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
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?'
THE IRAQI BODY COUNT DATABASE