush's deadline for Saddam Hussein and his family to flee or face war - were abruptly interrupted by news that U.S. forces had fired the opening salvo.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley learned of the initial missile assault while at a community meeting in Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore. He watched Bush address the nation on television and immediately activated the city's emergency operations center.

Manning the center were key officials from various city government departments, including the police and fire departments, department of public works, transit and traffic who stood by to deal with trouble. O'Malley said there was no early problems.

Later while sipping a Guinness with an aide at the Rocky Run Tap and Grill on St. Paul Street in Charles Village, O'Malley projected calm.

"We're monitoring and watching like everyone else is and hoping it's over quick and hoping they don't hit us here," he said.

Elsewhere, the overwhelming reaction was to support the U.S. troops in and around Iraq.

"I support our troops, and I support the American idea of democracy, but I feel this war is not justified, and I don't support it," said Solmaz Pirzadeh, a senior from Iran studying at the Johns Hopkins University. "I mean, it's ridiculous to bomb a country into democracy."

Pirzadeh says she worries about the brothers, sons and fiancees of friends who have been deployed to Iraq to fight. She is worried they might die. She said she wishes the United States had exhausted all diplomatic avenues.

"I didn't want it to come to that, even as a last resort," said Baltimore public works employee De'Leon Richardson, 26, part of a crew fixing a water main break at Eastern Avenue and Albemarle Street in Little Italy, who noted that three members of his family are in the military - stationed in the Persian Gulf region.

Paul Oliver, owner of Dalesio's restaurant on Eastern Avenue, said he had no fears at the war's arrival.

"It seems like business is up because people wanted to get out. Nobody had anything bad to say, they just want this over and done with," Richardson said. "The consensus is to stand behind the commander in chief, and I'm a Democrat."

For area Iraqi-Americans, the news was also met with mixed reactions.

"I was hoping this wouldn't happen. This nation is headed down the wrong path. I'm disgusted," Fawz Bakir, a North Potomac resident said last night. He spoke to his family in Iraq two days ago, but fears he won't hear from them until the conflict is over. "It's like living the gulf war all over again."

"Oh my God! All I can say is may God make it easy on the people from both sides," said Hussain Bakir, no relation, of Owings Mills, whose relatives live under Saddam Hussein's rule. "I hope we will see the light at the end of the tunnel and that this will give hope to the people of Iraq."

At the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis last night, the televisions were flipped from closed captioned to high volume, and a small crowd gathered at the upstairs bar as Bush spoke. For those four minutes the beer stopped flowing.

"The last time that happened was probably when he spoke about 9/11," said bartender Alan Sanders, 34.

The pause for war watching was momentary. By a little after 11 o'clock the crowd has dissipated to about a dozen in the upstairs bar. Rick Wakeman, a keyboard player, continued his sold out show at the Rams Head concert hall next door. Dean Rosenthal, a local acoustic artist, played amid closed captioned televisions downstairs.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport was calm, with few flights leaving or arriving so late in the evening. A police car, its lights flashing, sat near the parking areas, as if to signal that things were tenser than normal.

Jean Iampieri, a real estate agent from Ellicott City, was waiting at BWI for her mother to return from Florida when she saw flashes in the sky over Baghdad on the news. "It's a necessary evil," she said.

Sun staff writers Ryan Davis, Richard Irwin, Rona Kobell, Jonathan D. Rockoff, Jason Song and Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

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