Civilian Deaths From Airstrikes on Baghdad Fuel Rising Anger
Tuesday 25 March 2003
BAGHDAD -- Saman Atef was finishing a late breakfast Monday when he heard a long, whining whoosh. Before he had time to ponder the noise, three of his neighbors' houses exploded in a rain of bricks, glass and dust.
In the instant the bomb or missile hit, four people were killed and 23 were injured, Atef said, and the people of his working-class neighborhood of northern Baghdad counted one more reason to feel angry with the United States.
Just before the midday attack, a robust-looking President Saddam Hussein had appeared on state television in military uniform and exhorted Iraqis to attack the U.S. and British enemy.
"Cut their throats and even their fingers," Hussein urged. "Strike them and strike evil so that evil will be defeated."
The U.S. war strategy has counted in part on separating the people of Iraq from the government of Hussein.
But the deaths and injuries from misdirected or errant bombs, or from shrapnel and fragments that spray into nearby homes even when the munitions find their intended target, are making more and more people believe that the United States is heedless of the Iraqi public.
The danger to coalition forces is that when the decisive battle comes, many will rally to Hussein and take up arms against the U.S. and British troops.
Information Minister Mohammed Said Sahaf said Monday that 62 civilians had been "martyred" in the last 24 hours across Iraq and that hundreds had been injured.
Although his figures could not be independently verified, the perception among Iraqis is that civilian as well as government and military sites are being deliberately targeted by the Americans.
Atef's Radiha Khatoun neighborhood, for instance, is a dense warren of ordinary houses. Residents all denied that there are any government or military sites around, and none were visible.
From the start of the war, Iraqi state television has played up civilian casualties, with pictures of the dead and wounded stock fare on newscasts.
The issue is fanning passions just when Hussein most needs the loyalty of the population for the upcoming battle for Baghdad.In a sign that the battle is drawing near, huge explosions erupted in the eastern and southern suburbs around midnight Monday, evidently caused by B-52 bombers dropping their payloads on the camps of Hussein's Republican Guard.
A sandstorm howled and black clouds from oil fires swirled over the city, giving it an ominous, apocalyptic air. Gigantic flashes of orange could be seen on the horizon -- followed by deep thuds of the massive blasts.
U.S.-led forces have already encountered unexpectedly fierce resistance from irregular fighters and volunteers who have taken to sniping at the rear lines of their advance.
So far, the invading forces have been met more with clenched fists than open arms. This has been true even in cities and towns with large Shiite populations that rose up against Hussein after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The question is whether the same will happen in Baghdad.
In Radiha Khatoun, residents suggested it would. They discounted U.S. claims that it seeks to avoid civilian targets and that the bombing must have been in error.
"This is not the first time that they have targeted civilian buildings," Atef insisted. "They would like to destroy the civilian population."
In response to the destruction, he said, "we will sacrifice ourselves. We are not frightened by the bombing -- we are motivated to be stronger."
He spoke as scores of people from the neighborhood gathered to watch grimly as an earthmover cleared bricks from the destroyed homes that were blocking the narrow lane in front.
Blue-suited firefighters with red-and-white helmets used hoes and their bare hands to sift through the debris, looking for the corpse of a 70-year-old woman presumed to have been crushed in her home. On the ground, a plastic slipper lay in a puddle of water and a black shawl spilled out from the bulldozer's scoop.
Standing in front of his destroyed home, Thamur Sheikel, a 53-year-old Oil Ministry employee, said he had returned from work to find his house no longer standing and his older sister and two young nephews killed.
"Bush is cursed," he said, biting off the words. "They want to destroy the people. Maybe God will destroy them. Revenge on Bush for this aggression. We are peaceful people; we do no harm to anybody."
The mood was similarly dark at nearby Al Nouman Hospital, where doctors treated survivors. Aqeel Khalil, 27, the husband of one of the dead, sat on the floor outside the locked door of the morgue, sobbing and asking why his wife and his mother had to die.
"There is no military site in my house, and there is no gun in my house," he managed to say through his tears.
"We do the best to save the lives of our people," Dr. Labib Salman said. "This does not make us hesitate to defend our country."
Besides appealing to Iraqis to fight, Hussein's speech was apparently designed to debunk suggestions that he had been killed or seriously injured during an attack by U.S. cruise missiles early Thursday, the opening day of the war.
Rather than being defeated, Hussein said Iraqi fighters were "causing the enemy to suffer and to lose every day.... As time goes by, they will lose more and they will not be able to escape lightly from their predicament," he said, in what was touted as a live appearance.
The speech got good reviews from Hussein loyalists in Baghdad who watched it.
"Today is like a wedding for me. Or it is like being born again. It is so good to hear our president speak," said Kamil Obedish, who said he felt encouraged enough to reopen the cafe that he had closed a few days earlier.
