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[casi] Jo Wilding's reports from Baghdad March 25 and 26

Jo Wilding's diary, March 25 and 26

March 25th
The Farmhouse at Dialla

It's hard now to tell the bombings from the storm:
both beat at the windows and thunder through the city,
but after a missile explodes, flocks of birds fill the
sky, disturbed by the shock waves. After a gust, they
are replaced by a cornucopeia of rubbish, drifting in
the smog of sand and dust and smoke which has turned
the air a dirty orange so thick it blotted out the sun
and everything went dark in the middle of the day.
Even the rain was filthy: the cleansing, healing drops
fill with grime on the way down and splatter you with
streaks of mud.

In the end three people died yesterday in the
farmhouse which was bombed at Dialla, including the
young wife, Nahda, who was missing in the rubble. She,
along with Zahra, the eight year old daughter and her
aunt, Hana, were buried this morning. People are taken
for burial in coffins but are buried in shrouds and a
pick up returned to the remains of the house with the
three caskets, cobbled out of small pieces of wood,
riding in the back.

In fact the couple had been married just one week, not
three as I wrote yesterday, and a neighbour showed us
a flouncy pink invitation to the wedding festival.
Omar, the bridegroom, sat silently crying on the floor
in the hospital corridor, leaning on the wall, body
bent, head in his hands.

Neighbours said the bomb hit at 4pm yesterday. The
plane had been flying overhead for a while, they said,
when it fired three rockets, one of which demolished
the entire upper storey of the house. It looked as if
it had only ever been a bungalow until, clambering
through the hallway, we came to the stairs, leading up
to nothing.

Small farmhouses sat between cultivated fields, the
occasional cow, two or three compact plots, then
another building. A couple of sheep held court over
the empty marketplace as we entered the village, over
the small Dialla Bridge across a slim branch of the
Tigris. There was nothing which could explain the
attack: nothing which even looked like a target that,
perhaps, the pilot might have been aiming for. It made
no sense. The villagers said the plane had been
circling overhead. Its pilot must have seen what was

The animal shelters behind the house were crumpled,
the family's cow lying crushed under her roof. They
wouldn't have known that yet, still in the hospital.
The windows of sixteen houses nearby were all broken,
the neighbours told us, and the blast made the
children's ears bleed.

Ration sacks were piled in the kitchen and there was a
bowl of green beans which looked as if they were being
prepared for an evening meal.  Two or three of the
neighbours invited us to eat in their homes. Humbling
seems too small a word for the experience of being
invited to share food and hospitality, by people with
so little, while crouching in the rubble of their
friends' and neighbours' home which was obliterated,
with several lives, by my country, only the previous

Hours earlier, in the Al Kindi hospital, we had gone
to take a statement from another casualty. He was
dying, his family around him, so we didn't go into the
room. As we walked away one of the men came after us
with a tin of sweets to offer us. "Thankyou for
coming," he said in English. These people constantly
overwhelm me with their dignity, their kindness, their

March 26th

The Iraqis call it orange weather: some say it is on
their side. It's not even 5 o'clock and the sun won't
set till nearly seven but it's dark outside. I half
imagined the war being like this, the sky staying dark
all the time, but without the orange. It stinks as
well, of smoke and oil and I don't know what else. The
darkness and the grime and the fierce cold wind lend
an unnecessary sense of apocalypse to the flooded
craters, broken trees, gaping windows and wrecked
houses where the bombs have hit.

I know I'm not supposed to understand this, so I won't
bother telling you I don't. Today I met Essa Jassim
Najim, a 28 year old first-year engineering student
from a farming family near Babylon. He couldn't speak
because of shrapnel wounds to his head and neck but
his father explained that three days ago they were
attacked by two groups of Apache helicopters. The
first group attempted to land and the farmers resisted
them with guns, aided by the Civil Defence Force. The
second group of helicopters attacked the house,
destroying it with a missile.

