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Robert Fisk: Killing Civilians, the Immoral Face of War
The Independent

BAGHDAD, 8 April 2003

They lay in lines, the car salesman who’d just lost his eye
but whose feet were still dribbling blood, the motorcyclist who was hit
by a shell fired at him by bullets from American troops near the Rashid
Hotel, the 50- year-old female civil servant, her long dark hair spread
over the towel she was lying on, her body pock-marked with shrapnel from an
American cluster bomb. For the civilians of Baghdad, this is the real,
immoral face of war, the direct result of America’s clever little “probing
missions” into Baghdad.

It looks very neat on television, the American Marines on the banks of the
Tigris, the oh-so-funny visit to the presidential palace, the videotape of
Saddam’s golden loo. But the innocent are bleeding and screaming with pain
to bring us our exciting television pictures and to provide Bush and Blairwith 

their boastful talk of victory.


I saw one little boy in the Kindi
Hospital yesterday, his mother and father and three brothers all shot dead
when they approached an American checkpoint outside Baghdad. I watched
two-and-a-half-year-old Ali Najour lying in agony on the bed, his clothes
soaked with blood, a tube through his nose, until a relative walked up to
me. “I want to talk to you,” he shouted, his voice rising in fury. “Why do
you British want to kill this little boy? Why do you even want to look at
him? You did this — you did it!” The young man seized my arm, shaking it
violently. “Are you going to make his mother and father come back? Can you
bring them back to life for him? Get out! Get out!”

In the yard outside, where the ambulance drivers deposit the dead, a
middle-aged Shiite woman in black was thumping her fists against her
breasts and shrieking at me. “Help me,” she cried. “Help me. My son is a
martyr and all I want is a banner to cover him. I want a flag, an Iraqi
flag, to put over his body. Dear God, help me!” It’s becoming harder and
harder to visit these places of pain and grief and anger. And I’m not
surprised. The International Red Cross yesterday reported civilian victims
of America’s three-day offensive against Baghdad arriving at the hospitals
now by the hundred. Yesterday, the Kindi alone had taken 50 civilian
wounded and three dead in the previous 24 hours. Most of the dead — the
little boy’s family, the family of six torn to pieces by an aerial bomb in
front of Ali Abdulrazek, the car salesman, the next-door neighbors of Safa
Karim — were simply buried within hours of their being torn to bits.

On television, it looks so clean. On Sunday evening, the BBC showed burning
civilian cars, its reporter — ‘embedded’ with American forces — saying that
he saw some of their passengers lying dead beside them. That was all. No
pictures of the charred corpses, no close-ups of the shriveled children. So
perhaps I should warn those of what the BBC once called a nervous
disposition to go no further. But if they want to know what America and
Britain are doing to the innocent of Baghdad, they should read on.

I’ll leave out the description of the flies that have been clustering round
the wounds in the Kindi emergency rooms, of the blood caked on the sheets
and the dirty pillow cases, the streaks of blood on the floor, the blood
still dripping from the wounds of those I talked to yesterday. All were
civilians. All wanted to know why they had to suffer. All — save for the
incandescent youth who ordered me to leave the little boy’s bed — talked
gently and quietly about their pain. No Iraqi government bus took me to the
Kindi Hospital. No doctor knew I was coming.

Let’s start with Ali Abdulrazek. He’s 40 years old, the car salesman who
was walking yesterday morning through a narrow street in the Shaab district
of Baghdad — that’s where the two American missiles killed at least 20
civilians more than a week ago — when he heard the jet engines of an
aircraft. “I was going to see my family because the phone exchanges have
been bombed and I wanted to make sure they were OK,” he said. “There was a
family, a husband and wife and kids, in front of me. Then I heard this
terrible noise and there was a light and I knew something had happened to
me. I went to try to help the family in front of me but they were all gone,
in pieces. Then I realized I couldn’t see properly.”

Over Abdulrazek’s left eye is a swad of thick bandages, tied to his face.
His doctor, Osama Al-Rahimi, tells me that “we did not operate on the eye,
we have taken care of his other wounds.” Then he leans toward my ear and
says softly: “He has lost his eye. There was nothing we could do. It was
taken out of his head by the shrapnel.”

Abdulrazek smiles — of course, he does not know that he will be forever
half-blind — and suddenly breaks into near-perfect English, a language he
had learned at high school in Baghdad. “Why did this happen to me?” he asks.

Mohammed Abdullah Alwani was a victim of yesterday’s American excursion to
the banks of the Tigris, the operation that provided such exciting footage
on yesterday’s television in Britain. He was traveling home on his
motorcycle from the Rashid Hotel on the western side of the Tigris when he
passed a road in which an American armored vehicle was parked. “I only saw
the Americans at the last moment. They opened fire and hit me and I managed
to stay on the cycle. Then their second shell sent bits of shrapnel into
the bike and I fell off.”

Dr. Al-Rahimi peels the bandage back from Alwani’s side. Next to his liver
is a vicious, bloody, weeping gash, perhaps half an inch deep. Blood is
still running down his legs and off his toes. “Why do they shoot
civilians?” he asked me. Yes, I know the lines. Saddam would have killed
more Iraqis than us if we hadn’t invaded — not a very smart argument in the
Kindi Hospital — and that we’re doing all this for them. Didn’t Paul
Wolfowitz tell us all a few days ago that he was praying for both the
American troops and for the Iraqi people? Aren’t we coming here to save
them — let’s not mention their oil — and isn’t Saddam a cruel and brutal
man? But amid these people, such words are an obscenity.

Saadia Hussein Al-Shomari is pin-cushioned with bloody holes. She is the
civil servant from the Iraqi Ministry of Trade and she lies asleep,
exhausted by pain, another doctor swiping the flies off her wounds with a
piece of cardboard, asking me — as if I knew — whether a human can recover
from a severe wound to the liver. A relative tells slowly how Saadia was
leaving her home in the Baghdad Jdeidi district when an American plane
dropped a cluster bomb on the estate. “There were some neighbors of hers.
They were all hit. From one of them, a leg flew off, from another, an arm
and a leg went flying into the air.”

Then there was Safa Karim. She is 11 and she is dying. An American bomb
fragment struck her in the stomach and she is bleeding internally, writhing
on the bed with a massive bandage on her stomach and a tube down her nose
and — somehow most terrible of all — a series of four cheap and dirty
scarves that tie each of her wrists and ankles to the bed. She moans and
thrashes on the bed, fighting pain and imprisonment at the same time. A
relative — her black-shrouded mother sits by the bed in silence — says that
she is too ill to understand her fate. “She has been given 10 bottles of
drugs and she has vomited them all up,” he says. Through the mask that the
drip tube makes of her face, she moves her eyes toward her mother, then the
doctor, then the journalist, then back to her mother.

The man opens the palms of his hands, the way Arabs do when they want to
express impotence. “What can we do?” they always say, but the man is
silent. But I’m glad. How, after all, could I ever tell him that Safa Karim
must die for Sept. 11, for George Bush’s fantasies and Tony Blair’s moral
certainty and for Paul Wolfowitz’s dreams of “liberation” and for the
“democracy” which we are blasting our way through these people’s lives to
create?


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