Missiles Changing Attitudes |
Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Published on Wednesday, March 26, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
by Robert Collier
Iraqi Civilian Deaths Stirring Up Anti-American Sentiment Among Villagers
DIYALA, IRAQ -- Any chance that tribespeople in this rural area south of Baghdad would look kindly on the impending arrival of American troops may have vanished in a cloud of collapsing rubble and twisted steel.
At about 4:30 p.m. Monday afternoon, two planes, which residents believed to be American, flew over the area, and local anti-aircraft batteries opened up at them. According to half a dozen witnesses at the scene, the planes fired several missiles in response, most of which hit empty fields planted with wheat and barley. But one landed squarely on Adjmi Jubouri's two-story house.
Jubouri's 22-year-old daughter, Hana, was killed, along with two other relatives, and eight were injured, said relatives and doctors at a Baghdad hospital where the wounded were taken. When the missile hit, the upper floor pancaked down into the living room, where the extended Jubouri clan had huddled to wait out the air attacks that have shaken the area.
On Tuesday, a visit to the site by a Chronicle reporter and an Iraqi government "minder" quickly turned into a raucous rally full of seemingly raw emotions, as more than a dozen neighbors and local tribespeople gathered at the site, strewn with small pieces of shrapnel.
PINPOINT BOMBING CLAIMED
The U.S. military insists it is carrying out pinpoint bombing attacks and going to great lengths to avoid harming civilians. Independent observers have suggested that some civilian casualties may have been caused by anti-aircraft fire and by Iraqi SA-2 anti-aircraft missiles that have gone astray. But that was not the view on the ground, especially among those on the receiving end of the missiles in Diyala.
"The Americans are targeting civilians, and this gives us more courage to defend our country," said Abdul Ahmed Adjmi, Jubouri's brother-in-law, his gray mustache quivering as he spoke.
Other tribesmen, their heads covered with red-and-white checked kaffiyehs, shouted their approval and waved revolvers and old hunting rifles.
The Diyala region, a sparsely populated area scattered with mud-brick houses and irrigated fields, is near a strategic bridge over the Diyala River, on one of the two highways approaching Baghdad from the south. The area has come under heavy attack from U.S. missiles fired to soften up the Iraqi military and Republican Guard before a march on the capital.
The population is made up of Sunni and Shiite tribes that U.S. war planners had hoped would abandon the urban-oriented Hussein regime. But the reactions of Diyala residents encountered here indicate that U.S. forces may face more hostile attitudes than they anticipated in their long march northward.
A similar turn in sentiment appears to be occurring in Baghdad. Earlier this month, residents repeatedly approached foreign reporters on the street to express their whispered hopes that the allied troops would overthrow the regime.
But since the U.S. missile barrage began, nationalist sentiment has become more pronounced. While residents still seem more than willing to have the dictator plucked from their midst, they have become steadily more alienated by the realization that his removal involves some messy, intrusive military force.
According to government officials, civilian losses are mounting. On Monday alone, 62 civilian deaths and 176 injuries were reported around the country.
As missile strikes thunder across the city throughout the day and night, the "shock and awe" campaign appears to have produced something closer to shock and anger.
Driving through the area around Diyala, 20 miles southeast of downtown Baghdad, there are other indications of missile strikes. A mile from the remains of the Jubouri house, buildings were reduced to rubble and a factory lay flattened and ripped to shreds, spewing thousands of aluminum panels across neighboring fields.
Local military forces, however, seem to have been unaffected by the blasts in Diyala. Hundreds of soldiers were dispersed across fields and along irrigation canals, huddling in their little tents against the fierce dust storms that swept the region Tuesday. Armored personnel carriers were hidden under overpasses, fuel tanks were covered with dirt berms, and anti-aircraft batteries were nestled under trees.
MOURNING HIS LOSS
Meanwhile, Adjmi Jubouri, who suffered cuts on his arm and head in Monday's attack, lies in a hospital in Baghdad, cursing the Americans and mourning his loss. "Hana was a good girl," he says. "Bush is an evil man."
In the same hospital ward as Jubouri is his son-in-law, Khalid Abdullah. Khalid and Hana were married March 18, only six days before the attack. Khalid spends much of his time mute, sitting on the floor, sobbing by himself.
Twenty miles away, scattered in the ruins of the family house, are dozens of left-over wedding invitations. The low-budget design features a stereotypical image of a tall groom and his blond bride.
Along with the invitations and the other detritus of wrecked lives are innumerable scraps of twisted steel -- the remnants of a missile -- cold and hard.
Copyright 2003 San Francisco Chronicle
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