The Guardian UK
Wednesday 02 April 2003
Dozens of Iraqi villagers were killed and injured in a ferocious American air and land assault near the Iraqi city of Babylon, hospital officials in the town said yesterday.
Reuters reporters on the scene confirmed the deaths of at least nine children, two other civilians and two Iraqi fighters at Hilla in a bombardment on Monday night and early yesterday morning.
An Iraqi hospital official said the death toll stood at 33 civilians, with more than 300 wounded.
Unedited TV footage from Babylon hospital, which was seen by the Guardian, showed the tiny corpse of a baby wrapped up like a doll in a funeral shroud and carried out of the morgue on a pink pallet.
It was laid face-to-face on the pavement against the body of a boy, who looked about 10.
Horrifically injured bodies were heaped into pick-up trucks, and were swarmed by relatives of the dead, who accompanied them for burial.
Bed after bed of injured women and children were pictured along with large pools of blood on the floor of the hospital.
"All of these are due to the American bombing to the civilian homes. Hundreds of civilians have been injured, and many have been killed," said Nazim al-Adali, an Edinburgh-trained doctor at the hospital, who appealed to his "colleagues" in England to protest against the bombings.
Among the injured in the women's ward was Aliya Mukhtaf, who said her husband and her six children were killed in the attack. The TV pictures also showed a teenage boy with bandages over the stump where his right hand was sheared off by shrapnel.
"There are not any army cars or tanks in the area," said Dr al-Adali, who claimed cluster bombs had been used.
Several of those interviewed on TV described large tank movements as the US tried to advance the final 50 miles to Baghdad.
"God take our revenge on America," a stunned man said repeatedly at the hospital. Hospital staff said the man's whole family was wiped out.
"What has he done wrong, what has he done wrong?" the driver of a pick-up truck ferrying the dead said as he held the body of an infant.
Residents said US forces had attacked the town on Monday but were pushed back by regular and irregular Iraqi forces. As the Americans retreated, they shelled the town, the residents said. One US soldier was reported killed in the action on Monday.
The US marines are fighting for control of Kerbala, Hilla and Najaf. Najaf, the third holiest city of Shia Muslims, is regarded as strategically important by the US in its attempts to try to win over Shia Muslims against the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim.
Any damage by a stray bomb to the Tomb of Ali in Najaf risks incurring the wrath of the Shia Muslims not only in Iraq but in Iran. US intelligence claims Iraqi fighters have holed up in the tomb .
The task of dislodging the Iraqi forces from Najaf is proving daunting. For the first time in the conflict, US forces have been forced to engage in street fighting, which could become more difficult the closer they get to the centre: there is a warren of alleyways round the tomb. The American servicemen, their technological advantage neutralised by the narrow streets and lanes, face having to resort to more crude weapons: US infantrymen have already been seen in Najaf with fixed bayonets.
The US and British governments have expressed disap pointment that, contrary to expectations, the Shia Muslims have failed to embrace them.
US Brigadier General Benjamin Freakley, of the 101st Airborne division fighting in Najaf, told the New York Times that by taking Najaf "we want the oppressed to feel hopeful and the oppressors to feel hopelessness. Hope can put bravery in the hearts of men."
US army intelligence, according to a Washington Post reporter with forces in Najaf, estimates that there are about 2,000 Iraqi fighters in the city, made up of Saddam's Fedayeen and Jerusalem Army militia.
The 101st Airborne division exchanged rounds with Iraqi artillery yesterday. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Bennett, commander of the division's artillery, told reporters: "I've got 30 cannons and I'm shooting them all. I never shot so much in my life. I need some more bullets."
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