Obedish spoke in the presence of government representatives.
"After hearing his speech, I can say that I am convinced we have already won," he said. "They can't do anything to our president. They will never get him with their clever bombs. Because he is smarter than any of their bombs. He is smarter than all of them."
Iz Den, a member of Hussein's Baath Party and a retiree, was manning a sandbag fortification on Sadoun Street, one of the city's many shopping areas.
"There was this propaganda and rumors that he could be dead after they bombed all his palaces," Den said. "But here he is, alive and healthy! It is a big jubilation for us."
Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz, at a news conference Monday, said that Hussein was well and firmly in control of the government.
He said he wasn't worried about the thousands of U.S. troops coming to Baghdad in convoys that stretch to the horizon, their vehicles brimming with advanced weaponry.
"They will be welcomed in the same way as they were welcomed in Umm al Qasr, Al Faw and Nasariyah, and as they were welcomed by that Iraqi peasant who brought that Apache helicopter down," Aziz said, referring to the battles in the south of the country where the U.S.-led troops have suffered setbacks in recent days.
"We will be receiving them with the best music they have ever heard."
Anger Builds as Marines Wage Bloody Street Fight
By Dexter Filkins and Michael Wilson
New York Times | Chicago Tribune
Tuesday 25 March 2003
NASIRIYAH, Iraq -- U.S. Marines battled their way into the heart of this city Monday, but they appeared to be stepping into just the sort of urban imbroglio they long had been hoping to avoid.
After heavy fighting here Sunday, in which at least nine Americans were killed in an ambush, the Marines found themselves wading into a protracted street fight Monday that took them into the heart of a populated area.
Helicopter gunships fired rockets into the city, and residents of Nasiriyah complained that the air raids had killed and injured scores of civilians.
The Marines countered that the Iraqis were using civilians as shields, pushing women and children into the streets to drive up the civilian body count. They also said Iraqi men were leaping out of buses and taxis to shoot at them.
The fighting continued until sunset, with the Marines gaining control of much of the urban center but sustaining an unknown number of casualties.
Necessary as it may have been, Monday's battle was hardly the sort of warfare that American commanders had envisioned to convince the Iraqi population of America's good intentions. For U.S. commanders, winning the war means destroying the Baghdad government, but it also includes a concerted effort to avoid the kind of urban fighting that might enrage the Iraqi people.
"No Iraqi will support what the Americans are doing here," said a man at a U.S. checkpoint at the city limits who gave his name as Nawaf. "If they want to go to Baghdad, that's one thing, but now they have come into our cities, and all Iraqis will fight them."
In interviews Monday, residents of Nasiriyah, including Nawaf, said that American bombs dropped on the city in the morning had killed 10 Iraqi civilians and injured up to 200.
Some of the Iraqis conceded that loyalists to President Saddam Hussein had operated bases inside the city center. But many Nasiriyah residents, including those who said they oppose Hussein, expressed outrage at the first entrance of U.S. troops into an Iraqi city.
In the chaos of the fighting, it was impossible to verify the Iraqi claims of civilian deaths. An American commander said Monday night that the fighting had taken troops into the heart of the city, and he did not discount the possibility that Iraqi civilians could have been killed.
Col. Glenn Starnes, the commander of an artillery battalion firing on Nasiriyah, placed responsibility for any civilian deaths on the Iraqi soldiers who drew the Marines into the populated areas.
"We will engage the enemy wherever he is," Starnes said.
Nasiriyah, a southern Iraqi city that spans the Euphrates River, is coveted by American commanders for a pair of bridges that could be used to help a Marine division move north toward Baghdad.
The battle began Sunday when a group of American Marines, trying to retrieve four wounded comrades, ran into heavy fire from Iraqi soldiers. The fighting left nine Marines dead, in addition to up to 10 others who appeared to have been killed in an earlier ambush.
On Monday, the Marines said they had begun to gain the upper hand, as the steady bombardment from artillery and air power enabled them to move toward the north of the city.
Despite the progress, the battle appeared to be turning into a messy street battle. The Marines estimated that up to 400 enemy fighters remained in the city, but that figure seemed sketchy, with Marines complaining that they were having trouble distinguishing between civilians and combatants.
By deciding to pursue their enemy into the city center, the Americans appeared to have enraged many of the Iraqis who live there, including those who said they were predisposed to support the U.S.-led effort.
One of those, Mustafa Mohammed Ali, a medical assistant at the Saddam Hospital, said he had spent much of the day hauling dead and wounded civilians out of buildings that had been bombed by the Americans. Mustafa said the Americans' failure to discriminate between enemy fighters and Iraqi civilians had turned him decisively against the U.S. invasion.
