"I Am His Mother"
Now ordered to leave the country by the Iraqi foreign ministry, independent human rights observer Jo Wilding sent what is expected to be her penultimate communique from inside Baghdad.
29th March 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 out behind his friend Umar when he heard an explosion and saw his friend fall. Umar is a student at Rafidain College. He had fragments of shrapnel about 3cm 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 from the friends and relatives in the hospital whether it hit the other side of the road or hit a building, but it was close by.
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 in the street 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. We are thank to people in all the world, but especially in America and England. 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 and, like Umar and Ahmed, was leaving the mosque when the explosion happened.
Again, no one could guess what the intended target was. All of the clusters of 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 most recent was about 5pm today: the Al Baya tower. We know there were deaths but have as yet no details. The El Alawiya was bombed yesterday morning in the early hours and two strikes on Tuesday and Thursday have wrecked the Al Maamoun. It's not possible to make even an emergency call and the doctors said people were coming in 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. The doctor, Dr Hamid Al-Araji, said he didn't think the shrapnel had caused any internal injury but he was keeping an eye.
They were fleeing Baghdad for a farm in the countryside, where about 20 families were going to stay. They'd sent their children ahead of them and were waiting for a taxi to go and 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.
The doctors in the Al Kindi were doing a lot of tasks normally associated with nursing staff, checking and emptying and keeping up observations, because there's a total of 120 nurses in a hospital which, for its size, needs about 550. I mentioned before that most of the nurses in Iraq before the 1991 war were foreigners, who left en masse, more or less. Khalida, the chief nurse who never sleeps, said the international standard ratio is four nurses per doctor. Here it's the other way round: there's one nurse for every four doctors.
"So," says Dr Hamid, laughing. "I think the nurses are very lucky."
Intensive care units were also absent: Akael, with his serious head wound, and Umar, with his mangled liver, could both have better done with at least a blood pressure and heart monitor but, after 12 and a half years of sanctions, most hospitals don't have enough working units, if any at all, many of the parts being 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 main road to Wasit. Haitham Abid was driving a lorry past when the missile landed close to the Grain Board building. The lorry crashed and the back part caught fire. He wasn't sure whether he jumped from the cab or was pulled clear, but his right thigh was badly broken.
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, maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not seeing the fruits of their "efforts". 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, too 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. There's no justification for using any weapons here, but 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 Iraqi's. It's doubtful a plane would get far off the ground here without being attacked by the US/UK aircraft. Of course, when it's all over, the US will provide proof that it was the Iraqi's, in the form of testimonies by people who will say anything they are told to save their own necks, and 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.
I'm being expelled from Iraq. It looked, for a while, as if we were going to have to leave this morning, but we scored another two days, till Monday, "And then leave this hotel. Leave this country." Coming from the Foreign Ministry, there's not really any arguing with that. 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, and 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, never mind e-mail.
And it seems like, for a lot of journalists, this isn't a story anymore. Apparently it's starting to drag. Nothing is happening. "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 rumour 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 (I had to search for a polite way to put that) because there are fewer and fewer witnesses.
So unless everything changes, tomorrow is my last day here. I realized today that 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 Iraqi's: 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, telling us his huge burly mate gets his hair cut by his mum, snorting with uncontrollable laughter.
At least I should make it home in time for my law exam on Thursday. Insha-Allah. We're waiting to hear from the drivers who went to the Jordanian border today.