Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003
Robert Fisk, The Independent via www.aljazeerah.info/
BAGHDAD, 27 March 2003 - It was an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door, the swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a garage, the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small children in their still smoldering car. Two missiles from a single American jet killed them all - more than 20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be 'liberated' by the nation which destroyed their lives.
Who dares, I ask myself, to call this 'collateral damage'? Abu Taleb Street was packed with pedestrians and motorists when the American pilot approached through the dense sandstorm that covered northern Baghdad in a cloak of red and yellow dust and rain yesterday morning. It's a dirt poor neighborhood - of mostly Shiite Muslims, the same people whom Messers Bush and Blair still fondly hope will rise up against Saddam - a place of oil-sodden car repair shops, overcrowded apartments and cheap cafes.
Everyone I spoke to heard the plane. One man, so shocked by the headless corpses he had just seen, could only say two words. “Roar, flash,'' he kept saying and then closed his eyes so tight that the muscles rippled between them.
How should one record so terrible an event? Perhaps a medical report would be more appropriate. But the final death toll is expected to be near to 30 and Iraqis are now witnessing these awful things each day; so there is no reason why the truth - all the truth - of what they see should not be told.
For another question occurred to me as I walked through this place of massacre yesterday. If this is what we are seeing in Baghdad, what is happening in Basra and Nassiriyah and Karbala? How many civilians are dying there too, anonymously, indeed unrecorded, because there are no reporters to be witness to their suffering?
Abu Hassan and Malek Hammoud were preparing lunch for customers at the Nasser Restaurant on the north side of Abu Taleb Street. The missile that killed them landed next to the westbound carriageway, its blast tearing away the front of the cafe and cutting the two men - the first 48, the second only 18 - to pieces. One of their fellow workers led me through the rubble. “This is all that is left of them now,'' he said, holding out before me an oven pan dripping with blood.
At least 15 cars burst into flames burning many of their occupants to death. Several men tore desperately at the doors of another flame-shrouded car in the center of the street which had been slipped upside down by the same missile. They were forced to watch helplessly as the woman and her three children inside were cremated alive in front of them. The second missile hit neatly on the east-bound carriageway, sending shards of metal into three men standing outside a concrete apartment block with the words “This is God's possession'' written in marble on the outside wall.
The building's manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he heard the massive explosion. “I found Ta'ar in pieces over there,'' he told me. His head was blown off. “That's his hand.'' A group of young men and women took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film, was Ta'ar's hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping a piece of iron roofing. His young colleague Sermed died the same instant. His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and gray mess behind a burned car. Both men worked for Danoon. So did a doorman who was also killed.
As each survivor talked, the dead regained their identities. There was the electrical ship owner killed behind his counter by the same missile that cut down Ta'ar and Sermed and the doorman, and the young girl standing on the central reservation, trying to cross the road, and the truck driver who was only feet from the point of impact and the beggar who regularly called to see Danoon for bread and who was just leaving when the missiles came soaring down through the sandstorm to destroy him.
In Qatar, the Anglo-American forces - let's forget this nonsense about “coalition” - announced an inquiry. The Iraqi government, who are the only ones to benefit from the propaganda value of such a blood bath, naturally denounced the slaughter which they initially put at 14 dead. So what was the real target? Some Iraqis said there was a military encampment less than a mile from the street, though I couldn't find it. Others talked about a local fire brigade headquarters, but the fire brigade can hardly be described as military target.
Certainly, there had been an attack less than an hour earlier on a military camp further north. I was driving past the base when two rockets exploded and I saw Iraqi soldiers running for their lives out of the gates and along the side of the highway. Then I heard two more explosions - these were the missiles that hit Abu Taleb Street.
Of course, the pilot who killed the innocent yesterday could not see his victims. Pilots fire through computer-aligned coordinates and the sandstorm yesterday would have hidden the street from his vision. But when one of Malek Hammoud's friends asked me how the Americans could so blithely kill those they claimed to want to liberate, he didn't want to learn about the science of avionics or weapons delivery systems. And why should he? For this is happening almost every day in Baghdad.
The truth is that nowhere is safe now in Baghdad and as the Americans and British close their siege of the city in the next few days or hours, that simple message will become ever more real and ever more bloody. We may put on the hairshirt of morality in explaining why theses people should die. They died because of Sept. 11, we may say, because of Saddam's 'weapons of mass destruction', because of human rights abuses, because of our desperate desire to 'liberate' them all. Let us not confuse the issue with oil. Either way, I'll bet we are told that Saddam is ultimately responsible for their deaths. We shan't mention the pilot, of course.
Printer friendly version
Send page by E-Mail