on Thursday, March 27, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
Was An Outrage, An Obscenity'
by Robert Fisk
It was an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door,
the swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a
garage, the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her
three small children in their still-smoldering car.
from an American jet killed them all by my estimate, more than
20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be 'liberated'
by the nation that destroyed their lives. Who dares, I ask myself,
to call this 'collateral damage'? Abu Taleb Street was packed with
pedestrians and motorists when the American pilot approached through
the dense sandstorm that covered northern Baghdad in a cloak of red
and yellow dust and rain yesterday morning.
It's a dirt-poor
neighborhood, of mostly Shia Muslims, the same people whom Messrs Bush
and Blair still fondly hope will rise up against President Saddam Hussein,
a place of oil-sodden car-repair shops, overcrowded apartments and
cheap cafés. Everyone I spoke to heard the plane. One man, so
shocked by the headless corpses he had just seen, could say only two
words. "Roar, flash,"
he kept saying and then closed his eyes so tight that the muscles rippled
How should one
record so terrible an event? Perhaps a medical report would be more
appropriate. But the final death toll is expected to be near to 30
and Iraqis are now witnessing these awful things each day; so there
is no reason why the truth, all the truth, of what they see should
not be told.
For another question
occurred to me as I walked through this place of massacre yesterday.
If this is what we are seeing in Baghdad, what is happening in Basra
and Nasiriyah and Kerbala? How many civilians are dying there too,
anonymously, indeed unrecorded, because there are no reporters to be
witness to their suffering?
Abu Hassan and
Malek Hammoud were preparing lunch for customers at the Nasser restaurant
on the north side of Abu Taleb Street. The missile that killed them
landed next to the westbound carriageway, its blast tearing away the
front of the café
and cutting the two men the first 48, the second only 18 to
pieces. A fellow worker led me through the rubble. "This is all
that is left of them now," he said, holding out before me an oven
pan dripping with blood.
At least 15 cars
burst into flames, burning many of their occupants to death. Several
men tore desperately at the doors of another flame-shrouded car in
the center of the street that had been flipped upside down by the same
missile. They were forced to watch helplessly as the woman and her
three children inside were cremated alive in front of them. The second
missile hit neatly on the eastbound carriageway, sending shards of
metal into three men standing outside a concrete apartment block with
the words, "This is God's possession"
written in marble on the outside wall.
manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he heard the
"I found Ta'ar in pieces over there," he told me. His head
was blown off. "That's his hand." A group of young men and
a woman took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film,
was Ta'ar's hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping
a piece of iron roofing. His young colleague, Sermed, died the same instant.
His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and gray mess behind
a burnt car. Both men worked for Danoon. So did a doorman who was also
As each survivor
talked, the dead regained their identities. There was the electrical
shop-owner killed behind his counter by the same missile that cut down
Ta'ar and Sermed and the doorman, and the young girl standing on the
central reservation, trying to cross the road, and the truck driver
who was only feet from the point of impact and the beggar who regularly
called to see Mr Danoon for bread and who was just leaving when the
missiles came screaming through the sandstorm to destroy him.
In Qatar, the
Anglo-American forces let's forget this nonsense about "coalition"
announced an inquiry. The Iraqi government, who are the only ones to
benefit from the propaganda value of such a bloodbath, naturally denounced
the slaughter, which they initially put at 14 dead. So what was the real
target? Some Iraqis said there was a military encampment less than a
mile from the street, though I couldn't find it. Others talked about
a local fire brigade headquarters, but the fire brigade can hardly be
described as a military target.
had been an attack less than an hour earlier on a military camp further
north. I was driving past the base when two rockets exploded and I
saw Iraqi soldiers running for their lives out of the gates and along
the side of the highway. Then I heard two more explosions; these were
the missiles that hit Abu Taleb Street.
Of course, the
pilot who killed the innocent yesterday could not see his victims.
Pilots fire through computer-aligned co-ordinates, and the sandstorm
would have hidden the street from his vision. But when one of Malek
Hammoud's friends asked me how the Americans could so blithely kill
those they claimed to want to liberate, he didn't want to learn about
the science of avionics or weapons delivery systems.
And why should
he? For this is happening almost every day in Baghdad. Three days ago,
an entire family of nine was wiped out in their home near the center
of the city. A busload of civilian passengers were reportedly killed
on a road south of Baghdad two days ago. Only yesterday were Iraqis
learning the identity of five civilian passengers slaughtered on a
Syrian bus that was attacked by American aircraft close to the Iraqi
border at the weekend.
The truth is
that nowhere is safe in Baghdad, and as the Americans and British close
their siege in the next few days or hours, that simple message will
become ever more real and ever more bloody.
We may put on
the hairshirt of morality in explaining why these people should die.
They died because of 11 September, we may say, because of President
Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction", because of human
rights abuses, because of our desperate desire to "liberate" them
all. Let us not confuse the issue with oil. Either way, I'll bet we
are told President Saddam is ultimately responsible for their deaths.
We shan't mention the pilot, of course.
© 2003 Independent
Digital (UK) Ltd
THE IRAQI BODY COUNT DATABASE