'It Was An Outrage,
By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
27 March 2003
It was an outrage, an obscenity.
The severed hand on the metal door, the swamp of blood and mud across
the road, the human brains inside a garage, the incinerated, skeletal
remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small children in their still-smouldering
Two missiles from an American
jet killed them all by my estimate, more than 20 Iraqi civilians,
torn to pieces before they could be 'liberated' by the nation that destroyed
their lives. Who dares, I ask myself, to call this 'collateral damage'?
Abu Taleb Street was packed with pedestrians and motorists when the
American pilot approached through the dense sandstorm that covered northern
Baghdad in a cloak of red and yellow dust and rain yesterday morning.
It's a dirt-poor neighbourhood,
of mostly Shia Muslims, the same people whom Messrs Bush and Blair still
fondly hope will rise up against President Saddam Hussein, a place of
oil-sodden car-repair shops, overcrowded apartments and cheap cafés.
Everyone I spoke to heard the plane. One man, so shocked by the headless
corpses he had just seen, could say only two words. "Roar, flash,"
he kept saying and then closed his eyes so tight that the muscles rippled
How should one record so
terrible an event? Perhaps a medical report would be more appropriate.
But the final death toll is expected to be near to 30 and Iraqis are
now witnessing these awful things each day; so there is no reason why
the truth, all the truth, of what they see should not be told.
For another question occurred
to me as I walked through this place of massacre yesterday. If this
is what we are seeing in Baghdad, what is happening in Basra and Nasiriyah
and Kerbala? How many civilians are dying there too, anonymously, indeed
unrecorded, because there are no reporters to be witness to their suffering?
Abu Hassan and Malek Hammoud
were preparing lunch for customers at the Nasser restaurant on the north
side of Abu Taleb Street. The missile that killed them landed next to
the westbound carriageway, its blast tearing away the front of the café
and cutting the two men the first 48, the second only 18
to pieces. A fellow worker led me through the rubble. "This is
all that is left of them now," he said, holding out before me an
oven pan dripping with blood.
At least 15 cars burst into
flames, burning many of their occupants to death. Several men tore desperately
at the doors of another flame-shrouded car in the centre of the street
that had been flipped upside down by the same missile. They were forced
to watch helplessly as the woman and her three children inside were
cremated alive in front of them. The second missile hit neatly on the
eastbound carriageway, sending shards of metal into three men standing
outside a concrete apartment block with the words, "This is God's
possession" written in marble on the outside wall.
The building's manager, Hishem
Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he heard the massive explosion.
"I found Ta'ar in pieces over there," he told me. His head
was blown off. "That's his hand." A group of young men and
a woman took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film,
was Ta'ar's hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping
a piece of iron roofing. His young colleague, Sermed, died the same
instant. His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and grey mess
behind a burnt car. Both men worked for Danoon. So did a doorman who
was also killed.
As each survivor talked,
the dead regained their identities. There was the electrical shop-owner
killed behind his counter by the same missile that cut down Ta'ar and
Sermed and the doorman, and the young girl standing on the central reservation,
trying to cross the road, and the truck driver who was only feet from
the point of impact and the beggar who regularly called to see Mr Danoon
for bread and who was just leaving when the missiles came screaming
through the sandstorm to destroy him.
In Qatar, the Anglo-American
forces let's forget this nonsense about "coalition"
announced an inquiry. The Iraqi government, who are the only
ones to benefit from the propaganda value of such a bloodbath, naturally
denounced the slaughter, which they initially put at 14 dead. So what
was the real target? Some Iraqis said there was a military encampment
less than a mile from the street, though I couldn't find it. Others
talked about a local fire brigade headquarters, but the fire brigade
can hardly be described as a military target.
Certainly, there had been
an attack less than an hour earlier on a military camp further north.
I was driving past the base when two rockets exploded and I saw Iraqi
soldiers running for their lives out of the gates and along the side
of the highway. Then I heard two more explosions; these were the missiles
that hit Abu Taleb Street.
Of course, the pilot who
killed the innocent yesterday could not see his victims. Pilots fire
through computer-aligned co-ordinates, and the sandstorm would have
hidden the street from his vision. But when one of Malek Hammoud's friends
asked me how the Americans could so blithely kill those they claimed
to want to liberate, he didn't want to learn about the science of avionics
or weapons delivery systems.
And why should he? For this
is happening almost every day in Baghdad. Three days ago, an entire
family of nine was wiped out in their home near the centre of the city.
A busload of civilian passengers were reportedly killed on a road south
of Baghdad two days ago. Only yesterday were Iraqis learning the identity
of five civilian passengers slaughtered on a Syrian bus that was attacked
by American aircraft close to the Iraqi border at the weekend.
The truth is that nowhere
is safe in Baghdad, and as the Americans and British close their siege
in the next few days or hours, that simple message will become ever
more real and ever more bloody.
We may put on the hairshirt
of morality in explaining why these people should die. They died because
of 11 September, we may say, because of President Saddam's "weapons
of mass destruction", because of human rights abuses, because of
our desperate desire to "liberate" them all. Let us not confuse
the issue with oil. Either way, I'll bet we are told President Saddam
is ultimately responsible for their deaths. We shan't mention the pilot,