Another farming community in Al Doraa also reported an
attack by Apache helicopters at 4pm on Saturday. Atta
Jassim died when a missile hit his house. Moen, his
eight-year-old son had multiple bowel and intestinal
injuries from shrapnel: part of his intestine had been
removed. His six-year-old brother Ali and mother Hana
were also injured by shrapnel.

Saad Shalash Aday is another farmer, from Al Mahmoodia
in South Baghdad. He had a fractured leg and multiple
shrapnel wounds including a ruptured spleen,
perforated caecum, colon and small bowel, abdominal
and leg wounds. Two of his brothers, Mohammed and
Mobden, were also injured and ten year old twin boys
Ahmed and Daha Assan were killed in the same house
when a bomb exploded two or three metres from the
building. The doctor, Dr Ahmed Abdullah, said two
other men were killed in the same attack around 6pm
yesterday (Tuesday): Kherifa Mohammed Jebur, a 35 year
old farmer and another man whose name nobody present

Eight houses and four cars were destroyed and cows,
sheep and dogs were killed. The eyewitnesses described
two bombs, each causing an explosion in the air, and
cylindrical containers - cluster bombs, some of which
exploded on the ground. Others did not explode. The
two explosions were about 300 metres apart, with a few
minutes between them. From first hearing the plane
overhead until the second explosion, they estimated,
took about 10 minutes.

"Is this democracy?" the men demanded to know,
gathered by Saad's bed. "Is this what America is
bringing to Iraq?"

At 9 this morning a group of caravans was hit with
cluster bombs, according to the doctors. A tiny boy
lay in terrible pain in the hospital, a tube draining
blood from his chest, which was pierced by shrapnel.
They said he was eight, but he looked maybe five. The
doctors were testing for abdominal damage as well. I'm
not sure whether he knew yet, or could understand,
that his mother was killed instantly and his five
sisters and two brothers were not yet found. His
father had gone to bring blood for him and his uncle,
Dia, was with him.

Rusol Ammar, a skinny ten year old girl with startling
eyes, flinched occasionally when breathing hurt her -
she had multiple injuries from glass and shrapnel, as
well as a fractured hand. Dr Ahmed explained that, at
the velocity caused by an explosion, even a grain of
sand could cause injury to a child Rusol's size. They
weren't yet sure what was in her chest.

Her dad said something hit their street and exploded.
They were in their house and tried to close the door
against the fireball but the windows blew in and the
glass and shrapnel flew everywhere. His other children
were unhurt. Rusol smiled the most gorgeous smile when
we told her how brave she is, and that it will give
courage to children everywhere when we tell them how
brave she is.

Her dad asked the same question we'd heard before. "Is
this democracy?"

Dr Ahmed is Syrian but has lived and worked 27 years
in Iraq. He wasn't working yesterday but estimated
about 30 casualties came into Al Yarmouk hospital.
That's just one hospital and yesterday was a fairly
light day of bombing. It makes no sense for me to
speculate about the plans and intentions of the US/UK
military, because I don't know, but several incidents
of attacks on farms have been reported to us.

Farms are not a legitimate target, even if you want to
land your helicopter on them. From the legal
perspective, the presence of a military objective
within a civilian area or population does not deprive
the population of its civilian character, even if you
can call landing a helicopter a military objective.
You cannot bomb an area of civilian houses knowing
that people in the vicinity are likely to be hurt by
flying glass and shrapnel.

More than that though, more than the illegality of it,
this is wrong. It's desperately, horrifyingly,
achingly wrong. I don't mean this to be a casualty
list, never mind a body count - I couldn't even begin
and I've no intention of describing blood and gore to
you, but take this as an illustration, as a small
picture of what's happening to people here, of what
war means.

The internet connection is down today. I don't know
whether it's because of the sandstorm or the bomb
damage or the attempt to control information. Phone
lines are moody even within Baghdad. The Iraqi TV
station was hit last night. Friends in the south of
the city said there was no water or electricity when
they woke up.

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