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[casi] lest we forget ...

A piece I wrote after the '98 bombing ...Felicity Arbuthnot,

Iraq: Bombing Summary.

The four day bombing of Iraq by Britain and the U.S. unleashed 88,500 tons
of ordnance over the four night campaign, according to Pentagon estimates.
In a strange alliance, both the UK, the US and the Iraqi government are all
ignoring the damage - the West keen to play down the human toll of the
equivalent of 354,000 Omagh bombings in time for Christmas, Ramadam and
Honneke - and Iraq from national pride which leads to a denial that even
such an onslaught can affect Œthe cradle of civilisation.¹

The Universe has managed to piece together a more realistic picture of the
destruction and human cost from eyewitness accounts from Iraq during and
since the bombing. Suad, writer, artist, poet, had said, after the November
crisis: ŒIt¹s not over, your government will get us, they are determined
to.¹ During the Gulf war she had made a Œsafe¹ den out of her study, packed
valuable ancient manuscripts against the window as protection against blast
damage, and piled in the duvets. She, her husband and two children had spent
the Gulf war there Œprotected¹ from cruise missiles by books and eiderdown.
They have returned there on a number of occasions - bombings all but
forgotten by the west. She was not going to bother again, she said in
November, certain that they would die anyway.

On the 18th December, the second night of the bombing the line was
surprisingly clear - so was her anger and pain. ŒWe¹re used to the sound of
the bombing now, I can live with that, but I cannot live with the sound of
the children, crying, screaming, as soon as the rumbling starts. It is as if
we can hear the terror of every child, in every house, in every street in
the entire neighbourhood.¹

Mahmoub, a doctor, from a different part of the city also managed to get
through and made an almost identical observation. He had discussed with
other parents what to do, in the face of such terror: ŒIt is the women and
children who are paying the price - the mothers because they know they are
helpless to protect in the face of such terror, the children nearly mindless
knowing there is no escape.¹ He organised a Œtelephone tree¹, persuading the
children to telephone each other in their fear, to attempt to assuage it by
sharing it. In another desparate bid, he took eight year old Ali Œon to the
flat roof of the house last night and we watched the display, I tried to get
him to think of it as some huge firework party.¹ They live in the suburb of
Z¹afaranya, bombed in 1993, where a sprawling complex of homes, shops and
small factories and work shops and those in them, were raised to the ground.
Little remained except the Catholic convent and church - Ali had been three
then and still remembered. ŒThis morning I drove round Baghdad and gave up
counting the damage, I am sure at least a thousand places have been hit¹,
said Mahmoub.

The following morning the Pentagon announced that more bombs had been
dropped on Iraq in two nights than in the whole of the Gulf war - and in the
42 days of the Gulf war more ordnance was dropped than in the six years of
World War11. Further credible damage reports started to arrive. In Tikrit,
stated as bombed because it was Saddam Hussein¹s home town the hospital, a
girls school and a grain store  containing 260,000 tonnes of grain were said
to have been destroyed - in a country with now a lower calorific intake than
Mali, where one third of surviving children suffer stunted growth and/or
impaired intelligence due to malnutrition according to UNICEF. Numerous
buildings and homes were also said to have been destroyed  - one can only
surmise that many of the people in them also were - but with the order
clearly out that casualty figures were not to be released, many are
reluctant to make estimates on the telephone.

>From Baghdad in a distraught telephone conversation, an accountant described
a direct hit by a missile on Palestine Street, a residential street in the
centre of the town.  As people ran to help the injured and dying Œa plane
came over and dropped a second one.¹ The caller thought he was the only
survivor, but his overwhelming pain and grief precluded any questions. The
nearby Munstansaria University - the oldest in the world, standing on the
banks of the great Tigris river its golden masonry and great courtyard one
of the jewels of the Middle East. It has survived sacking by Timor¹s Hordes
and the Mongols under Ghenghis Khan, but apparently not December¹s cruise
missiles. The Al Abassi palace from the same period, Dar Al Hechma (ŒHouse
of Medicine¹) possible the oldest medical school in the world, with its
ancient manuscripts, some dating back almost to the time of the founding of
Baghdad in 700 AD, have, according to several sources, been destroyed - as
has the Natural History Museum.

Three residential districts - Karrada with its vibrant market stalls, shops,
teeming streets, Adahmya and Mansour, with its elegant houses, surrounded by
brilliant bourganvillia, hybiscus - hit in every bombing, since the
headquarters of the Muhkaberat (secret police) are a few roads away. Mansour
is always hit, the Mukharberat unscathed. In June 1993 one of the Middle
East¹s most renowned artists, Laila Al Attar and her husband were killed
when a stray missile fell on their house - they had fled into the garden,
but were killed in the aftermath of the blast. I stood by the crater where
her house - whose architect had won an award for its design - had been. A
neighbour, her close friend, stood by me: ŒWhen they picked he up, she
looked like a beautiful broken doll¹, she said quietly. Three hospitals in
Baghdad were hit this time, one the St Raphael, run by Catholic nursing
sisters - and the school of languages, pharmacy and literature at the

South in Basra, another grain store - part of the woefully inadequate Œoil
for food¹ deal was destroyed along with the oil refinery - which not only
means that Iraq cannot now produce oil for the Œdeal¹ - but in the bitter
cold of the winter nights, the population has now no access to kerosene for
heat and for cooking - or petrol. The only (just) working water purification
plant was also hit - and Basra¹s water is the most lethal in Iraq. The south
is a Œsafe haven.¹

Telephone calls cannot do justice to four nights of incessant carpet bombing
but there were some haunting moments: Mahmoub, the doctor, said that so many
old people were dying. ŒThey are dying, not through illness, not through
anything we can diagnose, just from exhaustion, or fear. They have just
given up.¹ Suad, who had cried on the telephone only two weeks before, with
rage for loss of her beloved brother, who would have survived if there had
been adeqaute facilities to treat him, said: ŒI am glad he died, he was so
lucky, none of us want to live any more.¹ And little Mariam Hamza, the four
year old leukaemia patient who MP George Galloway brought here for treatment
- and who returned to Iraq in November. Mariam brought a light into the life
of all who came in contact with her. When the family who took her in as
their own during her long, arduous treatment, managed to telephone her in
Baghdad, during the bombing, the little girl who no one had ever seen cry,
through long  painful procedures, was sobbing her heart out:  ŒI am so
frightened, please, I want to come home.¹

Mahmoub suddenly remarked that on the final nigh of the bombing - the start
of Ramadan, Œthe smoke and debris was so thick, that we were unable to see
the full moon¹ which heralded its onset.

And for the Christians, Christmas was cancelled. The Chaldean Patriarch
decreed that: ŒThis is a time for prayer - they have killed our children,
destroyed our homeland, we cannot celebrate, just reflect and pray.¹ And he
urged Christians of all denominations, throughout the globe, to do the same.

Ends: 1,360.

 Possible box, footnote or whatever:

The Jordanian Doctors Union has unanimously decided to boycott all American
and Briitish products, including medical equipment, in protest at the
bombing of Iraq. They are urging all their Arab counterparts to do the same:
ŒAmerica¹s ridicule of the Arab world has gone too far - we will work to ban
and boycott all their products¹ a statement said.

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