The Stench Of The Dead
By Robert Fisk
29 July, 2004
smell of the dead pours into the street through the air-conditioning
ducts. Hot, sweet, overwhelming. Inside the Baghdad morgue, there are
so many corpses that the fridges are overflowing. The dead are on the
floor. Dozens of them. Outside, in the 46C (114F) heat, Qadum Ganawi
tells me how his brother Hassan was murdered.
"He was bringing
supper home for our family in Palestine Street but he never reached
our home. Then we got a phone call saying we could have him back if
we paid $50,000 [£27,500]. We didn't have $50,000. So we sold
part of our home and many of our things and we borrowed $15,000 and
we paid over the money to a man in a car who was wearing a keffiyeh
scarf round his head.
"Then we got
another phone call, telling us that Hassan was at the Saidiyeh police
station. He was. He was blindfolded and gagged and he had two bullets
in his head. They had taken our money and then they had killed him."
There is a wail
of grief from the yard behind us where 50 people are waiting in the
shade of the Baghdad mortuary wall. There are wooden coffins in the
street, stacked against the wall, lying on the pavement.
and uncles--are padding them with grease-proof paper. When the bodies
are released, they will be taken to the mosque in coffins and then buried
in shrouds. There are a few women. Most stare at the intruding foreigner
with something approaching venom. The statistics of violent death in
Baghdad are now beyond shame. Almost a year ago, there were sometimes
400 violent deaths a month. This in itself was a fearful number to follow
the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. But in the first 10 days of this
July alone, the corpses of 215 men and women were brought to the Baghdad
mortuary, almost all of them dead from gunshot wounds. In the second
10 days of this month, the bodies of a further 291 arrived. A total
of 506 violent deaths in under three weeks in Baghdad alone. Even the
Iraqi officials here shake their heads in disbelief. "New Iraq"
under its new American-appointed Prime Minister is more violent than
Qadum Ganawi puts
his hand on my arm. "Listen," he says. "My brother had
two tiny children. One is only a year old. We have sold our house and
borrowed $15,000. How can we ever pay this back? And we have nothing
for it but the grief of losing my dear brother.
"He was a car
importer so they thought he was rich. He wasn't. And, you know, his
wife is Syrian. She went to Syria for a holiday with the two babies.
She is there now. She doesn't know what has happened to her husband."
Trucks are arriving
in the street beside us, a pick-up and a small lorry with corpses for
autopsy. Tony Blair says it is safer here. He is wrong. Every month
is a massacre in Baghdad. Thieves, rapists, looters, American troops
at checkpoints and on convoys, revenge killers, insurgents, they are
shooting down the people of this city faster than ever.
One man was shot
dead by a US soldier as he overtook their convoy on the way to his Baghdad
wedding. We found out only because his marriage was to have been celebrated
in a hotel occupied by journalists. Another death I discovered only
when an old Iraqi friend called on me last week. He wanted me to help
him leave Iraq. Quickly. Now.
"I work for
the Americans at the airport but I think I'm done for if I stay."
Why? "Because my uncle worked at the airport for the Americans,
just like me. My uncle was Abdullah Mohi. He was driving home the other
night but they stopped him a hundred metres from his house. Then they
took a knife and cut his throat. We found him drenched in blood at the
steering wheel." Abbas looks at me with dead eyes. "Should
I go to Jordan? Help me."
At the mortuary,
a big, tall man, Amr Daher, walks up to me. "They killed one of
our tribal leaders from the Dulaimi tribe," he says. "This
morning, right in the middle of Al-Kut Square, just a couple of hours
ago." Selman Hassan Salume was driving with his two teenage sons
when three gunmen came alongside in a car and shot him dead. Both his
sons were wounded, one seriously.
tell only part of the story. In the blazing heat of an Iraqi summer,
some families bury their dead without notifying the authorities. Some
remain unidentified for ever, unclaimed. The Americans bring in corpses.
When they do, there are no autopsies. The morticians will not say why.
But the Ministry of Health has told doctors there should be no autopsies
in these cases because the Americans will already have performed the
Not long ago, six
corpses arrived at the Baghdad mortuary after being brought in by US
forces. Three were unidentified. Three had names but their families
could not be found. All had suffered, according to the American records,
"traumatic wounds to the head", the normal phrase for gunshot
wounds. There were no autopsies. Death is now so routine even the most
tragic of deaths becomes a footnote. A US tank collides with a bus north
of Baghdad. Seven civilians are killed. The Americans agree to open
an investigation. It makes scarcely a paragraph in the local press.
Four days ago, a US M1A1 Abrams tank crossing the motorway at Abu Ghraib
collided with a car carrying two girls and their mother, all of whom
were crushed to death. It did not even make the news in Baghdad.
No wonder the occupying
powers--or the "international forces" as we must now call
them--steadfastly refuse to reveal the statistics of Iraqi dead, only
Even the deaths
we do know about during the past 36 hours make shocking reading. At
Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, gunmen killed two Iraqi police officers
travelling to their station. In Kirkuk, an Iraqi policeman, Luay Abdullah,
was shot as he waited for a lift home after guarding an oil pipeline.
A Kurdish woman and her two children were killed when someone sprayed
their home in Kirkuk with gunfire. A Kurdish peshmerga guerrilla was
murdered in a drive-by shooting.
A former government
official was killed in Baghdad. Then yesterday afternoon, a senior civil
servant at the Iraqi Interior Ministry in Baghdad was shot dead. In
the town of Buhriz, hours of fighting between insurgents and US troops
left 15 dead, according to the Americans. All, they said, were gunmen,
although it almost always transpires that civilians are among the dead
in such battles.
say insurgent groups "have become more sophisticated and may be
co-ordinating their anti-coalition efforts, posing an even more significant
threat". There is an increase in drive-by shootings. And, a chilling
remark this, for all would-be travellers in and out of Baghdad, the
Americans believe "recent attacks on air assets suggest that all
type of aircraft, civilian, fixed-wing and military ... are seen as
potential targets of opportunity".
So the war is getting
worse. The casualties are growing by the week. And Mr Blair thinks Iraq
© 2004 Independent
Digital (UK) Ltd