NOT SO SMART BOMBS DEVASTATE ORDINARY LIVES
Mar 24 2003
Anton Antonowicz reporting from Saddam’s blitzed capital of Baghdad.
Pictures by Mike Moore.
The crater, gouged through the heart of a family’s home, is 30ft deep and 60ft wide.
Water from a well is seeping into it.
Amid the rubble is a handbag, a child’s pedal car and a fold-up pushchair.
This is the closest we have so far been allowed to witness the devastation of the bombing of Baghdad.
The Iraqi government was, of course, most keen that we should come here to Al-Khadisija, a middle-class neighbourhood in the west of the capital.
IN YOUR NAME: An Iraqi man carries a child badly wounded in the onslaught on Basra on Saturday.
Here was clear proof for them that America and Britain are unleashing their violence on ordinary civilians. That precision bombing is not so precise. That, instead of winning hearts and minds, Bush and Blair are obliterating them.
Ahmed Hamid Al-Sa’adi stands in the midst of the devastation. He is 67, wears a hearing aid and is still in his dressing-gown. He says his home is 50 yards away. He says he was never as frightened as he was on Saturday, around 7.30pm, when the first of the missiles struck.
He said: “There were about six of them hitting within about one minute. I was knocked to the floor. I had already moved my family out of Baghdad, as had most of my neighbours. I sat alone on the floor unable to move with fear.
“Now look what they did. This is an ordinary, innocent house in an ordinary innocent area. Look, there’s a primary school at the end of the road and a hospital around the corner. So what were they aiming at? They say these are ‘smart’ bombs. If they are so smart why did they land here? It’s just dumb.”
“It is just madness.”
There were five families living in the trashed site, he adds. Everyone was out of the area, except possibly for an old lady named Halima and a 10-year-old girl named Tara.
He heard they had been injured and taken to hospital, but this was impossible to confirm because the Iraqis refused journalists access to any emergency wards yesterday.
What they did say was that 196 civilians had been injured in Baghdad and another eight in Sumara province, while 77 people died in Basra and 300 were injured.
Omar and Saad, two children aged six or seven, were part of a family of 12 admitted to Yarmouk hospital, across the street from security buildings in west Baghdad gutted by US overnight raids.
ANGRY: Ahmed stands amid the rubble after a missile hit his street.
For the time being they cling to life, lying helplessly in hospital, their stomachs bleeding from shrapnel wounds.
Salam, a neighbour, said: “We heard an explosion and rushed to their house.
Damn the Americans for this.”
Majed, a 57-year-old mechanic, was another civilian hit by shrapnel. He was operated on and should survive, along with another 100 wounded who were now in the hospital, the doctors said.
Majed’s wife said as she stood by his bed: “I knew that the military had taken posts in residential areas. But I am sure there was nothing where we live. Otherwise we would not remain there.”
Later we were left to pick through the rubble of somebody’s home. Shards of rocket shrapnel were presented for our inspection. Half-rooms now open like a huge doll’s house. A brown bed and headboard. A hair-dryer. Half a dressing-table. Some flimsy pantaloons. A man’s black shoe. A twisted TV aerial. A 12-fin oil radiator contracted by the blast like a tied accordion.
An 18-year-old named Moahsen says the main owner of the compound is Dr Shamal Sumaria, 31, a planning ministry official. He and his family are fine, though another seven people are missing, he adds.
There is simply no way of nailing any of these varying claims. The only evidence we have is of a huge explosion in a residential area, angry people scared witless, a small group of Ba’ath Party activists yelling “Allah o Akbar” “God is Greatest” over and over as we try to talk to the locals and officials who cannot hide their satisfaction, albeit grim, at being able to present us with this propaganda coup.
Asked if he has a message for Mr Bush, Ahmed Hamid al-Sa’adi tightens his dressing-gown cord and yells:
“Why should I waste my breath? I have no message for a man who does not listen. The world has protested and still protests. But he has deaf ears. Far, far deafer than me.”
We climb aboard the three coaches to return to our corral at the Information Ministry Press Centre on the west bank of the Tigris.
But it takes no more than two minutes to discover the reason, if reason there is, why this area may have been targeted.
CRATER: A missile flattened this family house in the bombing of Baghdad
To our left the soaring telecommunications tower. To our right the charred and ruined lump of Saddam’s Sadija Palace, a once-sumptuous pile named after his first wife and the mother of his sons.
It is instantly recognisable because of the sculpted heads of ancient Iraqi demi-gods at each corner. It was completed about three years ago and said to be his favourite home.
Now it wears a gaping grin above its entrance. A huge hole, some 30- 40ft across where the missile or missiles entered.
IT is an amazing sight and yet more proof of the precision with which the vast majority of this shocking and awesome offensive has been waged.
Not that you would know that from speaking to officials who seem to be locked in self-denial.
Instead of Ministry of Information, journalists now talk about the Minimum of Information. And so we have information minister Mohammed Sayeed al-Saheef, perky as ever at yesterday’s press conference, talking about the Iraqi army’s heroic resistance at Umm Qasr which will serve forever as a symbol of national bravery.
It is Bush and Blair who are reeling with shock and awe at the ability of the Iraqi fighting machine in Basra, he adds. And finally he berates the “hostile mass media” travelling with the Americans and British for so distorting the reality.
He says anti-air barrages had accounted for downing four enemy fighter planes over Baghdad, one in Basra, plus two helicopters, and another in an adjoining province.
“America continues to attack civilians,” he said in a speech designed for domestic consumption. “But it forgets that in Baghdad alone, we have seven million fighters, members of the Ba’ath Party, ready at every opportunity, in every place, to vanquish the invaders.”
“Our men and women have made that dog Franks (Tommy Franks commander of the invasion) afraid to enter our cities. And through our brave people, the White House will be turned into the Black House.”
RHETORIC over: Outside it is Baghdad’s air which is turning blacker by the minute from the oil fires started by the Iraqis.
They have been burning for two days, acting as a shield-of-sorts for the relentless aerial bombardments.
I counted six daylight attacks on Saturday. After that, it was: 11pm, 2.30am, 5am, 6.20am, 9.30am. It is now 2.20am and the sirens are wailing again.
The phone rings and I jump. A knock of the door, I jump. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. The lack of sleep, the mounting anxiety has grated on most people’s fears. Journalists are no exception.
Yet there are funny moments. Yesterday’s was a 4WD with Kuwaiti number plates pulling up outside the Palestine Hotel where most of us are staying. It was the first Kuwaiti car seen in Baghdad in 12 years.
From it stepped a bunch of French reporters. They had been following the Allied advance. But, when the Americans stopped briefly to don gas masks etc, this gaggle blithely carried on forward. Eventually they drove into the arms of Iraqi troops who, mystified by these people’s behaviour, told them to drive on.
Unlike John Simpson’s infamous claim to have liberated Kabul, it is not likely the French troupe wish to draw attention to themselves.