We Are Farmers
In her latest dispatch from inside the Iraqi capital, independent human rights observer, Jo Wilding, records how a visit to the local hospital reveals significant numbers of so called Smart Bombs are falling on civilian targets.
24th March 2003
"We are farmers. We are farmers." The woman kept repeating it through her rage and grief and incomprehension while the orderlies mopped the blood from the floor, picked up the rags of clothing, torn and then cut off the body.
We had gone to the Al Kindi hospital to see some people who were hurt when a bomb hit their house: a young boy with a shrapnel wound to his abdomen, who had had to have part of his intestine removed and a colostomy bag installed; a young man who had multiple glass and shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs and a severe leg fracture - he could remember nothing of what had happened except that he was in his house at the time.
The doctor was called to the emergency room and told us to come with him. A family had just arrived. They had left their home in Baghdad and gone to their family's farm on the outskirts for safety. There were sitting eating when a missile struck the house. I must apologise to both them and you because I can't tell you exactly all their names and family networks - it's all explained on tape but I don't have that with me.
The uncle who owned the house had a head wound and a laceration to his arm but was relatively lucid and was able to explain that there were still family members buried in the rubble. One of the young men got married three weeks ago.
"The bride missing. We don't know where."
Another of the young men began venting his rage and the new husband clutched at him, pressed his head to the other's shoulder and cried.
The mother held one child after another. Her eight-year-old daughter was killed. Another small girl, half naked, was cradled in one of the women's arms, emitting tearing screams whenever she was moved - into the X-ray room, out again, into the treatment room. Her face was ripped by shrapnel. Another was in a bed. The doctor lifted the blankets to reveal a bloody mess of open leg. She howled and screamed as they tried to clean it, called out to Allah while her mother and aunt held her. Her head was heavily bandaged and one eye closed and swollen.
"The skull also open," the doctor said.
The child didn't scream as she was lifted onto a stretcher and taken to the operating room. Zainab indicated her daughter's blood on the sheets. "What has she done?" she asked. Her clothes were patched with the blood of her kids.
Rasha, who is a 19 year old college student, had a wound to the head and arm. Someone asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated. Through a translator she said, "Bush has killed all my dreams. How should I think of the future?"
The women went from child to child, comforting, cuddling, occasionally sitting on a bed and crying. A girl of eight with one eye closed and a bandaged head slept fitfully, concussed, her arm in a sling.
A tiny wide-eyed boy in pyjamas cried and clapped his bandaged hands, calling out "Mama" whenever he was left alone. Safe in the lap of an aunt, he drifted off into his own world, touching his fingertip to the still-damp blood on his sleeve, looking intently at it, putting the finger to his tongue, his face chequered with cuts.
It happened, apparently, last night, but it had taken some time to get them to hospital. The father arrived, an army coat over his jelabiya, having been to the house and seen what had happened.
In the corridor, a doctor shook with anger as he demanded, "Where is the UN?"
Another woman, Suad, cried quietly beside us, waiting to speak. Like the family, she had decided to leave Baghdad for an outlying family farm when a missile struck a college of the Mustansariyah University. The force of the blast overturned the car. Her legs were broken. She was holding her two and a half year old daughter when it happened. The child had glass in her head. Suad's sister had a serious abdominal wound and she hadn't seen her since they arrived at the hospital.
Ahmed, who works here in the internet center, mentioned the same blast to me earlier in the day ? it was near his home and his windows were all broken. He thinks it caught a primary school as well, but only destroyed the fence. The stories start to come together, form a more complete picture of the effects of a single weapon.
Earlier we went to take a witness statement from people in a street where a missile struck a house on Saturday evening. Eight people lived there and were eating together in a downstairs room when a missile hit the house. It didn't land directly on the house ? it was, they said, a glancing blow.
The roof had collapsed, as had the ceiling between lower and upper floors. Bent steel reinforcing bars and broken concrete slouched into the downstairs room and rubble filled the garden.
A poster was still on the remaining wall of what had once been the single women's room. All the family had glass wounds to their legs. The neighbouring houses either side were damaged - in the one to the right, as you look from the street, there was a hole in the side at the back of the house and a crack so that the back wall was slumping away from the rest of the building.
The kids from the other houses in the street said they heard and felt the blast. Another neighbour from opposite told us how shaken his eighty-year-old mother was. All their windows were smashed. The Civil Defence Force had been to the site straight away and taken the wreckage of the weapon and sealed up the house: there were concerns that another missile might follow. No one knew whether the house was hit because a missile missed its target or because the bombers thought it was a target, and targets are often hit more than once.
Still the stories come from the south. Nasariyah has been taken, Basra has been taken, Basra hasn't been taken, there's still fighting in Nasariyah, they've decided to come for Baghdad, leaving Basra surrounded, and rely on the assumption that Basra will capitulate once Baghdad is captured. Some declare the Americans will never take Baghdad. The doctors think the bombing will be heavier tonight: people say that every night.
It seems worse when you hear the planes overhead, because you don't know where the bombs are going to fall. When you don't hear the plane, you know as soon as you see the flash, before you feel and hear the blast, that this one isn't for you. My head is so full, I'm sure there's much more to say, but the roaring in the sky is getting louder, more constant, and I want to send this before the electricity or the server go down. My thoughts are with Zainab and her family in the hospital, back in Baghdad, after the sanctuary they fled to turned out to be no such thing. They have to endure another night hearing the bombs fall, feeling the world shake, knowing how it is when one hits close enough to collapse the walls around you, not knowing where the other family members are.