Should We Really Be Letting This Man Play Billards With The World?
Robert Fisk: In Baghdad, blood and bandages for the innocent
The piece of metal is only a foot high, but the numbers on it hold the clue to the latest atrocity in Baghdad.
At least 62 civilians had died by yesterday afternoon, and the coding on that hunk of metal contains the identity of the culprit. The Americans and British were doing their best yesterday to suggest that an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile destroyed those dozens of lives, adding that they were "still investigating" the carnage. But the coding is in Western style, not in Arabic. And many of the survivors heard the plane.
In the Al-Noor hospital yesterday morning, there were appalling scenes of pain and suffering. A two-year-old girl, Saida Jaffar, swaddled in bandages, a tube into her nose, another into her stomach. All I could see of her was her forehead, two small eyes and a chin. Beside her, blood and flies covered a heap of old bandages and swabs. Not far away, lying on a dirty bed, was three-year-old Mohamed Amaid, his face, stomach, hands and feet all tied tightly in bandages. A great black mass of congealed blood lay at the bottom of his bed.
This is a hospital without computers, with only the most primitive of X-ray machines. But the missile was guided by computers and that vital shard of fuselage was computer-coded. It can be easily verified and checked by the Americans – if they choose to do so. It reads: 30003-704ASB 7492. The letter "B" is scratched and could be an "H". This is believed to be the serial number. It is followed by a further code which arms manufacturers usually refer to as the weapon's "Lot" number. It reads: MFR 96214 09.
The piece of metal bearing the codings was retrieved only minutes after the missile exploded on Friday evening, by an old man whose home is only 100 yards from the 6ft crater. Even the Iraqi authorities do not know that it exists. The missile sprayed hunks of metal through the crowds – mainly women and children – and through the cheap brick walls of local homes, amputating limbs and heads. Three brothers, the eldest 21 and the youngest 12, for example, were cut down inside the living room of their brick hut on the main road opposite the market. Two doors away, two sisters were killed in an identical manner. "We have never seen anything like these wounds before," Dr Ahmed, an anaesthetist at the Al-Noor hospital told me later. "These people have been punctured by dozens of bits of metal." He was right. One old man I visited in a hospital ward had 24 holes in the back of his legs and buttocks, some as big as pound coins. An X-ray photograph handed to me by one of his doctors clearly showed at least 35 slivers of metal still embedded in his body
Like the Sha'ab highway massacre on Thursday – when at least 21 Iraqi civilians were killed or burned to death by two missiles fired by an American jet – Shu'ale is a poor, Shia Muslim neighbourhood of single-storey corrugated iron and cement food stores and two-room brick homes. These are the very people whom Messrs Bush and Blair expected to rise in insurrection against Saddam. But the anger in the slums was directed at the Americans and British yesterday, by old women and bereaved fathers and brothers who spoke without hesitation – and without the presence of the otherwise ubiquitous government "minders".
"This is a crime," a woman muttered at me angrily. "Yes, I know they say they are targeting the military. But can you see soldiers here? Can you see missiles?" The answer has to be in the negative. A few journalists did report seeing a Scud missile on a transporter near the Sha'ab area on Thursday and there were anti-aircraft guns around Shu'ale. At one point yesterday morning, I heard an American jet race over the scene of the massacre and just caught sight of a ground-to-air missile that was vainly chasing it, its contrail soaring over the slum houses in the dark blue sky. An anti-aircraft battery – manufactured circa 1942 – also began firing into the air a few blocks away. But even if the Iraqis do position or move their munitions close to the suburbs, does that justify the Americans firing into those packed civilian neighbourhoods, into areas which they know contain crowded main roads and markets – and during the hours of daylight?
