Malicious Missiles And Dead Farmers
Dialla, just outside Baghdad
After discovering a bombed out family of farmers in a Baghdad hospital, Jo Wilding went to the rubble of their former farm outside the Iraqi capital to try and find out why a US fighter plane had specifically targeted their family home.
25th March 2003
It's hard now to tell the bombings from the storm: both beat at the windows and thunder through the city, but after a missile explodes, flocks of birds fill the sky, disturbed by the shock waves. After a gust, they are replaced by a deluge of rubbish, drifting in the smog of sand and dust and smoke which has turned the air a dirty orange so thick it blotted out the sun and everything went dark in the middle of the day. Even the rain was filthy: the cleansing, healing drops fill with grime on the way down and splatter you with streaks of mud.
In the end three people died yesterday in the farmhouse which was bombed at Dialla, including the young wife, Nahda, who was missing in the rubble. She, along with Zahra, the eight year old daughter and her aunt, Hana, were buried this morning. People are taken for burial in coffins but are buried in shrouds and a pick up returned to the remains of the house with the three caskets, cobbled out of small pieces of wood, riding in the back.
In fact the couple had been married just one week, not three as I wrote yesterday, and a neighbour showed us a flouncy pink invitation to the wedding festival. Omar, the bridegroom, sat silently crying on the floor in the hospital corridor, leaning on the wall, body bent, head in his hands.
Neighbours said the bomb hit at 4pm yesterday. The plane had been flying overhead for a while, they said, when it fired three rockets, one of which demolished the entire upper storey of the house. It looked as if it had only ever been a bungalow until, clambering through the hallway, we came to the stairs, leading up to nothing.
Small farmhouses sat between cultivated fields, the occasional cow, two or three compact plots, then another building. A couple of sheep held court over the empty marketplace as we entered the village, over the small Dialla Bridge across a slim branch of the Tigris. There was nothing which could explain the attack: nothing which even looked like a target that, perhaps, the pilot might have been aiming for. It made no sense. The villagers said the plane had been circling overhead. Its pilot must have seen what was there.
The animal shelters behind the house were crumpled, the family's cow lying crushed under her roof. They wouldn't have known that yet, still in the hospital. The windows of sixteen houses nearby were all broken, the neighbours told us, and the blast made the children's ears bleed.
Ration sacks were piled in the kitchen and there was a bowl of green beans which looked as if they were being prepared for an evening meal. Two or three of the neighbours invited us to eat in their homes. Humbling seems too small a word for the experience of being invited to share food and hospitality, by people with so little, while crouching in the rubble of their friends? and neighbours? home which was obliterated, with several lives, by my country, only the previous day.
Hours earlier, in the Al Kindi hospital, we had gone to take a statement from another casualty. He was dying, his family around him, so we didn't go into the room. As we walked away one of the men came after us with a tin of sweets to offer us. "Thankyou for coming," he said in English. These people constantly overwhelm me with their dignity, their kindness, their gentle grace and warmth.