Journalists Murdered in Baghdad
Fisk in Baghdad
09 April 2003
Day 20 of America's war for the "liberation" of Iraq was another
day of fire, pain and death. It started with an attack by two A-10 jets
that danced in the air like acrobats, tipping on one wing, sliding down
the sky to turn on another, and spraying burning phosphorus to mislead
heat-seeking missiles before turning their cannons on a government ministry
and plastering it with depleted uranium shells. The day ended in blood-streaked
hospital corridors and with three foreign correspondents dead and five
The A-10s passed my bedroom
window, so close I could see the cockpit Perspex, with their trail of
stars dripping from their wingtips, a magical, dangerous performance
fit for any air show, however infernal its intent. But when they turned
their DU shells intended for use against heavy armour
against the already wrecked Iraqi Ministry for Planning, the effect
was awesome. The A-10's cannon-fire sounds like heavy wooden furniture
being moved in an empty room, a kind of final groan, before the rounds
hit their target.
When they did, the red-painted
ministry a gaunt and sinister building beside the Jumhuriya Bridge
over the Tigris that I have always suspected to be an intelligence headquarters
lit up with a thousand red and orange pin-points of light.
From the building came a
great and dense cloud of white smoke, much of which must have contained
the aerosol DU spray that so many doctors and military veterans fear
At about this time I noticed
the tanks on the Jumhuriya Bridge. Two low-slung M1A1 Abrams, one in
the centre of the bridge, the other parking itself over the first stanchion.
Just another little probing raid, the Americans announced, but it looked
much more than that.
I reached the eastern end
of the Jumhuriya Bridge a wide and deserted four-lane highway
that soared out across the river, obscuring the American tanks on the
other side an hour and a half later. It looked grimly like that
scene in A Bridge Too Far, Richard Attenborough's epic on the Arnhem
disaster, in which a British officer walks slowly up the great span
with an umbrella in his hand to see if he can detect the Germans on
the other side. But I knew the Americans were on the other side of this
bridge and drove past it at great speed.
Which provided a remarkable
revelation. While American fighter-bombers criss-crossed the sky, while
the ground shook to the sound of exploding ordnance, while the American
tanks now stood above the Tigris, vast areas of Baghdad astonishing
when you consider the American claim to be "in the heart"
of the city remain under Saddam Hussein's control. I drove all
the way to Mansur, where relatives of the 11 Iraqi civilians killed
in Monday's massacre of civilians the Americans used four 2,000lb
bombs to dismember the mainly Christian families in the vain hope of
killing President Saddam still waited to retrieve the last of
On my way back past the Ahrar
Bridge, I found a crowd of spectators standing on the parapet, watching
the American tanks with a mixture of amusement and fear. Did they not
know what was happening in their city, or an idea that has possessed
me in recent days are the poor of Baghdad kept in such ignorance
of events that they simply do not realise that the Americans are about
to occupy their city? Could it be that the cigarette sellers and the
bakery queues and the bus drivers just don't know what lies down on
the banks of the Tigris?
As I arrived back at the
Palestine Hotel, I saw the smoke of the shell that the Americans had
just fired into the Reuters office. It was to take two lives, in addition
to the reporter from the Arab al-Jazeera satellite channel killed a
few hours earlier by an American air attack on his office. Despite two
separate assurances from the American government that al-Jazeera's base
of operations would not be targeted, it was destroyed.
Just an hour later, one of
the tanks on the Jumhuriya Bridge fired a shell into the wreckage. Eighteen
civilians 15 of them women were reported to be still hiding
in the basement last night with no immediate hope of rescue.
The International Red Cross
had tried to arrange a convoy out of Baghdad; inexplicably, it was reported
that the Americans had refused it passage from the city.
At one point, Red Cross workers
hoped to take a severely wounded Spanish television reporter with them
his leg had been amputated after the tank shell exploded below
his office in the hotel but he died during the afternoon. The
American infantry divisional commander issued a statement that suggested
the Reuters cameramen were sniping at the US tank, a remark so extraordinary
and so untrue that it brought worldwide protests from
I don't know what it is about
the street dogs of Baghdad, but they always know when the bombers are
returning. Is there some change in air pressure, some high technological
decibel that we humans can't hear?
The dogs always get it right.
Every time they start baying, you know that the bombers are coming back.
And they yelped and barked as night fell last night. And within 15 minutes,
even we humans could hear the rumble of explosions from southern Baghdad.