The evil, the grotesque and U.S. official lies

Published : May 09, 2003 00:00 IST

When U.S. `precision' bombing really is not so.

"So far, the liberators have succeeded only in freeing the souls of the Iraqis from their bodies."

- George Monbiot, April 1, 2003.1

"We had a great day. We killed a lot of people. We dropped a few civilians, but what do you do? I'm sorry... but the chick was in the way."

- U.S. Marine Sgt. Eric Schrumpf on March 29.2

THE U.S.-U.K. bombing of Iraq has caused widespread carnage that utterly discredits any notion of careful targeting and `precision' strikes. As of March 28, U.S. bombs and missiles had killed about 450 Iraqi civilians, injuring at least 1,000. Well over 800 Iraqi civilians died under U.S. projectiles since the start of the war, that is, more than 50 per day. In the week since March 28, U.S. "precision" projectiles have hit a vegetable market, countless homes, markets, a hospital, a trade fair, telephone exchanges, a bus, farms, a grain silo, a street outside an emptying mosque, the lawn of a women's university and so on.

By April 1, 700 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired and 8,000 bombs had been dropped [by 12 p.m. on March 29, the respective figures were 675 and 6,000; by 12 a.m. on March 27, and it was 600 and 4,300].3

U.S. commanders and pilots said they were taking great pains to limit casualties in their efforts to overthrow President Saddam Hussein. At the receiving end, Iraqi officials said over 50 civilians were pulverised by a blast at a busy marketplace in northwestern Baghdad on March 28.

Wherein lies the truth? Rageh Omaar of the BBC in Baghdad provides the answer:

"The people of this poor district on the outskirts of Baghdad have already made up their minds. Hundreds of them have come back to the scene of the tragedy today [March 29] to try to make sense of their plight. They say it was an American cruise missile that caused all this damage."4

Photos too provide an answer - the Reuters photographers Akram Saleh and Faleh Kheiber have done spectacular work. Many photos from various sources are collected in the "Shock and Awe" photo gallery.5 France's Le Monde headlined an article on April 2 - "More and More Iraqi Civilian Victims."6

The market district of al-Shu'la [Al Sholeh] is populated by poor Shiites, precisely those whom Washington seeks to `liberate'. Reports indicate 55 to 62 innocent civilians were incinerated and another 50 injured.7 The dead were quickly buried. The Iraq Peace Team (IPT) reported:

"The largest carnage of Iraqi civilians yet since the beginning of U.S. bombings occurred on March 28 at about 6 p.m. when a bomb fell on a heavily crowded open air market in the predominantly Shiite district of Al Sholeh in north Baghdad, a very poor neighbourhood. An IPT member visited the Al Naser Market the following day, observed the bomb site, and talked with neighbours and witnesses. The main hit was on an asphalted lane between a row of metal booths and a row of tents. The crater in the asphalt appeared to be about 1 metre deep and about 3 metres in diameter."8

Ikhlas Faiq, 25, who was treated later at the al-Noor hospital, recalls:

"When the rocket came, the whole area became dark. For a few minutes I couldn't see a thing. When I opened my eyes, I saw bodies and parts of bodies everywhere I looked."9

By late evening, 52 corpses passed through the al-Noor hospital. Even the battle-hardened doctors at Noor said this U.S. attack marked a fresh descent into horror:

"There were limbs torn off, and burns, multiple shrapnel injuries, head and chest injuries... [doctor Tarif Jamil said] I saw about six children - all dead - and at least three women."10

On the night of March 28, Navy commander Penfield was `apparently still buzzing', saying "I can't sleep yet."

Buzzing and exhilarated.

In the cloudless, star-lit night of Baghdad, the wailing of women emanating from a poor house was a beacon of grief. Inside, a dozen Iraqi women clad in full-length, black cloaks sat huddled on the floor, bobbing back and forth and sending piercing, high-pitched screams into the night of Baghdad. They mourned the three boys - aged 12, 18 and 12 - of the al-Hamdami family.11

Exhilaration and soul-wrenching grief co-existed as the day of March 28 faded away.

"It was all nice and calm in the city..."

Earlier on March 28, two other U.S. "guided" projectiles landed in the Al-Mansour neighbourhood of Baghdad, killing eight persons and injuring 33. Jo Wilding provided a first-hand account of what he saw on March 29:12

* A U.S. missile hit the middle of Palestine Street just outside the Omar Al Farouk mosque at about 4-15 p.m., just as people were leaving after prayers. Umar, a student at Rafidain College, fell. He had fragments of shrapnel about 3 cm-long removed from his liver and abdomen. Another U.S. missile hit three minutes later. Akael Zuhair was standing in front of his house opposite the mosque. He received `liberating' shrapnel wounds to his left shoulder, left chest, right forearm and possibly a piece is lodged in his brain. No one could guess what the intended U.S. target was.

