I Am His Mother. The Distant Cries of Baghdad's Wounded Innocents
by Jo Wilding / Friends of the Earth UK
April 11, 2003
JORDAN (March 29, 2003) -- A missile hit the middle of the street outside the Omar Al Faroukh mosque on Palestine Street at about 4:15 this afternoon, just as people were leaving after prayers. Ahmed was walking behind his friend Umar when he heard an explosion and saw his friend fall.
|A woman comforts her grandson, badly burned and dismembered in the attack on Basrah. Credit: Arab News / Saudi Arabia|
Umar, a student at Rafidain College, had fragments of shrapnel about 3-centimeters long removed from his liver and abdomen. His lower ribs are fractured and his left hand has shrapnel wounds. His grandfather, Fuad Taher demands that Bush and Blair be charged and brought to court.
Another missile hit close by, three minutes later. It wasn't clear whether it hit the other side of the road or hit a building, but it was close.
Akael Zuhair was standing in front of his house opposite the mosque. I'm not sure of it was the first or second missile that hurt him, but he's in a dangerous state in hospital, with shrapnel wounds to his left shoulder, left chest, right forearm and possibly a piece lodged in the frontal lobe of his brain. The doctors were waiting for a skull x-ray to show whether the piercing was superficial or deep. He's 20.
He began to regain consciousness while we were there, thrashing his limbs about while his family and friends tried to hold him still and comfort him and his mum's tears overflowed. "I am his mother," she whispered. Nothing else. I held her without a word.
His dad heard the explosion and said the kids came running in to tell him Akael was hit. "Help us," he said, "because we are attacked in homes and streets and markets. We are not something to be squeezed... More than a million people in England say no to war. There is not a problem between people. There is a problem with governments."
Firas Hamid was the last of the victims to come out of surgery, having had two fragments removed from his liver and one from his kidney. His right arm has a compound fracture beneath an open wound. He's 16. Like Umar and Ahmed, he was leaving the mosque when the explosion happened.
There Were No Military Targets in the Area: Only a Mosque
No one could guess the intended target. The friends and family we took statements from said there was nothing military in the area, nor any communications towers, which have been devastated in recent days. The El Alawiya was bombed yesterday morning in the early hours and two strikes on Tuesday and Thursday have wrecked the Al Ma'amoun.The Al Baya tower was bombed today. We know there were deaths but have as yet no details. It's not possible to make even an emergency call and the doctors said people were coming in private cars, delaying medical treatment.
Less than two miles north of the mosque and just 15 minutes earlier, Fawzia Kurbaan and her husband Najah Mohammed were waiting for a taxi in the street near their home when, he said, "I felt something strike my hand and legs and I fell to the ground." He has a fractured right arm and index finger and shrapnel in his right thigh and abdomen.
They were fleeing Baghdad for a farm in the countryside. They'd sent their children ahead of them and were waiting for a taxi to join them. They had all their possessions with them when it happened and didn't know yet what had happened to them -- "whether they'd lost everything or someone had salvaged it for them. Fawzia showed us what little money they had left, dyed red with Najah's blood.
Hospitals, Doctors Overwhelmed
The doctors in the Al Kindi were doing a lot of tasks normally associated with nursing staff, because there's a total of 120 nurses in a hospital which, for its size, needs about 550. Khalida, the chief nurse who never sleeps, said the international standard is 4 nurses per doctor. Here it's the other way round: there's one nurse for every four doctors.
|Overcome by the suffering, an Iraqi nurse breaks down and cries over the victims of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Credit: Kheiber / Reuters|
Intensive care units were also absent. Akael, with his serious head wound, and Umar, with his mangled liver, could have fared better with blood pressure and heart monitors but, after 12-plus years of sanctions, most hospitals don't have enough working units: Many pieces of standard medical equipment are embargoed as dual military and civilian use.
A grain silo seems to have been the target of the attack at 9am on Thursday, about 35kms south of Baghdad on the road to Wasit. Haitham Abid was driving a lorry past when the missile landed close to the Grain Board building. The lorry crashed and caught fire. He wasn't sure whether he jumped from the cab or was pulled clear, but his right thigh was badly broken.
'Something's Wrong: There Are Too Many Civilian Casualties'
All this as well as the bombing of another market yesterday, Al Shu'la. Dr Tariq said there were over 50 deaths and lots of injuries. Someone told me a day or two ago that I wasn't giving the US enough credit for its efforts to avoid civilian casualties. I'm sorry, but how is it that, when these bombs and missiles are guided by the finest technology human minds have developed, they can still land on a street outside a mosque which is emptying, explode into the bodies of elderly couples flagging down taxis and burn lorries next to food silos?
Something's wrong. There are too many civilian casualties to far from military targets for all of these to be mistakes. Either they're hitting civilians on purpose, to whip up fear in the hope of spurring rebellion, or their weapons are not as precise as they say, in which case, they're not suitable for use in an urban environment. If you can't hit a military target without causing civilian casualties, you don't have the right to attack it.
The US has apparently claimed that some of this is done by the Iraqi military to make the US look bad. I can't rule that out. But anything that comes from an aircraft, at least, is unlikely to be from the Iraqis. We will probably never know the full truth of who did what to whom. Meanwhile, and as ever, the people of Iraq are still dying, still the pawns in everyone else's political games.
Expelled from Iraq
I'm being expelled from Iraq. There's no shame in it either, being booted out by this government, but it hurts, it aches. I can't say goodbye to anyone because there are no phones and we can't go anywhere without a minder and permission from the foreign ministry. I'm not going to know if they're safe and I can't hold them when they're scared and their phones might not work for months.
And it seems like, for a lot of journalists, this isn't a story anymore. Apparently it's starting to drag. "House destroyed by bomb" is a story. "Second house destroyed by bomb" is still a story. Another and another and yet another house destroyed by a bomb is not. There was a flurry of excitement last night when the rumor began to circulate that a hospital had been bombed, but no -- "it was only another market, near a hospital." Whole packs of them are leaving now, and that makes getting kicked out even more rubbish because there are fewer and fewer witnesses.
It's not the buildings that rock in the aftershock of the explosions but the whole earth. It feels exactly the same on the ground floor as on the fifth. The bombs have been more frequent today, and closer, than any other day.
Still, I'm going to miss it, miss the Iraqis. I don't think there's anyone like them, soldiers sharing warm bread and salty cheese curds with us, standing round a wooden sand-box which does the job as a table, pouring glasses of sugary chai from a metal flask and every one of them giggling like schoolgirls, guns across their shoulders, while Sabah clowns in the face of it all, making jokes in mime about bombs falling, hugging the pillar behind him in half-mock terror, snorting with uncontrollable laughter.
At least I should make it home in time for my law exam on Thursday. Insha'Allah.
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