Nowhere Is Safe
Jo Wilding sent this latest dispatch from inside the Iraqi capital after a week of bombing
27th March 2003
This morning the sky had cleared: a mixed blessing. It was good to be able to see through the daylight again, although the view of smoke plumes across the city wasn't the most soul-fulfilling sight. At the same time it seemed likely to mark the end of our period of grace, such as it was, when the weather was holding up the onslaught.
I've not read the mainstream media coverage of what's going on, so I don't know what's been reported, but yesterday a marketplace and a convoy of civilian buses from Syria were hit. I can't tell you much about the bus attack, because it happened four hours drive from Baghdad, except that a friend saw five of the wounded come into hospital in Baghdad and they said there were three buses travelling together from Damascus, heading into Baghdad.
An Apache helicopter was following them for some time and, as they approached a bridge at an interchange, the Apache destroyed the bridge with a missile. There was a collision between the buses. One bus was hit with a missile while some people were still inside. I don't know how many died or were wounded.
In Al Shaab market Mohammed Al Zubaidi told us he had a shop where he made and sold cushions for car seats. It was the second one from the left as you look at the remains of the building which the bomb hit. It's burnt out but you can see the small compartment which was his. His assistant, Faris El Bawi, was crushed in the blast and his body incinerated in the fire that followed, along with his eleven year old son Saif who was helping him, because his school was closed for the war.
Mohammed was out of the shop and saw two rockets dropped, about five seconds apart at 11:30 yesterday. He couldn't see the plane because of the thick air, but says he heard it. There was a crater in the mid strip of the road and the buildings either side of the road were wrecked and burnt out.
Husham Hussein said he was about 200 metres away, indicating a set of traffic lights, when it happened. He saw the missile hit the front of the building where Mohammed's shop used to be. It wasn't a huge missile, he said, which fits with the relatively small size of the crater. He said a lot of people were injured in the flats above the shops. The shops were all open and the market was busy. He thought 25 people were killed. Someone else said 45-50 people had gone to hospital. No one could think of a military target nearby.
Mohammed said five people died in the restaurant near his shop. Abu Hassan, a 45 year old father of five, 17 year old Malik Hamoud and Sabah Nouri, 28, were all working in the restaurant. Two customers also died but no one we met knew their names. The crowd of men told of women in cars which caught fire, burning to death because no one could get to them. Safa Isam and his brother Marwan, 17 and 12 respectively, were injured in a car driven by their father, who died.
Family after family has been torn apart: mothers, fathers, children, wives and husbands, and it's only been a week.
Within the same district a missile hit a home next door to Balqis Secondary School for Girls on Tuesday night. The school was damaged: most of the neighbours think that was the intended target. The bomb ploughed through the wall of number 74 next door, bursting into square fragments about half a centimetre each way, pocking the walls in all directions with what looked like a rash of bulletholes: small pits about two inches in diameter at the surface.
The television exploded and a metal bar on the window melted. The mattress where the family were sleeping is covered with blood. Munib Abid Hamid managed to shield his wife and child with his body. His wife Sahar Taha had chest injuries but has been discharged from the An-Naman surgical hospital. Their six year son Khaiser Munib has two broken legs. His parents were downstairs with the rest of the family, all unhurt.
Munib is a solid looking bloke. The doctor said he'd only survived this far because he's so strong. His mother told us in gestures that he was cut from his chest to the bottom of his torso. His body was peppered with the metal squares: the doctor said he had multiple injuries to his abdomen: they had removed bits from his intestines and liver, both legs and feet, but some had had to be left where they were.
The bandages which encase his legs are yellowed and foul-looking - he's fighting gas gangrene and still in danger of losing his legs. "How can I work in future?" he asked. "I am a car mechanic. I think I am finished." Another livelihood destroyed. The same question as in previous days echoes like the after-rumbles of the bombs: "Is this democracy? Is this freedom?"
We were invited in for tea and biscuits in Adamiya, where a rocket demolished five homes on Monday lunchtime. Because people are not going to work or school, they were mostly at home in the middle of Monday and six died. No one saw a plane or heard anything till the explosion: they speculate that it might have been fired from the sea. Strange how a command from so far away can simply erase whole structures built for life and family and shelter from the world.
The missile landed vertically on number 13, killing the grandmother, Khowla Sherkhli, the father, Ahmed Munier, and the daughter, Maha Waleed. Three survived with injuries. Another three died in the street whose houses back onto that one. In number eleven 65 year old Wadha Mukhlif and her husband Abid survived being crushed and lacerated, as did 10 year old Hamsa Ahmed and her mother at number 15.
It all seems so casual. I know my vision is skewed because I'm not paying any attention to military targets and have no idea how many have been hit, but daily I see mangled homes and bodies, only a corner of the picture and that's only the most dramatic aspect. My friend Zaid has been without electricity for three days now and the water supply is intermittent. My friend Majid says his house has only an occasional power supply and all their windows upstairs have shattered.
He was worried because their house is very near the airport and one of the theories is that forces will land there and advance into town, taking them right past his house. His mates have all left, many of them to Dialla, which he says is the safest place in Baghdad. Dialla is where the farmhouse was attacked a couple of days ago. Home isn't safe, the farms are not safe, the market isn't safe. Nowhere, nowhere is safe.