Jo Wilding notes:

"Something is wrong. There are too many civilian casualties, too far from military targets, for all of these to be mistakes. Either they are hitting civilians on purpose, to whip up fear in the hope of spurring rebellion, or their weapons are not as precise as they say, in which case they are not suitable for use in an urban environment. There's no justification for using any weapons here, but if you cannot hit a military target without causing civilian casualties, you don't have the right to attack it."

On March 29, U.S. pilots targeted Baghdad's local telephone system, destroying telephone exchanges like the Mimoun International Communications centre.13 A target of military significance?

An Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist visited the farming community of Al-Janabiin [Janabiyah] on the southeastern edge of Baghdad. A night-time U.S. raid had destroyed three homes, killed 20 civilians [11 children, seven women and two men]. 14

A report, titled "Kids Became `Human Torches'", describes the scene at Janabiyah, where U.S. `precision' weapons hit:15

"Bloodied school books and children's shoes lie amidst animal carcasses on the road leading to the Ismail'a farm in this village... the main building of this hamlet, accessible via a checkpoint manned by militiamen, has been levelled, the second burned out and the third partially destroyed. A neighbour told an AFP journalist that two missiles fired by coalition [sic!] warplanes on Saturday night caught five sleeping families on the farm. The raid left 20 people dead... littered amongst the rubble spread over the grass were carcasses of four cows, their eye, nose and mouth cavities blackened by swarms of flies. Two dogs, sheep and chickens lay motionless nearby. `Five children were turned into human torches in this house because of the gas cylinders inside,' one of the survivors said, wondering how God spared him while four other family members were wounded. `Their bodies protected me because I was in a corner.'"

What might General Vincent Brooks have to say about how his precision missiles transformed five children into human torches?

Another six civilians were killed and six homes destroyed inside Baghdad in the al-Amin neighbourhood in east Baghdad.16 The Al-Salehia Telecommunications Centre of Baghdad was completely levelled by U.S. strikes on March 30. The magnitude of the destruction and the obviously injured persons were captured in a published photograph:

That same day, U.S. bombs fell into the industrial neighbourhood of al-Zafaraiya in southern Baghdad, killing another six civilians.

At 11 a.m. on March 31, a U.S. bomb struck the dirt-poor Shiite Muslim neighbourhood of Rahmaniya in Baghdad.17

A pre-dawn U.S. strike targeted the Iraqi Information Ministry, setting off fires in an adjacent shopping mall named after Saddam Hussein's birthday.18 Abu Dhabi television showed live footage of the raging fire, which it said was in the Ministry's press centre. A Tomahawk missile had hit the Ministry building early in the morning on March 29, gutting one floor and destroying many satellite dishes on the roof. But, it had also demolished neighbouring dwellings. Next door to the levelled telephone office in Baghdad's A'azamiah district, hit early in the morning on March 30, Adel Hussein al-Abdali, 70, told a crowd of journalists escorted to the site next to the Ministry:

"That Bush is a despicable coward. But we will be victorious with the help of God."

U.S. bombing also hit a cooking gas cylinder-filling factory in the southern city of Qurnah on the morning of March 29. The factory was located in a residential area of Qurnah, situated at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

On March 31, U.S. Marines in a Bradley fighting vehicle machine-gunned to death, 11 civilians at a U.S. Army check point on Route 9 near Najaf. The Iraqi family of 17 had left their village, packed into a 1974 Land Rover, wearing their best clothes "to look American" for the trip through the American lines. At least seven women and children died in the assault on a vehicle filled with civilians - Bakhat Hassan, 35, said from his hospital bed that he lost 11 members of his family [two daughters aged 2 and 5, a son aged 3, his parents, two older brothers and their wives, and two nieces aged 12 and 15].19 His wife, Lamea, 36, who is nine months pregnant, said she saw her three children die:

"I saw the heads of my two girls come off... my girls, I watched their heads come off their bodies. My son is dead." 20

"I watched their heads come off their bodies."

The captain in charge at the checkpoint blamed his own troops for ignoring orders to fire a warning shot.