Last week's attack on the Sha'ab highway was carried out on a main road at midday during a sandstorm – when dozens of civilians are bound to be killed, whatever the pilot thought he was aiming at. "I had five sons and now I have only two – and how do I know that even they will survive?" a bespectacled middle-aged man said in the bare concrete back room of his home yesterday. "One of my boys was hit in the kidneys and heart. His chest was full of shrapnel; it came right through the windows. Now all I can say is that I am sad that I am alive." A neighbour interrupted to say that he saw the plane with his own eyes. "I saw the side of the aircraft and I noticed it changed course after it fired the missile."
Plane-spotting has become an all-embracing part of life in Baghdad. And to the reader who thoughtfully asked last week if I could see with my own eyes the American aircraft over the city, I have to say that in at least 65 raids by aircraft, I have not – despite my tiger-like eyes – actually seen one plane. I hear them, especially at night, but they are flying at supersonic speed; during the day, they are usually above the clouds of black smoke that wash over the city. I have, just once, spotted a cruise missile – the cruise or Tomahawk rockets fly at only around 400mph – and I saw it passing down a boulevard towards the Tigris river. But the grey smoke that shoots out of the city like the fingers of a dead hand is unmistakeable, along with the concussion of sound. And – when they can be found – the computer codings on the bomb fragments reveal their own story. As the codes on the Shu'ale missile surely must.
All morning yesterday, the Americans were at it again, blasting away at targets on the perimeter of Baghdad – where the outer defences of the city are being dug by Iraqi troops – and in the centre. An air-fired rocket exploded on the roof of the Iraqi Ministry of Information, destroying a clutch of satellite dishes. One office building from which I was watching the bombardment literally swayed for several seconds during one long raid. Even in the Al-Noor hospital, the walls were shaking yesterday as the survivors of the market slaughter struggled for survival.
Hussein Mnati is 52 and just stared at me – his face pitted with metal fragments – as bombs blasted the city. A 20-year-old man was sitting up in the next bed, the blood-soaked stump of his left arm plastered over with bandages. Only 12 hours ago, he had a left arm, a left hand, fingers. Now he blankly recorded his memories. "I was in the market and I didn't feel anything," he told me. "The rocket came and I was to the right of it and then an ambulance took me to hospital."
Whether or not his amputation was dulled by painkillers, he wanted to talk. When I asked him his name, he sat upright in bed and shouted at me: "My name is Saddam Hussein Jassem."
Scenes of pain and grief broadcast to worldwide viewers
A WOMAN in a black chador wept and beat her face with her hands in the corridor of the Al-Noor hospital as doctors operated on her son.
Not far away, a young Iraqi man, with parts of his body soaked with blood, cried out with pain as a doctor tried to remove shrapnel from his legs.
"I was hit ... a missile landed near our house," said the man.
The scenes inside the hospital were broadcast on Al-Jazeera television shortly after an explosion in a crowded market place in west Baghdad killed at least 55 people and wounded dozens.
Dr Haqi Ismail Razouq, the director of the hospital, said most of the injured were children and were in very serious condition, adding that the victims began arriving at the hospital at around 6:30pm.
Makeshift coffins and a huge crowd flooding the hospital were shown by Al-Jazeera. An ambulance was seen trying to take the wounded through crowds of people and the bodies of two children were pictured in the hospital mortuary.
Abu Dhabi television said cruise missiles may have hit the al-Nasser market and showed a gaping crater and damaged cars.
Another doctor at the Al-Noor hospital - about 300 yards from the blast - said he had counted 55 dead and more than 47 wounded from the market, which he said had been crowded with women, children and the elderly.
Al-Jazeera said the search for more victims was continuing and showed pictures of people carrying coffins out of the hospital which was surrounded by large crowds.
Crowds of mourners shouted "Allahu akbar," (God is great) and blood-soaked children’s slippers sat on the street not far from the crater left by the bomb.
Omar Ismail, a 35-year-old engineer who witnessed the explosion, said body parts were strewn across the street and that, in the immediate aftermath of the blast, women, men and children were screaming and running around in a daze looking for loved ones.
"Why do they hate the Iraqi people so much?" he asked.
