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Susan Taylor Martin from Iraq: "One missile. Three little girls."

The St. Petersburg Times has begun a deeply affecting three-part series on
Iraq written by its senior world and national columnist, Susan Taylor
Martin.  I confess to a bias here, as Ms. Martin is a personal friend (at
least as far as the 'intimacy' of e-mail allows) but I think this is
outstanding work and I encourage you to share these articles with your
friends and elected officials.  

Susan is widely traveled in the Middle East and she has an abiding
appreciation of the region's humbling history and beauty (her favorite place
is Petra, Jordan).    Her gift, I think, is to let the reader view
unfamiliar lands through the eyes of a humane, perceptive traveler.  And we
sorely lack these humane portrayals of the Iraqi people in the mainstream
American press.  Even more rarely, she's a reporter with whom people enjoy
talking ... and the annecdotes which result are honest, touching and

Below, I've attached a short sidebar column that appeared Sunday, but please
see the full series (links below).  I should add the accompanying photos (by
prize-winner Jamie Francis) are outstanding:

(1) Arrival (pre-series; posted by Erik):
(2) Series, Pt. 1 (posted by KevCross):
(3) Series, Pt. 2 (today on DU):
(4) Series, Pt. 3 (tomorrow - check

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA


One Missile. Three little girls.


 St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000 

BASRA, Iraq -- By Jan. 25, 1999, the Persian Gulf War had long since ended.

Why then, Saeidh Hassan wonders, did a U.S. missile kill her three little
girls that quiet morning?

It was just 9 a.m. but the day was already well under way in Basra, a shabby
port city 230 miles south of Baghdad. Mrs. Hassan put the baby, 6-month-old
Zeinab, back in her crib and began tidying their apartment.
Noor, 9, had just returned from school and was playing with friends in the
dusty street. Her mother shouted at her to come inside and change her
clothes. Noor grudgingly obeyed, bringing her 2-year-old sister, Thuha, with

The noise was so loud people could hear it from miles away. The missile had
hit an entire block of flat-roofed apartment buildings, instantly reducing
them to rubble.

Clothes torn, back in pain, Mrs. Hassan tried to move only to realize she
was trapped between hunks of concrete and mangled pieces of steel.

And, with growing dread, she realized that three of her children didn't
answer when called.

A "misfiring" is how U.S. officials described the missile strike, one of
scores since 1992 in what Iraqis claim is a continuing, undeclared war
against their country. In the past 18 months alone, they say, nearly 300
civilians have been killed by allied missiles and bombs.

"The Americans and British say, "We are protecting you with our airplanes'
but at the same time they are killing us on the ground," says Dr. Jawa
Kadhim Al-Ali, a Basra physician.
After the Gulf War, the United States, Britain and France created "no-fly"
zones over northern and southern Iraq to keep Saddam Hussein's forces from
bombing rebellious groups in those areas.

The goal in the south, around Basra, was to protect Shiite Muslims, whose
uprising after the war prompted fears of revenge by Hussein.

Since December, 1998, U.S. officials say, allied jets patrolling the no-fly
zones have been threatened 470 times by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles or
anti-aircraft fire. In retaliation, U.S. and British planes have repeatedly
struck Iraqi military targets, most recently last week.

"We do not target civilian populations or civilian infrastructure," says Lt.
Col. Rick Thomas of U.S. Central Command at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base.
"Every way we can, we seek to avoid civilian injuries but one of the things
we've got to be able to do is protect those pilots enforcing the no-fly

Thomas says the allies use only "precision-guided weapons." How then, asks
Mrs. Hassan's husband, can a missile go so off course as to hit a
residential area with nothing but homes and apartments as far as the eye can

"What is behind this action?" he says. "This is civilian housing, not a
military installation."

Mr. Hassan, an employee of Basra's electric company, was at work when he got
the phone call. He hurried home and fainted at what he saw -- his apartment
destroyed, three of his daughters buried under tons of rubble. All had been
killed instantly; it took three hours to get Noor's body out.

The errant missile had other victims.

A 6-year-old boy also died, and more than 60 people were injured, some
critically. Mrs. Hassan, three months pregnant, had a miscarriage. Her only
surviving daughter spent a week in the hospital. A young cousin still has a
deep scar in her forehead from where a chunk of concrete hit her.

For months, the family lived with relatives until the government helped them
get another apartment a block away. By Basra's standards, it is spacious and

It is also a melancholy place.

"A woman loses three girls -- she becomes like a crazy woman," Hassan says
of his wife, sitting listlessly in a darkened room. "She thinks about them,
she doesn't sleep during the night. She stays sad all day -- this is her

Mrs. Hassan, whose son drowned in 1994, is so depressed she rarely goes out.
Seeing children on their way home from school reminds her of Noor and how
she hated to come in that day. If she hadn't obeyed, would she and Thuha
still be alive? The thought is tormenting.

Seven weeks ago, the Hassans had a baby girl. They named her Zeinab, after
the baby who died. Her mother lines her eyes in black -- "to make her more
beautiful" -- and pins her blanket with a single staring eye, an Iraqi
symbol of good luck.

Even a new baby, though, brings Mrs. Hassan little joy.

"I want Clinton to see this," she says, slapping her hand across her breast.
"I want him to know how he put a hole in my heart. There's not a minute I

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