Kim Sengupta of The Independent visited Manaria, a dusty farming village in Mohammedia district, about 50 km south of Baghdad. 21 She was 13 years old. She died before they got there. A U.S. missile fell on the dusty ground outside Samar Hussein's home on March 29 morning, leaving a small crater, pockmarks of shrapnel damage scattered across the walls of her house and the family's battered Toyota Cressida. Samar's mother, Hamida, 40, had just told Samar not to go outside. Wiping her eyes with her black chador, Hamida recounted:

"She just fell. I could see blood coming from her stomach. She was gasping, and as I ran to her she was crying, `Mama, Mama'... It was so terrible... There were others also hurt, and everyone was crying and screaming. We had to wait for a car because ours was so badly damaged. But I knew my Samar would not last until we got to the hospital. And that is what happened... she died in my arms..."

Hamida's voice faded away.

U.S. projectiles hit a cluster of villages - Manaria, Zambrania and Talkana - surrounded by fields. They buried 22 people and now care for another 53.

"The dead from [both] villages are buried in desolate rows of graves, at the Haj Khudair cemetery, a garden of sand and mud. The newest grave, a mound of gray earth, is that of Samar Hussein. In the rows behind her are the rest of the dead brought in during the last fortnight, matching many of the names in the hospital's casualty list. Daoud, the cemetery's caretaker, was re-arranging some palm fronds covering the graves. `There have been more people buried here in the last two weeks than in the last two years. I knew some of them. They were killed by the Americans and the British. They all had simple ceremonies, because none of these people are rich...'"

On April 1, another 66 to 81 Iraqi civilians were killed by American bombs and missiles. The following day, another 40 to 44 civilians were killed and over 200 injured. On April 3, air strikes in Baghdad killed 27 civilians and wounded 193 others.22 As the battle for Baghdad loomed, the rate of civilian casualties rose - with 100 to 125 being killed just in the first two days of April.

U.S.-British cluster bomb assaults upon villages [for example, Mazarek] around the city of al-Hillah in Babylon around lunchtime on March 31, killing another 48 to 60 civilians and wounding 300 others.23 Dozens of homes were destroyed in the U.S. bombing that also killed donkeys and chickens. Khalid Hallil, 21, in the Babylon General Hospital with a left thigh torn from knee to crotch from shrapnel, was inside his house three miles from the centre of town. His father Hamid explains:

"Metal just came from everywhere. Believe me, there were no soldiers in the area. Only civilians. There was no reason for attacking us in our homes. Tell your countrymen what is happening here. Let them see with their eyes instead of listening to Tony Blair's lying words. Look, this is reality - not the make-believe world of Bush and Blair."24

Hamida Abed lost 15 members of her family when U.S. cluster bombs landed on her home. Reuters and Associated Press representatives were permitted by Iraqi authorities to take their cameras into Hillah. The pictures showed babies cut in half and children with amputation wounds, apparently caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs.25 A 21-minute videotape was made, but was deemed too terrible to be show in public.

A bus was hit by tank fire near the city of al-Hillah in Babylon on April 3. Basem Hoki, a 38-year-old former construction worker, took a fateful bus ride south from Hillah on March 27. At Hillah hospital with a left arm now ending in a bloody stump, Hoki was one of only five survivors among the 35 in the bus. The Hillah hospital surgeon, Dr. Dhiya Sultani, said: "Many of the people on the bus were decapitated."26

Nader, 5, and his mother had escaped the U.S. onslaught upon al-Hillah, which killed dozens of civilians. The next day, Nader went out to play. He stepped upon one of America's liberating cluster bomblets. He was lucky, experiencing `only' damage to his right eye.27

A U.S. Apache helicopter fired a rocket late March 31 at the pickup truck of the al-Khafaji family in the area of Haidariya near al-Hillah, 80 km south of Baghdad. The family was fleeing the fighting in Nasiriyah. The father, the sole survivor, Razek al-Kazeem, lost 15 members of his family - his wife, six children, his father and mother, his three brothers and their wives.28

Robert Fisk reported on his visit to a `ladies education agricultural college' on the outskirts of Baghdad on April 1.29 A 20-foot crater from a U.S. projectile had disturbed the college lawn. Internal doors were torn from their hinges, desks overturned, beds thrown across rooms, but no one was hurt. Fisk found four black and white cows tethered in the grass, perhaps 10 meters from the crater. The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg reported on March 31: "A poor baklava seller, pitied by the entire neighbourhood, lost his wife, mother, sister, nephew, and two sons to American bombs."30 She goes on to describe the day's happenings:

"... Tragedy struck in Sueb [a suburb 35 km from the centre of Baghdad] when U.S. missiles killed six members of the family of the lowly baklava seller, Ali Abdul Rasul, and five others living in the same road. Twelve houses were destroyed in the blast, hastily built one-storey structures crumbled into the earth. `The people living in the area are the very poorest people. It really is so cruel that we are being hit,' said Taliya Al Mohammed, whose house, down the road from Mr. Rasul's, was strewn with shattered glass."

