|Wayward bombs bring marketplace
Suzanne Goldenberg in Baghdad
Thursday March 27, 2003
The bearded militiaman knelt in the rain and used his gun to shift the earth of the bomb crater. "There is a hand still here in the ground," said Wasim al-Shinmari. "I can't touch it. I'm sorry, but I just can't touch it."
He exposed what looked like a pale lump of human flesh against the dirt, and then dissolved in sobs. "The bodies went to hospital, but the hand is here," he said.
Around him a small circle of men shouted: haram, haram - abomination. But it was unclear whether they meant the unburied human remains, or the audacity of America's bloody attack on an otherwise unremarkable suburb of Baghdad.
At least 14 Iraqis were killed and dozens injured yesterday morning when two American bombs fell out of the sky, and on to a crowded marketplace. If this was the result of precision bombing, as US and British military commanders said last night, then it wasn't precise enough.
"I saw a dozen bodies or more. They were inside the cars, outside the cars, even in the buildings," Mr Shinmari said. "Children, ladies, men _ nobody had any warning." It was the single worst act of carnage in six days of an American aerial assault on the Iraqi capital carried out by B-52 bombers, F-17 jet fighters and cruise missiles, at all hours of the day.
And, as yesterday's marketplace slaughter so clearly demonstrates, increasingly the targets are on the edges of residential areas, far away from the lavish palaces and military installations that are the institutional heart of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The people of the Shaab neighbourhood, on the northern perimeters of Baghdad, never had an inkling they would be next. On this seventh day of bombing, Iraqis had learned to adapt to the rhythm of the bombs, venturing out if they had to, by daytime largely, and with great caution to avoid official areas known to be the target of America's wrath.
The main Ali Benabi Talib artery carried a reasonably heavy flow of traffic. The small garages and grocery shops that line the eastern side of the road were open for custom; the residents of the flats on the western side were at home.
Nobody paid much attention to the roar of the planes overhead; it was the third or fourth sortie since daybreak.
"I heard the bombing attacks all morning long, but they were relatively far away," said Abdel Razak.
"I certainly didn't expect anything here. This is a civilian area."
That false sense of security in US technology, and its precision-guided bombs, was abetted by the weather, an orange apocalyptic haze that engulfed the city.
For once, no Baghdadi grumbled about the freak sandstorm - the worst in more than 10 years - and the thick coating of dust that surrounded them.
They saw the orange sky as an omen, or a curse - certainly not against Iraq, which in their belief had never wanted this war, but on the American and British enemies who were intent on invading their land.
At 11.30 yesterday morning, they were brutally disillusioned. The relatively small size of the craters, one on either side of the main road, gave little indication of the bombs' lethal force. When they exploded, within seconds of each other, two men from the district, Tahir, 26, and Sarmat, 21, were idling away the day in a small shop that sells water heaters. In an instant the shop gave way, swallowing up the two men.
The sideways force of the blast spewed chunks of masonry and body parts across a six-lane highway. Sizzling chunks of shrapnel tore through plaster facades, leaving pockmarks on the interior wall.
Brick shopfronts collapsed, amid cascades of glass that extended for 200 metres. Two cars hurtled in the air, landing on their sides.
The lethal impact of the blast was augmented by cruel circumstance. Several wit nesses said an oil tanker had been parked in the area moments before the bombing. Five cars along a slip road were carbonised, and flames licked the first-floor windows of buildings.
One of the burnt-out cars had contained a family with three children, said Hisham Madloul, picking his way through the bloodstains and debris in flip-flops.
"There were three families in the building upstairs and many children," he said.
"We have committed no sin. We are not guilty. Why are they doing this? We are innocent people."
He paused for breath, and went on. "What does Bush want?"
It was not a question Alaa Ahmed, 12, was equipped to answer from his bed at al-Kindi hospital. He lay on his pink pillow, with his head and right hand swathed in bandages, gazing vacantly with huge brown eyes at the circle of white coats around him.
Above his bed, the doctors said several of the 21 people travelling in Alaa's minibus had been brought to hospital, some horribly burnt, some with grievous internal injuries, and others dead on arrival.
Alaa could barely follow the conversation, which was probably a mercy. He had boarded the minibus with his best friend to go shopping. The doctors said the other boy was even more badly injured.
"This enemy wants to kill all of us," said Tomma Hussein, a doctor working in al-Kindi's casualty ward when the dead and injured were brought in.
"These were far more serious injuries than any we have seen before in this war. I saw two people die in the casualty unit - they were young, perhaps 17 and 25 - and I saw a young girl whose hand was amputated."
That sense of shock and bewilderment travelled to the centre of the city from far-flung Shaab as the day wore on, and cars pulled up to gawk at the aftermath of the slaughter.
But as night fell, and the pandemonium subsided in the casualty wards of Baghdad's hospitals, it was also mixed with rage.
"I want to see one of them - those American soldiers," Dr Hussein said. "I want to kill one of them."
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