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Iraqis Delirious with Grief After Missile Attack


Sat March 29, 2003 11:17 AM ET
By Samia Nakhoul

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Almost every house in Baghdad's poor al-Shula neighborhood had a horror story to tell on Saturday after death rained from the night sky.

The United States said it was checking to see whether one of its missiles or bombs had caused the shattering explosion that killed at least 62 people on Friday evening in the heart of Baghdad.

To the traumatized residents of the Shi'ite Muslim neighborhood, the conclusions of that inquiry meant little.

At the house of Sumaya Abed, the scene was one of devastation. She was delirious with grief.

"Ali, Hussein and Mohammad are gone. My three boys are dead," a sobbing Abed repeated over and over again.

"Oh God! To whom shall we turn in our sorrow? Oh God! To whom shall we address our grief? We're just poor people who wanted to live in peace," said Abed, 53.

Dozens of black-garbed women relatives, friends and neighbors sat by her side, weeping and trying to comfort her. But words could do little.

The distraught mother said Ali, 20, Hussein, 18, and Mohammad, 11, were killed by pieces of shrapnel that cut though their chests and heads.

"My Mohammad was born in the first war and he died in the second war. Oh my God!," she cried. She was pregnant with the 11-year-old during the 1991 Gulf War.

"What is left for me to live for? My whole life has been destroyed. I nursed them all my life and they're gone now."

It is some irony that Iraq's Shi'ite majority is supposed to be one of beneficiaries of the U.S. drive to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, a member of the dominant Sunni Muslim minority.

Shacks at the crowded neighborhood's tiny market were torn into pieces of shattered wood and twisted metal. The smell from broken sewers mixed with the odor of rotting fruit and charred human remains.

People described horror scenes of dismembered bodies littering the streets.

"There was a big explosion and smoke. Nobody could see anything. People started running in panic and screaming. Nobody could tell who had died and who remained alive," said Karim Hmayed, 45, a merchant.

SORROW AND FURY

In another bereaved household nearby, Arouba Khodeir, 39, was wailing hysterically and hitting herself in the face and chest, as women around her were trying to calm her down.

Her son Karar, 11, died outside the house with his friends.

"My son had his head blown off," screamed Khodeir. "Why are they hitting the people? Why are they killing the children? Why are they doing his to us?

"Why are they attacking civilians? Didn't Bush say on TV that he won't attack civilians. But these people who died are all civilians? Is this a target?" she wailed, pointing at the dried blood of her son still splashed on the walls.

In Shula, sorrow at the loss of loved ones was mixed with fury at President Bush, who has promised to limit the loss of innocent civilian life. But many were also angry that Iraqi missile launchers and anti-aircraft guns were apparently sited in their residential neighborhood.

One harrowing story was told at the house of Hasna Shallum where women had gathered to mourn the death of her 20-year-old daughter Shaza.

Shaza was holding her baby and walking with two relatives when the explosion sent a shard of shrapnel through her neck.

Six-month-old Fatma was found alive in her dead mother's arms and brought by neighbors to her grandmother. The wails of the mourners drowned the cries of the hungry infant.

Survivors said most of those killed were so poor they had risked their lives to use a lull in the U.S.-British strikes to set up their stalls to try to make a living.

"We did not want war. This war was imposed on us by force. We are poor people who just want to live in peace," said one of the mourners, Hamdiya Abbas, 45, whose three sons are soldiers.

Television pictures of bodies and damage in Iraq have fueled Arab anger against the U.S.-led invasion which Washington says is not aimed at ordinary Iraqis but at Saddam.

Civilian casualties could further sap U.S. efforts to win Iraqi hearts and minds. At least 15 people died when a previous missile hit Baghdad's al-Shaab Shi'ite district on Wednesday. The U.S. military said it was not clear who was responsible.

Struck by the worst civilian casualty toll so far, Shula residents voiced despair and anger at the indifference of the world which they said has failed to stop the carnage.

"We are helpless people. It is all out of our hands. Why cannot the world find a solution?" said Zahra, 50. "The whole world is watching us die and is doing nothing to help us."

 

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