The close proximity of the houses in Sueb magnifies the impact of America's "liberating bombs".

On the morning of April 2, the Basra Sheraton was hit by four heavy artillery shells. The hotel's only guests were the al-Jazeera journalists.31 At 9:30 a.m., U.S. aircraft fired projectiles into a complex of buildings in Baghdad's al-Mansour district, housing the International Trade Fair.32 The Trade Fair was built in 1954 as a symbol of Iraq's new nationhood and it once housed 1,000 companies from 60 nations.33 But, the force of the explosions incinerated nearby cars, killed three to 10 civilians and wounded 25, and severely damaged a Red Crescent maternity hospital on the other side of the street. The hospital was renowned for providing a reliable service for those who could not afford the high fees of private clinics. The hospital's facade was destroyed as was its drug store. A ceiling in the waiting room had collapsed. A doctor said a total of ten patients and staff were injured at the hospital.34 The U.S. missiles obliterated wings of Baghdad's trade fair building that lay next to a government security office that was missed in the morning bombings! A foreign correspondent said five burned-out and twisted cars halted in the middle of the road with their drivers burned to death inside. A Greek doctor who had just sat down at 9-45 a.m. on April 2 to talk with doctors at the Red Crescent hospital, was shaken by four U.S. bombs striking across the street, Dr. Dimitrius Mognie said:

"We all fell to the floor, and the glass windows shattered all over us."35

Two women in the room were hurt. Dr. Mognie commented upon how Baghdad hospitals were running out of supplies. Critical surgeries were being carried out with only very light anaesthetics. Antibiotics and tetanus vaccines were running out.

On April 3, yet another `smart' bomb struck a vegetable market at Nahrawan on the southeastern edge of Baghdad, killing eight civilians and injuring five.36 Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf reported the same day that 27 civilians had been killed and 193 wounded in the U.S.-U.K. bombing of Baghdad on April 3.37

On the morning of April 4, the Khalaf family was getting up after a night of heavy bombardment. A correspondent of Britain's Mirror recounted:

"And I shall try to write what he and his family said in exactly the order they said it. I shall try because I hope it will better convey the bewilderment and horror that broke on one Iraqi household yesterday... Both sisters [Nadia and Alia]... were still in their nightclothes, dressing gowns loose around them. They said they had risen late because of all the shelling overnight. Like everyone else, they were talking about the electricity being cut off on Thursday night. Nadia was joking about going for a shower. Alia told her she'd probably be away for three hours... just waiting for some water. They were laughing. `I didn't hear any sound,' Alia says, `Suddenly a shell or bomb or something came through the room. I fell to the floor. My mouth was full of dust. I was swallowing dust. Then I looked at her.'

"The missile, something big and unexploded, had come through her chest and her heart. She was covered in blood, unconscious. I ran down to the street, Daddy and Mummy behind me, screaming for an ambulance. There wasn't any. A neighbour said he would drive us here to the hospital.

"`We all knew it was too late. But we hoped, we hoped.'

"Her father Najem Khalaf stood beside her corpse... `A shell came down into the room as she was standing by the dressing-table,' Najem says. `My daughter had just completed her Ph.D in Psychology and was waiting for her first job. She was born in 1970. She was 33. She was very clever. Everyone said I have a fabulous daughter. She spent all her time studying. Her head buried in books. She didn't have a care about going out enjoying herself. My other daughter is the same. She has a Master's degree in English and teaches at the University. Me? I'm just a lorry driver. A simple man.'" He holds out his dead daughter's identity card for us to see. His fingers are covered in her blood... "38

A litany of lies has spewed forth from the U.S. and U.K. officialdom, whose intent appears to be to capture the headlines regardless of the substance said.39

The thinking is that the general public remembers mostly `headlines', therefore priority must be to monopolise the headlines with claims [which later get retracted, but at no political cost].

The biggest official U.S. lie remains the constantly repeated claim - one endlessly intoned by the solemn U.S. corporate media choir with solos sung by `defence intellectuals' - that unprecedented precision bombing is taking place in Iraq, bombing which largely spares civilians.