"I saw how the Americans bombed our civilians with my own eyes," Mustafa said, and he held up a bloodied sleeve to show how he had dragged them into the ambulances.
"You want to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime?" Mustafa said. "Go to Baghdad. What are you doing here? What are you doing in our cities?"
Missile Strike Shatters a House, and a Family Attack on Neighborhood Evokes Anger at U.S.
By Anthony Shadid
Tuesday 25 March 2003
BAGHDAD -- Breakfast was simple, but late. Days of bombing had left the Khalil family sleepless. When a respite arrived at noon today, a moment of ease in an uneasy time, they sat down, picking anxiously at boiled eggs, tomatoes and bread.
Nine-year-old Shahid told stories, and her 12-year-old brother, Ahmed, laughed. The older family members, with harrowing memories of bombings in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, sat uneasily, their silence an eloquent testament to worry.
Then a whisper sounded, ever so slight. In seconds, the house was shattered by a cruise missile, the family said. Um Aqeel, the mother of five children, and her daughter-in-law, Sahar, were killed. Two sons and a daughter were wounded.
Hours later, weary and angry, Aqeel, the oldest son, looked out at his bandaged siblings laying dazed in their hospital beds.
"There are no soldiers in my home, there's no gun in my home!" he shouted. "How can God accept this?"
In five days of bombing, the United States and Britain have hurled hundreds of cruise missiles and bombs at Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. For the most part, their precision is stunning, carving out craters in the domes of presidential palaces and gaping holes in the sides of fearsome intelligence headquarters that dot the capital. Even by the official Iraqi count, hundreds of civilians have been wounded but only a handful killed, despite a furious assault that has left the capital jittery and afraid.
But the arithmetic of war makes mistakes inevitable -- blasts gutted the student union at Mustansiriya University on Sunday and a cluster of homes in the Qadisiya neighborhood last week. Adhimiya, a working-class quarter, may have witnessed another mistake, a snapshot of the horrors of war and the scenes of resentment and revenge that lay in their wake.
In a warren of narrow alleys, perched uncomfortably beside a trench of burning oil that cloaked the neighborhood in a blinding, black haze, at least three houses were destroyed by the blast, which blew out the windows of others in an arc around the detonation.
Cream-colored brick and cinder blocks were strewn across the muddy street. Rubble poured forth from a crater that left the homes resembling an archaeological dig. Nearby rested the artifacts of domesticity -- a mattress spring, a brown scarf and a green plastic bowl.
Residents insisted no military or government site was nearby, and none was visible from the limited vantage point of the street. Journalists were accompanied by government escorts to the hospital where the wounded received treatment.
Neighbors said that at the sound of the blast and the smell of smoke, they rushed into the houses, pushing aside furniture and rubble to search for those buried by it. Dirt particles were suspended in the air. Five minutes later, sirens announced the arrival of ambulances, which took the four dead and 27 wounded to Noman Hospital.
At the hospital, the head of 14-year-old Ali, another son in the Khalil family, was wrapped in a bandage. He stared blankly at the ceiling. His sister, Shahid, lay motionless. Her fingernails were painted in sparkles and ringed by dried blood.
The face of his brother Ahmed was still bloodied. A bandage sat like a helmet on his forehead.
"We trust in God, what can we do?" Ahmed said softly, curled in a fetal position. "I'm safe and alive. That's most important."
A doctor, Abdullah Abed Ali, leaned over to a visitor. He whispered, out of earshot of Ahmed.
"He doesn't know that his mother has died," he said, shaking his head.
Relatives ran into the hospital ward. Their eyes were red. Aqeel, the oldest brother whose wife's body was in the morgue, rested his head on the shoulder of one. He started sobbing. "It fell on us," he said, his voice cracking. "It fell on us."
In Adhimiya, militiamen and civil defense workers in red helmets picked through the rubble, searching for 70-year-old Khowla Abdel-Fattah. Workers shoveled dirt to the side, and a bulldozer carted away brick and concrete. Sewage from broken pipes poured into the street, lapping at the rubble. Without saying a word, as a baby cried nearby, neighbors passed around gnarled, fused pieces of metal they said were left by the blast of the missile.
Neighbors lined up to watch the workers dig clumsily through the rubble, now a makeshift grave. There were no chants for President Saddam Hussein, as there are in so many officially sanctioned public gatherings. There were no cries of "God is greatest." There was only silence, the shock of the devastation.
As the bulldozer crashed through another crumbling wall of his house, Abdel-Fattah's brother, Thamir Sheikhly, cried out.
"Bush is cursed!" he shouted. "This is a civilian building, a civilian building, 100 percent. There are no weapons of mass destruction. He wants to destroy the people. Maybe God will destroy him."
For a moment, he was quiet, then spoke again. "We'll have our revenge with Bush."
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