The explosion left a crater the size of a coffee table on a pavement in front of a row of shops. Water was seeping from ruptured pipes and corrugated iron dangled from the roofs of the damaged shops.
"Why do they makes mistakes like these if they have the technology?" said Abdel-Hadi Adai, who lost his 27-year-old brother-in-law, Najah Abdel-Rida, in the blast.
It was the second incident of its kind on a civilian area of Baghdad.
On Thursday at least 15 died and dozens were injured in what the Iraqis claimed was a coalition missile attack in a suburban market at Al-Shaab, in the north of the city. The US Central Command in Qatar said it had no evidence to show coalition forces were responsible and suggested it might have been an Iraqi air defence missile that missed its target and fell back to earth.
War leaders in the United States and Britain will be nervous about reports of large civilian casualties within Iraq amid continuing public protests about military action.
The early evening marketplace explosion followed a dawn cruise missile attack that gutted the four middle floors of the capital’s ten-storey telephone exchange.
Three Baghdad telecommunications facilities were hit during intense bombing. So far, Iraqi authorities have been more keen to show foreign journalists destroyed buildings than damaged humans. In nine days of war, they have allowed reporters to visit dozens of bomb sites but staged only one hospital visit.
Statistics have come through the information minister, Mr Mohamed Said al-Sahaf, who said 33 civilians were killed in Iraq during the 24 hours from Thursday to Friday, including seven in Baghdad. He said 150 others were wounded during the same period.
The allies had intended to preserve Iraq’s infrastructure, to keep reconstruction costs down, but the difficulty of the invasion is already leading to what might be called "target slippage".
Iraq’s defence minister, Gen Sultan Hashem Ahmed, predicted on Thursday night that Baghdad would be encircled within five to ten days.
Residents fear that other "dual use" military and civilian targets - power plants, pumping stations, bridges - could soon follow.
The Iraqis portrayed the telephone exchanges as civilian targets.
After a sleepless night of almost continuous explosions, many thousands of Baghdad residents had no means of contacting friends and relatives to see if they were safe.
The al-Awiya exchange was bombed at 7am yesterday with a 4,500lb "bunker buster" that rocked the eastern bank of the Tigris with the force of an earthquake.
On the slip road to the Sineg Bridge, another massive bomb missed its target, the al-Rashid Telecommunications Centre, which is also the capital’s main post office, by just a few metres. The impact cleaved up huge slabs of asphalt, but the high-rise building was almost intact.
As men in green militia uniforms loaded dirty styrofoam boxes filled with circuit boards into a van, an official said: "This was a near miss. I expect the Americans will come back any moment.
"I’d get out of here now if I were you."
Shalamche, Khuzestan prov, March 29, IRNA -- Food storage depots in the southern Iraqi city of Basra were bombarded by the coalition forces on Saturday.
A large number of citizens, some of them reportedly killed, had gathered in the bombed spot to receive relief supplies as the horrible carnage occurred. The injured were rushed to hospitals.
Hospitals of Basra are packed with injured and schools are being used for medicare purposes.
Basra is the second largest Iraqi city with a population of 1.2 million.
International organizations have warned of major human catastrophe in the city.
U.S. investigates checkpoint shooting
DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- The U.S. Marines are investigating a shooting at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq in which at least seven women and children were killed and two others wounded.
The victims were among up to 15 civilians reported to be traveling in a van that failed to stop at a U.S. Army checkpoint near the town of Najaf on Monday afternoon.
The incident occurred two days after a suicide car bomber killed four 3rd Infantry Division soldiers by detonating his vehicle at a checkpoint in the region. (Full story)
The bombing resulted in new rules of engagement that authorized soldiers to fire on vehicles that do not stop.
U.S. Central Command in Qatar said Monday's incident began to unfold about 4:30 p.m. [8:30 a.m. EST], when soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division at the Route 9 checkpoint near Najaf motioned for the vehicle to stop. The driver ignored repeated warnings.
