Veteran remembers beautiful Baghdad

AS we teeter on the brink of war Alec Baker looks back on his time in Iraq 50 years ago and the beauty he fears will be ravaged at the hands of a modern day conflict.

By Victoria Knowles

AS we teeter on the brink of war Alec Baker looks back on his time in Iraq 50 years ago and the beauty he fears will be ravaged at the hands of a modern day conflict.

Thumbing through his faded black and white photos there is little difference between this snapshot of 1950s Iraq and the stark and beautiful landscape we watch daily as our troops make their mark in this vast land.

The 72-year-old has never been back to the country he grew to know so well but when he turns the television on and hears the news his memories remain as vivid as they did when he came home from national service in 1951.

"The Cresiphon near Baghdad is the most amazing building and I remember vividly watching this blind man play beautiful music underneath it which echoed through the whole place.

"It will be such a shame to see now frail buildings like this lost in war and I can imagine this will be one of the first casualties," he said sadly.

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Mr Baker, of Colchester Road, Ipswich, was in Baghdad during national service and he also managed to holiday in Kurdistan during this time.

He remembers the people as very friendly but living a life we can not comprehend.

"The people were friendly but they had to be as we were the lords of the earth to them and Iraq was a British protectorate.

"It was a very hard and rough life for them and we can only judge it by our standards. The youths all had guns and there was a constant fear among them."

Last week the troops, already enduring blazing temperatures, faced a dust storm when desolate grounds were swept up and covered anything in their path.

Mr Baker remembers this well and the total despair that will face the men and women waiting to fight for their country.

"Dust storms are one of the most demoralising and depressing things to face out there. They only last two days but the dust covers everything and wreaks havoc.

"It will be hard for them, especially in the height of summer, when I can remember temperatures reaching 125 C.

"I feel very nostalgic when I see some of the streets I walked down on the television.

"Al Rashid Street is often shown and I recognise it because of the columns. It was very thrilling to be there and there are some beautiful parts to Iraq.

"I feel sad that such beauty should be hurt in a war but I understand it has to be done," he reflected.

Whether we should be going to war is a question that Mr Baker finds very difficult to answer.

"Life in national service was extremely hard and the journey on the ship over to Iraq was horrendous so I can sympathise with what they are going through.

"We do need to do something but whatever we do it will never be right.

"I am in two minds, Saddam is not a threat to us but he is to Israel and this is what Bush wants to stop. If we do something it will be terrible and equally terrible if we do nothing."

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