Two British soldiers lie dead on a Basra roadway, a small Iraqi girl
victim of an Anglo American air strike is brought to hospital
with her intestines spilling out of her stomach, a terribly wounded woman
screams in agony as doctors try to take off her black dress.
An Iraqi general, surrounded
by hundreds of his armed troops, stands in central Basra and announces
that Iraq's second city remains firmly in Iraqi hands. The unedited
al-Jazeera videotape filmed over the past 36 hours and newly
arrived in Baghdad
is raw, painful, devastating.
It is also proof that Basra
reportedly "captured'' and "secured'' by British troops last
is indeed under the control of Saddam Hussein's forces. Despite
claims by British officers that some form of uprising has broken out
in Basra, cars and buses continue to move through the streets while Iraqis
queue patiently for gas bottles as they are unloaded from a government
A remarkable part of the tape
shows fireballs blooming over western Basra and the explosion of incoming
and presumably British shells. The short sequence of the
dead British soldiers over which Tony Blair voiced such horror
is little different from dozens of similar clips of dead Iraqi
soldiers shown on British television over the past 12 years, pictures
which never drew any condemnation from the Prime Minister.
The two Britons, still in
uniform, are lying on a roadway, arms and legs apart, one of them apparently
hit in the head, the other shot in the chest and abdomen.
Another sequence from the
same tape shows crowds of Basra civilians and armed men in civilian
clothes, kicking the soldiers' British Army Jeep and dancing on top
of the vehicle. Other men can be seen kicking the overturned Ministry
of Defense trailer, which the Jeep was towing when it was presumably
Also to be observed on the
unedited tape which was driven up to Baghdad on the open road
is a British pilotless drone photo-reconnaissance aircraft, its red and
blue roundels visible on one wing, shot down and lying overturned on
a roadway. Marked "ARMY'' in capital letters, it carries the code
sign ZJ300 on its tail and is attached to a large cylindrical pod which
probably contains the plane's camera.
Far more terrible than the
pictures of dead British soldiers, however, is the tape from Basra's
largest hospital that shows victims of the Anglo-American bombardment
being brought to the operating rooms shrieking in pain.
A middle-aged man is carried
into the hospital in pajamas, soaked head to foot in blood. A little
girl of perhaps four is brought into the operating room on a trolley,
staring at a heap of her own intestines protruding from the left side
of her stomach. A blue-uniformed doctor pours water over the little
girl's guts and then gently applies a bandage before beginning surgery.
A woman in black with what appears to be a stomach wound cries out
as doctors try to strip her for surgery. In another sequence, a trail
of blood leads from the impact of an incoming presumably British shell.
Next to the crater is a pair of plastic slippers.
The al-Jazeera tapes, most
of which have never been seen, are the first vivid proof that Basra
remains totally outside British control. Not only is one of the city's
main roads to Baghdad still open this is how the three main
tapes reached the Iraqi capital but General Khaled Hatem is
interviewed in a Basra street, surrounded by hundreds of his uniformed
and armed troops, and telling al-Jazeera's reporter that his men will "never''
surrender to Iraq's enemies. Armed Baath Party militiamen can also
be seen in the streets, where traffic cops are directing lorries and
buses near the city's Sheraton Hotel.
Mohamed al-Abdullah, al-Jazeera's
correspondent in Basra, must be the bravest journalist in Iraq right
now. In the sequence of three tapes, he can be seen conducting interviews
with families under fire and calmly reporting the incoming British
artillery bombardment. One tape shows that the Sheraton Hotel on the
banks of Shatt al-Arab river has sustained shell damage.
On the edge of the river
beside one of the huge statues of Iraq's 1980-88 war martyrs, each pointing
an accusing finger across the waterway towards Iran Basra
residents can be seen filling jerry cans from the sewage-polluted
Five days ago the Iraqi government
said 30 civilians had been killed in Basra and another 63 wounded.
Yesterday, it claimed that more than 4,000 civilians had been wounded
in Iraq since the war began and more than 350 killed.
But Mr Abdullah's tape shows
at least seven more bodies brought to the Basra hospital mortuary over
the past 36 hours. One, his head still pouring blood on to the mortuary
floor, was identified as an Arab correspondent for a Western news agency.
Other harrowing scenes show
the partially decapitated body of a little girl, her red scarf still
wound round her neck. Another small girl was lying on a stretcher with
her brain and left ear missing. Another dead child had its feet blown
away. There was no indication whether American or British ordnance
had killed these children. The tapes give no indication of Iraqi military
But at a time when the Iraqi
authorities will not allow Western reporters to visit Basra, this is
the nearest to independent evidence we have of continued resistance
in the city and the failure of the British to capture it. For days
the Iraqi have been denying optimistic reports from "embedded''
reporters especially on the BBC who gave the impression
that Basra was "secured'' or otherwise in effect under British
control. This the tape conclusively proves to be untrue.
There is also a sequence showing
two men, both black, who are claimed by Iraqi troops to be US prisoners
of war. No questions are asked of the men, who are dressed in identical
black shirts and jackets. Both appear nervous and gaze at the camera
crew and Iraqi troops crowded behind them.
Of course, it is still possible
that some small-scale opposition to the Iraqi regime broke out in the
city over the past few days, as British officers have claimed. But,
seeing the tapes, it is hard to imagine that it amounted, if it existed
at all, to anything more than a brief gun battle.
The unedited reports therefore
provide damaging proof that Anglo-American spokesmen have not been
telling the truth about the battle for Basra. And in the end this is
far more devastating to the invading armies than the sight of two dead
British soldiers or
since Iraqi lives are as sacred as British lives than the pictures
of dead Iraqi children.
THE IRAQI BODY COUNT DATABASE