03/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Bitter Irony Of Five Years' Occupation

FIVE years on, it seems positively surreal.

On the evening of March 19, 2003, a small group of Western journalists had grandstand seats for the big event in Baghdad, the start of the full-scale American bombing of strategic targets in the Iraqi capital. We had forced a way through a bolted door at the top of an emergency staircase leading to the 21st-story roof of the Palestine Hotel, with a panoramic view of Saddam Hussein's command complex across the Tigris River.

The bombing had been jump-started 16 hours earlier, when President Bush ordered two B-1 bombers to attack the Dora Farms complex in south-central Baghdad in a dawn raid intended to kill Mr. Hussein and end the war before it began. That caught everyone by surprise, including Saddam, who somehow survived. But by nightfall, the city was braced. The BBC reported B-52 bombers were taking off from a base in England in early afternoon, and we knew, from the flying time, that zero hour for Baghdad would be about 9 p.m.