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One boy's war... bathed in blood of his family

His father. His mother. Two sisters. A brother. And an uncle. All dead. That was the price of war for 15-year-old Omar when the vehicle he was riding in failed to stop at a U.S. checkpoint five miles from Baghdad. Even the Marines were weeping in sympathy.

James Meek in Iraq
Sunday April 6, 2003
The Observer

Was it worth it? For Omar, a 15-year-old orphaned by US Marines on Friday night, his shirt and trousers saturated with his parents' blood, the answer was no. For Corpsman Thomas Smith, a few days short of his 22nd birthday, exhausted and unbelieving after a day and night of mayhem which had seen three Marines killed, himself almost among them, the answer was yes.

For the senior Iraqi commander, dead in the dirt at the side of the road next to the white Toyota in which he had tried to escape, who knows? The second hand on his watch was still ticking, but the hour and minute hands had stopped at 2 am.

US intelligence sources quickly identified the man as the operations officer of the Special Republican Guards.

If George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein have anything in common, it is that the lives of Omar, Smith and the Iraqi officer are petty cash in their grand accounting of the balance of war. They cannot smell the dead rotting in the heat along the route of the Marines' final charge to the gates of Baghdad; there is no way to make them look Omar in the eye as he stares through his tears at the embarrassed, awkward foreigners who shot his mother and father. The boy did not know whether to be enraged or engulfed in sobbing, so he was both, and neither would help him.

Here, at a crossroads five miles east of the Iraqi capital, Marines shot dead eight civilians and injured seven more, including a child who was shot in the face. All the civilians were travelling out of Baghdad on Friday night in vehicles which, the Marines say, refused to stop when challenged - in English - and, when warning shots were fired, accelerated.

Fearful that they were being attacked by suicide bombers, the Marines shot to immobilise the vehicles. Result? Besides Omar's father and mother, two of his sisters, one brother and an uncle were killed when the bus and truck in which they were travelling were punctured by gunfire. The children were aged three, six and 10.

Aleya, Omar's aunt, walked barefoot through shattered windscreen glass yesterday and climbed into the cab of the truck, which was being repaired to make it roadworthy. She was close to hysterics and past caring about minor physical pain. 'People cry for one dead person. Who am I going to cry for?', she screamed through her weeping.

Omar held up his clothes, dyed a hideous purple-brown colour with the blood in the night. His features kept twisting into the face of the about- to-cry. At one point he scampered to the edge of the road to lift the blanket over the face of his father before the Marines led him away.

In the end the corpses, including one the Marines had begun to bury, were carried by the Iraqis and the Marines to the back of the truck for the family to take away and inter. When Aleya went with a medic to change the dressing on the badly shot-up face of Omar's baby brother, Ali, she confided that she had seen one of the Marines weep in sympathy at the family's grief.

The driver of one of the civilian vehicles claimed that they did stop. But Corporal Adam Clark, one of the Marines manning the checkpoint, his face strained and pale and his hands sealed in stained rubber gloves, said: 'We gave them warning shots. A lot of them. And they didn't stop. That first truck right there just about ran over our forward troops.

'It's not a good day when you carry dead people out of vehicles. What can you do?'

Another of the Marines, Lance Corporal Eric Jewell, said: 'We didn't know what was in that bus. It may sound bad, but I'd rather see more of them dead than any of my friends... Everyone understands the word 'stop', right?'

 

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