Gruesome toll grows as army grinds to a halt
Lucky… Saja Jaafar, 3, lies in a Baghdad hospital after surviving the bombing of the al-Naser market in the Shuwaila district. Photo: AFP
Silver stars and red tracer fire lit the sky as the Al Shualla people washed their dead – as many as 58 of them were slaughtered when a bomb exploded in their little marketplace.
Some carried blanket-draped coffins through darkened alleyways, others strapped them to the roofs of battered cars.
But from all houses the same teary cries drifted into the chilly night: “There is no god but God.”
As each family group left the mosque, the men faced Mecca in prayer and the lights of passing cars etched the outline of their women, standing in tight knots off to the side.
Iraqi officials insist this bomb, the second in 48 hours to hit a civilian market, was dropped by a US or British jet. The Americans are investigating; they say they don’t know.
But the suffering and the grief radiating from a small crater in
this impoverished Shi’ite neighbourhood in Baghdad will make it harder
for ordinary Iraqis to see the US-led invasion force as an army of
liberation, rather than one of conquest.
At the Al-Noor Hospital, 500metres from the marketplace in
north-west Baghdad, tearful men held each other in their arms as
distraught women yelled the names of the dead.
A man, sobbing with grief, called over and over: “That man! That man!” Relatives said he was referring to President George Bush, who, in Washington, appeared to be warning of more setbacks before victory
in saying: “We are now fighting the most desperate units of the dictator’s army. The fierce fighting under way will demand further courage and further sacrifice, yet we know the outcome of this battle.”
In the face of stiff resistance and severe front-line problems – security and logistic – US commanders have now decided on a pause of up to six days in their advance on Baghdad.
The Al Shualla carnage came on a day in which the US seemed to put aside its undertaking not to damage Iraq’s infrastructure: waves of strikes, including the first confirmed use of 4700-pound (2100 kilogram) bunker-buster bombs, destroyed much of Baghdad’s telephone system.
In Al Shualla, at 6.30pm, people were busy in the market. Ghannun Hussein was waiting for his 59-year-old father with the vegetables for their evening meal when he heard the whoosh of a missile.
Standing by his father’s hospital bed later, he said: “I heard the explosion. I ran. All the people were on the ground; people’s arms and legs were cut off, there was too much blood.”
Najin Abdula, who works at the hospital, raced to the scene: “There was the body of a man with no head. I stopped cars in the traffic to get them to bring the injured to the hospital.”
Then he opened the door of a morgue refrigerator for The Sun-Herald.
Inside were five bodies. One young man had half his head blown away; the nose of another was gone and his flesh and clothing were torn.
As family members and hospital staff, many in tears, worked feverishly, survivors who could talk spoke of their split-second encounter with war.
Khalid Jabar Hussein, 49, with shrapnel in his arm, wrist and leg, said: “First I heard an aircraft and then the missile coming at us and I don’t know anything after that. I fell down.”
Sajaja Jaafur, one of five in her family who were injured, lay in her bed, crying with pain as she tried to turn to face her mother. Her lovely olive skin was torn, there was a tube in her nose and
a blood-stained dressing around her abdomen.
Samaan Kadhim,52, sedated with a bad gash on his back, said:”This was a civilian area, there were no soldiers. It was just a market.”
In the midst of all this, Dr Ahmed Sufian lashed out: “Our floors are covered with blood of our people, the walls are splashed with blood. Why, why, why? Why all this blood? I’m a doctor, but I can’t understand such things. They say [they] come to free us? Is this freedom?”
There was no overt support for Saddam Hussein, but all blamed the US for the bombing. There was no hostility towards western reporters invited by families to witness their grief.
“America did this to us,” said 50-year-old Kadhim Ali. “Why does it hate the Iraqi people?”
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