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msnbc.com

Telephones, satellite television, and even the Internet appeared to continue working in Baghdad after hostilities began Thursday morning — much to the surprise of military observers, journalists, and Internet users there. And so far, at least two independent observers have managed to get out their initial impressions of the war’s start.

WITH “SHOCK AND AWE” expected, Baghdad-based blogger Salam Pax was surprised at how light U.S. bombings were during the first day of war.

“Now that was really unexpected,” Pax wrote in the middle of the day on Thursday. “When the sirens went on we thought we will get bombs by the ... load dropped on us but nothing happened, at least in the part of the city where I lived. Air-craft guns could be heard for a while but they stopped too after a while and then the all clear siren came.”

It’s impossible to independently confirm that Pax is indeed in Baghdad, but his claims are well supported by months of diary entries and photos on his site. Now well known around the Internet, Pax’s popularity led to some sluggishness in the Web site during the day Thursday. But it continued to function, with fresh posts dated 10:33 p.m. Thursday, Iraq time.

“Today in the morning I went with my father for a ride around Baghdad and there was nothing different from yesterday. There is no curfew and cars can be seen speeding to places here and there,” the site says.

Pax’s site appears on Blogspot.com, which was recently acquired by Google.com. Google spokesperson David Krane declined to say how many Internet users have visited the site, but he confirmed Google was supplying technology and bandwidth to help keep Salam’s site working.

“The bombing would come and go in waves, nothing too heavy and not yet comparable to what was going on in 91. all radio and TV stations are still on and while the air raid began the Iraqi TV was showing patriotic songs and didn’t even bother to inform viewers that we are under attack.

A much lesser-known Internet writer, Bettejo Passalaqua, also managed to file a “diary” Thursday morning during a pause in the bombing. Passalaqua, a Washington state resident, is there as a peace activist and publishing regular entries on ElectronicIraq.net.

“We were prepared for the bombing to begin Thursday at around 4 a.m.,” Passalaque wrote. “At 5:30 a.m. the opinion was that if it didn’t come by dawn, it wouldn’t come tonight. The first explosion came just as (fellow volunteer) Cathy Breen remarked, ‘Well, dawn is here, so I guess we can go back to bed.’ The attack lasted for about 1 1/2 hours. Two explosions rocked our building, but they were pretty far away, I think.”

Passalaque, a member of the Iraq Peace Team, is part of an organization that offers token humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people, according to co-founder Jeff Guntzel. There are currently 26 members in Baghdad, he said. Guntzel said that members told him the Internet was operating normally inside Baghdad on Thursday.

Passalaque’s diary entries are clearly an attempt to gain support for anti-war efforts. But they do offer intriguing glimpses of life inside Baghdad.

“There hasn’t been any bombing since, so Cathy and I went to the hospital ward where I had been working. It was entirely emptied. Even the sound of the children crying as they did when IV infusions were given would have been a welcome sound to drown out the ghastly silence,” he wrote.

“But even this silence was eclipsed by the scene I encountered when I walked into the hospital. The corridor was lined with empty beds (at least 20 beds on either side) awaiting war casualties. I spoke with a nurse on the vacant ward and she said she had worked all night in the emergency room of a regular hospital. There were many elders brought in with heart problems, most of which were a response to the stress of the situation.”

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