The mainstream corporate media have, alas, once again blindly accepted Pentagon claims of `precise' and `surgical' bombing. After the first night of U.S. attacks, NBC's Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski pontificated: "Every weapon is precision guided - deadly accuracy designed to kill only the targets, not innocent civilians."40 The initial spin about `deadly accuracy' would later give away to simply ignoring compelling evidence [from Britain] that the U.S. had bombed and killed many civilians, for example, parroting the Pentagon claim of having no knowledge of the deadly attack on the al-Shu'la market.41 When U.S. Marines machine-gun Iraqi civilians at a checkpoint outside Najaf, most of the mainstream U.S. media prefer the Pentagon's sanitised version.42

In point of fact, U.S. bombing during Iraq War II has to-date been over three times as deadly to civilians as that of Iraq War I notwithstanding the dramatic use of so-called precision weapons.

Egypt's leading newspaper, Al-Ahram, said in an editorial on April 2 that the `clean war' had become the dirtiest of wars, the bloodiest and the most destructive. Smart weapons have become deliberately stupid, blindly killing people in markets and popular neighbourhoods.43 Even the Red Cross said its doctors who visited southern Iraq saw "incredible" levels of civilian casualties.44 A Red Cross spokesperson in Baghdad mentioned a truckload of dismembered women and children in al-Hillah. And as American tanks blasted their way into the western suburbs of Baghdad on April 5, they pulverised more homes and a truck driver witnessed children `flying in the air'.45

American tanks firing... and on the receiving end, Iraqi children flying in the air.

"It was all nice and calm in the city... [but] once those bombs hit all hell broke loose."

Marc W. Herold is a Professor at the Departments of Economics and Women's Studies, University of New Hampshire, Durham, United States.

The Mirror

3. "Iraq: More Than 350 Killed in First Week of War", Middle East Online [March 27, 2003 at 12:14].

6. "De Plus en Plus de Victimes Civiles Irakiennes", Le Monde [2 avril, 2003].

7. Craig Nelson, "Another Market, Another Blast and Iraqis Blame the U.S.", [March 29, 2003].

The Guardian10. Goldenberg, op.cit.11. Nelson, op.cit.

12. Jo Wilding, "I am his mother" [datelined Baghdad, March 29, 2003].

13. Robert Fisk, "Bombing of Phone System Another Little Degradation", The Independent [March 29, 2003].

14. "Twenty Civilians Killed When Raid Hit Farm", Yahoo!News [March 31, 2003 at 21:30 PM] citing AFP.

15. "Kids became `Human Torches'", News24 [South Africa] [March 31, 2003 at 19:36].

17. From Anthony Shadid, "A Boy Who Was `Like a Flower'. The Sky Exploded and Arkan Daif, 14, was Dead", Washington Post [March 31, 2003], p.AO1.

18. Hamza Hendawi, "Airstrikes Target Iraq's Information Ministry", Associated Press [March 30, 2003].

19. "You Didn't Fire a Warning Shot Soon Enough!", The Guardian [April 1, 2003].

The Independent

23. Detailed accounts may be found in Anton Antonowicz and Mike Moore [from inside Babylon General Hospital], "Bombs fall on Babyon", The Mirror [April 3, 2003], and in Robert Fisk, "Wailing Children, the Wounded, the dead: Victims of the Day Cluster Bombs Rained Down in Babylon", The Independent [April 3, 2003].

24. Antonowicz, op.cit.

25. Robert Fisk and Justin Huggler, "Children Killed and Maimed in Bomb Attack on Town", The Independent [April 2, 2003].

San Francisco Chronicle

27. "Iraqi Children Maimed at Play", Islam [April 2, 2003], with photo of Nader.

28. "48 More Civilians Killed South of Baghdad", Middle East Online [April 1, 2003 at 17:23].

29. Robert Fisk, "Cows and Armed Guards on A College Campus. Where is the Truth Amid All This Subterfuge?", The Independent [April 2, 2003].

The Guardian

31. Jason Deans, "Al-Jazeera's Basra Hotel Bombed", The Guardian [April 2, 2003].

32. Simon Jeffrey and agencies, "Baghdad Hospital Bombed", The Guardian [April 2, 2003].

The Mirror

34. Samia Nakhoul, "U.S. Raid Hits Iraqi Hospital, Cause Casualties", Reuters [April 2, 2003 at 11.56 AM ET].

The Guardian

36. "Missile Kills Eight Iraqi Civilians in Baghdad", Middle East Online [April 3, 2003 at 03:17].

37. "Iraq: 27 Killed in Bombing of Baghdad. Thursday", Middle East Online [April 3, 2003 at 13:57].

The MirrorAsia Times

43. Michel Sailhan [Cairo], "TV Pictures of Civilian Casualties Heighten Arab Anger", Middle East Online [April 2, 2003 at 16:06].

45. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Amid the Casualties and Chaos, A Sudden Appearance by Saddam", The Guardian [April 5, 2003].

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