it was an outrage, an obscenity

Eugen Leitl
Thu, 27 Mar 2003 20:14:27 +0100 (CET)

Robert Fisk: 'It was an outrage, an obscenity'

27 March 2003

It was an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door, the 
swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a garage, 
the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small 
children in their still-smouldering car.

Two missiles from an American jet killed them all  by my estimate, more 
than 20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be 'liberated' 
by the nation that destroyed their lives. Who dares, I ask myself, to call 
this 'collateral damage'? Abu Taleb Street was packed with pedestrians and 
motorists when the American pilot approached through the dense sandstorm 
that covered northern Baghdad in a cloak of red and yellow dust and rain 
yesterday morning.

It's a dirt-poor neighbourhood, of mostly Shia Muslims, the same people 
whom Messrs Bush and Blair still fondly hope will rise up against 
President Saddam Hussein, a place of oil-sodden car-repair shops, 
overcrowded apartments and cheap cafés. Everyone I spoke to heard the 
plane. One man, so shocked by the headless corpses he had just seen, could 
say only two words. "Roar, flash," he kept saying and then closed his eyes 
so tight that the muscles rippled between them.

How should one record so terrible an event? Perhaps a medical report would 
be more appropriate. But the final death toll is expected to be near to 30 
and Iraqis are now witnessing these awful things each day; so there is no 
reason why the truth, all the truth, of what they see should not be told.

For another question occurred to me as I walked through this place of 
massacre yesterday. If this is what we are seeing in Baghdad, what is 
happening in Basra and Nasiriyah and Kerbala? How many civilians are dying 
there too, anonymously, indeed unrecorded, because there are no reporters 
to be witness to their suffering?

Abu Hassan and Malek Hammoud were preparing lunch for customers at the 
Nasser restaurant on the north side of Abu Taleb Street. The missile that 
killed them landed next to the westbound carriageway, its blast tearing 
away the front of the café and cutting the two men  the first 48, the 
second only 18  to pieces. A fellow worker led me through the rubble. 
"This is all that is left of them now," he said, holding out before me an 
oven pan dripping with blood.

At least 15 cars burst into flames, burning many of their occupants to 
death. Several men tore desperately at the doors of another flame-shrouded 
car in the centre of the street that had been flipped upside down by the 
same missile. They were forced to watch helplessly as the woman and her 
three children inside were cremated alive in front of them. The second 
missile hit neatly on the eastbound carriageway, sending shards of metal 
into three men standing outside a concrete apartment block with the words, 
"This is God's possession" written in marble on the outside wall.

The building's manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he 
heard the massive explosion. "I found Ta'ar in pieces over there," he told 
me. His head was blown off. "That's his hand." A group of young men and a 
woman took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film, was 
Ta'ar's hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping a 
piece of iron roofing. His young colleague, Sermed, died the same instant. 
His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and grey mess behind a 
burnt car. Both men worked for Danoon. So did a doorman who was also 

As each survivor talked, the dead regained their identities. There was the 
electrical shop-owner killed behind his counter by the same missile that 
cut down Ta'ar and Sermed and the doorman, and the young girl standing on 
the central reservation, trying to cross the road, and the truck driver 
who was only feet from the point of impact and the beggar who regularly 
called to see Mr Danoon for bread and who was just leaving when the 
missiles came screaming through the sandstorm to destroy him.

In Qatar, the Anglo-American forces  let's forget this nonsense about 
"coalition"  announced an inquiry. The Iraqi government, who are the only 
ones to benefit from the propaganda value of such a bloodbath, naturally 
denounced the slaughter, which they initially put at 14 dead. So what was 
the real target? Some Iraqis said there was a military encampment less 
than a mile from the street, though I couldn't find it. Others talked 
about a local fire brigade headquarters, but the fire brigade can hardly 
be described as a military target.

Certainly, there had been an attack less than an hour earlier on a 
military camp further north. I was driving past the base when two rockets 
exploded and I saw Iraqi soldiers running for their lives out of the gates 
and along the side of the highway. Then I heard two more explosions; these 
were the missiles that hit Abu Taleb Street.

Of course, the pilot who killed the innocent yesterday could not see his 
victims. Pilots fire through computer-aligned co-ordinates, and the 
sandstorm would have hidden the street from his vision. But when one of 
Malek Hammoud's friends asked me how the Americans could so blithely kill 
those they claimed to want to liberate, he didn't want to learn about the 
science of avionics or weapons delivery systems.

And why should he? For this is happening almost every day in Baghdad. 
Three days ago, an entire family of nine was wiped out in their home near 
the centre of the city. A busload of civilian passengers were reportedly 
killed on a road south of Baghdad two days ago. Only yesterday were Iraqis 
learning the identity of five civilian passengers slaughtered on a Syrian 
bus that was attacked by American aircraft close to the Iraqi border at 
the weekend.

The truth is that nowhere is safe in Baghdad, and as the Americans and 
British close their siege in the next few days or hours, that simple 
message will become ever more real and ever more bloody.

We may put on the hairshirt of morality in explaining why these people 
should die. They died because of 11 September, we may say, because of 
President Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction", because of human rights 
abuses, because of our desperate desire to "liberate" them all. Let us not 
confuse the issue with oil. Either way, I'll bet we are told President 
Saddam is ultimately responsible for their deaths. We shan't mention the 
pilot, of course.