The soldiers then fired warning shots into the air and the engine that were ignored. Unable to see inside the van, the soldiers fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle "as a last resort," a Central Command statement said.
"In light of recent terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the soldiers exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary loss of life," said Central Command, which added that the soldiers could not see the van's occupants when they fired.
A Washington Post reporter embedded with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division reported that the vehicle carried 15 people and that 10 of them -- including five children who appeared to be under 5 -- were killed. The reporter also said a man was critically wounded.
A top U.S. Marine at Central Command called it a "very tragic incident" and said an investigation has been launched. But the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, said the soldiers "did the right thing."
In a story on the paper's Web site, The Washington Post reporter wrote that the unit's captain ordered the first warning shot. As the four-wheel drive Toyota continued down the road, the captain ordered one round fired into its radiator.
After that failed to stop the vehicle, according to the Post reporter, the captain yelled "Stop him, Red 1, stop him!" That was followed by about a half-dozen shots from the 25 mm cannon on the platoon's Bradley armored vehicle, the reporter wrote.
"You just [expletive] killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!" the reporter quoted the captain as yelling at the platoon leader.
'The most horrible thing I've ever seen'
Commenting on the incident early Tuesday, CENTCOM spokesman James Wilkinson told CNN that the newspaper account does not match the report from field commanders.
"On the battle field we have this phenomenon called 'fog of war," he said. "We continue to see reports from embedded reporters that have discrepancies from our headquarter's reports. What I can tell you is that right now as we speak, we are working to reconcile this."
An Army medic was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, "It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen, and I hope I never see it again."
Central Command said it appeared the proper rules of engagement were followed.
"They absolutely did the right thing," Pace, a Marine, said Monday in an interview on PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
"They tried to warn the vehicle to stop," Pace said. "It did not stop."
Pace blamed the shooting on the "environment" created by recent incidents in which Iraqi soldiers have dressed as civilians and used women and children as shields.
"Our soldiers on the ground have an absolute right to defend themselves. They will always, if they can, find a way to stop a vehicle like that without having to actually to fire at it. But in the final analysis, when their lives are threatened, and of course they thought they were, they will shoot."
In an interview with CNN's Larry King, Col. Tom Bright -- the Marine Corps chief at the U.S. Central Command's joint operations center in Qatar -- said simply, "It was a very tragic incident."
International TV crews have shown horrific footage of civilian areas destroyed by Donald Rumsfeld’s precision weaponry in Baghdad.
The Iraqi information ministry has shown pictures of a passenger bus which it claims was strafed by forces from the US/UK coalition and claims that a market in Baghdad was struck by a missile yesterday, in which 51 civilians were murdered. Neither of these claims has been admitted by the Pentagon, which began the war claiming that 8,000 Iraqi prisoners of war had been taken. Nearly two weeks later, it admits that it has 4,000.
The denial and deception is evidently being used on both sides. The Iraqi information ministry claims that around 400 civilians have been murdered since the beginning of this illegal attack by coalition forces, while around 3,650 have been wounded. It is impossible to verify these figures but since the beginning of the conflict, the Iraqi Information Ministry has proved to be far more reliable than the risible misinformation provided by the Pentagon.
The Pentagon, for example, claims that 1,500 Iraqi forces have been killed in close fighting, while the US forces lost only 6 soldiers, five to a suicide bomber and one to a sniper. The Iraqi Information Ministry claims that several hundred US soldiers have been killed, which would seem to be more in accord with the increased activity in US army hospitals in Germany.
In the south, in Basra, the camera does not lie. A ten-year-old Iraqi boy was presented to British medical forces by his screaming mother. He had been hit in the stomach by a stray bullet fired when coalition forces were shooting into the city.
Bullseye, Mr. Rumsfeld!
~Did You Miss These?~
Just a Reminder - Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003
Ravyne Is Moving - Friday, Oct. 17, 2003
The Mission - Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003
Siege Heil - Thursday, Oct. 09, 2003
Litany Of Lies - Wednesday, Oct. 08, 2003
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