The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq parties away war blues

Baghdad, March 16 (Reuters): Faced with the ever-growing threat of war, Ali Hadith stocked up his Baghdad home with food, drink and a couple of handguns in case of trouble.

Then he took his bride of three months out on the town — for a game of bingo.

“You have to do something to forget the news,” Hadith said as he and his wife sat in a former British officers’ club in Baghdad with dozens of other Iraqis, playing a game brought to Iraq during British rule in the last century.

“We hate this news. (War) today, tomorrow, after one week, after two weeks. You are always waiting for it,” he said.

Around 100 people sat in the cavernous hall of the Alwiyah Club last night, just as Iraqi leaders declared martial law to confront an expected US-British invasion, checking off numbers on wooden bingo boards with intense concentration.

Club members said it was usually packed with four times as many people, but some were staying away as military conflict appeared increasingly inevitable.

“People think the war is coming on Monday. Usually this place is full,” said Abdullah, a 58-year-old retired engineer.

“If we were afraid we would not come here,” he added. “We prepared some food, some water. In general, we don’t worry.”

The Alwiyah Club, founded in 1924 for the British officers and administrators who ran the country after World War I, still echoes with the legacy of years of British rule.

As well as bingo, the club’s 40,000 members — who include Saddam’s ministers — can play billiards, or a quiet game of bridge in the club’s former chapel.

“Bridge is a club tradition since the days of the English,” said Alwiyah’s director, Athir al-Qaysi.

But links with a country which has been hostile to the Iraqi government for more than a decade are mostly played down. “I didn’t know they play bingo in Britain,” said Abdullah.

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