A World Turned Orange And Red
In her latest dispatch from the besieged Iraqi capital, independent human rights observer, Jo Wilding, visits another hospital in Baghdad and finds a tragic placed full of bemused and injured Iraqi civilians.
26th March 2003
The Iraqis call it orange weather: some say it is on their side. It's not even five o'clock and the sun won't set till nearly seven but it's dark outside. I half imagined the war being like this, the sky staying dark all the time, but without the orange. It stinks as well, of smoke and oil and I don't know what else. The darkness and the grime and the fierce cold wind lend an unnecessary sense of apocalypse to the flooded craters, broken trees, gaping windows and wrecked houses where the bombs have hit.
I know I'm not supposed to understand this, so I won't bother telling you I don't. Today I met Essa Jassim Najim, a 28 year old first-year engineering student from a farming family near Babylon. He couldn't speak because of shrapnel wounds to his head and neck but his father explained that three days ago they were attacked by two groups of Apache helicopters. The first group attempted to land and the farmers resisted them with guns, aided by the Civil Defence Force. The second group of helicopters attacked the house, destroying it with a missile.
Another farming community in Al Doraa also reported an attack by Apache helicopters at 4pm on Saturday. Atta Jassim died when a missile hit his house. Moen, his eight-year-old son had multiple bowel and intestinal injuries from shrapnel: part of his intestine had been removed. His six-year-old brother Ali and mother Hana were also injured by shrapnel.
Saad Shalash Aday is another farmer, from Al Mahmoodia in South Baghdad. He had a fractured leg and multiple shrapnel wounds including a ruptured spleen, perforated caecum, colon and small bowel, abdominal and leg wounds. Two of his brothers, Mohammed and Mobden, were also injured and ten year old twin boys Ahmed and Daha Assan were killed in the same house when a bomb exploded two or three metres from the building. The doctor, Dr Ahmed Abdullah, said two other men were killed in the same attack around 6pm yesterday (Tuesday): Kherifa Mohammed Jebur, a 35 year old farmer and another man whose name nobody present knew.
Eight houses and four cars were destroyed and cows, sheep and dogs were killed. The eyewitnesses described two bombs, each causing an explosion in the air, and cylindrical containers - cluster bombs, some of which exploded on the ground. Others did not explode. The two explosions were about 300 metres apart, with a few minutes between them. From first hearing the plane overhead until the second explosion, they estimated, took about 10 minutes.
"Is this democracy?" the men demanded to know, gathered by Saad's bed. "Is this what America is bringing to Iraq?"
At nine o clock this morning a group of caravans was hit with cluster bombs, according to the doctors. A tiny boy lay in terrible pain in the hospital, a tube draining blood from his chest, which was pierced by shrapnel. They said he was eight, but he looked maybe five. The doctors were testing for abdominal damage as well. I'm not sure whether he knew yet, or could understand, that his mother was killed instantly and his five sisters and two brothers were not yet found. His father had gone to bring blood for him and his uncle, Dia, was with him.
Rusol Ammar, a skinny ten year old girl with startling eyes, flinched occasionally when breathing hurt her - she had multiple injuries from glass and shrapnel, as well as a fractured hand. Dr Ahmed explained that, at the velocity caused by an explosion, even a grain of sand could cause injury to a child Rusol's size. They weren't yet sure what was in her chest.
Her dad said something hit their street and exploded. They were in their house and tried to close the door against the fireball but the windows blew in and the glass and shrapnel flew everywhere. His other children were unhurt. Rusol smiled the most gorgeous smile when we told her how brave she is, and that it will give courage to children everywhere when we tell them how brave she is.
Her dad asked the same question we'd heard before. "Is this democracy?"
Dr Ahmed is Syrian but has lived and worked 27 years in Iraq. He wasn't working yesterday but estimated about 30 casualties came into Al Yarmouk hospital. That's just one hospital and yesterday was a fairly light day of bombing. It makes no sense for me to speculate about the plans and intentions of the US/UK military, because I don't know, but several incidents of attacks on farms have been reported to us.
Farms are not a legitimate target, even if you want to land your helicopter on them. From the legal perspective, the presence of a military objective within a civilian area or population does not deprive the population of its civilian character, even if you can call landing a helicopter a military objective. You cannot bomb an area of civilian houses knowing that people in the vicinity are likely to be hurt by flying glass and shrapnel.
More than that though, more than the illegality of it, this is wrong. It's desperately, horrifyingly, achingly wrong. I don't mean this to be a casualty list, never mind a body count - I couldn't even begin and I've no intention of describing blood and gore to you, but take this as an illustration, as a small picture of what's happening to people here, of what war means.
The internet connection is down today. I don't know whether it's because of the sandstorm or the bomb damage or the attempt to control information. Phone lines are moody even within Baghdad. The Iraqi TV station was hit last night. Friends in the south of the city said there was no water or electricity when they woke up.