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[casi] Robert Fisk: In Baghdad, blood and bandages for the innocent

Perhaps those war supporters, sitting in their British
universities, can explain to those people of Sh'la why
war is good and justified ...


Robert Fisk: In Baghdad, blood and bandages for the

By Robert Fisk in the Baghdad suburb of Shu'ale
30 March 2003

The piece of metal is only a foot high, but the
numbers on it hold the clue to the latest atrocity in

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

"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

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."

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