Bombs Blast Homes Instead Of Saddam

Apr 9 2003

By Peter Arnett


WHEN I heard the story Saddam may have been bombed I knew it had to be wrong intelligence. It had to be rubbish.

Clearly if he was hurt, or had been buried, there would have been security all over the place and no one would have got near it.

When I arrived at the scene I found no security at all.

Three miles away at the Palestine Hotel we heard the bombs.

The people from the Iraqi Information Ministry told us what had happened. I was surprised.

It's a pleasant, up-market district. Mainly small homes.

We told the Information Ministry we wanted to go. There was no attempt on their part to stop us. If there was a senior official killed we would not be there.

We are never allowed near any security area. We're not allowed into the military camps, the intelligence bases, the palaces.

I'm not saying there was no intelligence tip but it was clearly incorrect. That's the nature of the intelligence game.

And if they were targeting the al-Sa'ah restaurant, as has been suggested, they missed.

I know the place. There is a fast food restaurant downstairs that sells excellent chicken. Upstairs you can get kebabs. It's very popular with the foreign community.

When we arrived the restaurant windows had been blown in. The manager told me it had been filled with people but amazingly only a couple were slightly hurt. Behind it there is now just a huge crater and mounds of rubble.

One body was pulled out dead after a couple of hours. Others were still buried when I got there, including the wife and two children of Abdil Hassad.

Abdil is a Christian who owns a shop. He is a handsome, well-dressed young man in his mid-30s.

He escaped the blast but wife Sena, 36, and daughters Rana, 10, and seven-year-old Maria were not so lucky. I found him sobbing uncontrollably by the pile of rubble.

"My wife and children are there," he cried as he crouched over the pile of masonry. As he spoke a frantic search to find people alive was going on. Neighbours threw bricks out with their hands.

There were 100 or so people from the community gathered there. All were very, very angry.

They all knew US troops had occupied palaces earlier in the day.

The people felt they were bombed maliciously.

Yarub al-Sadoon recognised me from my days with CNN.

He lives in a house across the alleyway. Yarub was thrown to the ground by the explosion but he and his family were unhurt.

Outraged he prodded my chest saying: "You won't even cover this. The Americans don't want to hear this. I defy you to cover it.

"Is this freedom that you bring us? All you come here for is to kill innocent people. You bring us death." On the one hand it's war. The US is doing very well, moving through the city systematically taking down the Iraqi defences.

On the other hand you have the collateral damage. They go after Saddam and hit several families.

And then, later, the news people get hit. I was sitting four floors below the bombed Reuters suite.

They were a very popular team. I knew the cameraman who was killed, and Paul the engineer. He was one of several people injured.

I was at the hospital when he was getting his leg amputated.

It was a shock for us the hotel was targeted. Everyone knows the Palestine Hotel. It's the most obvious landmark on the riverside.

Everyone knows it's the media hotel. A couple of hundred of us have been here for weeks.

To shoot at it, allegedly because there was sniper fire coming from it, is a pretty casual way to conduct a war. There are no snipers in this building. The only shooting going on here is from the photographers.

It is intimidating to say the least. I'd like to think it wasn't deliberate, that it was a decision made in the heat of battle.

Al Jazeera was also hit and a journalist was killed. I will concede it was in a battle zone.

But it's a building that is very clearly the Al Jazeera headquarters. Although it had also happened in Kabul during the Afghan war, it was a big surprise to me that that was destroyed.

Al Jazeera puts out material discomforting to the United States about civilian casualties.

I haven't heard any journalists saying they're getting out of town.

It's dangerous but everyone I know is determined to stay.


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