Stricken civilians blame US for market blast
By Paul Eedle in Baghdad, FT.com site
Published: Mar 30, 2003
Ali Khodeir ran out of the house into the market when he heard the aeroplane in the sky. An instant later, a rocket exploded in the crowd around him and now he lies in pain in a hospital bed surrounded by his bewildered, tearful brothers.
"My brother ran out to see what was happening. That's quite normal," Ahmed Khodeir said. The blast of the explosion tore through the house, killing their 11-year-old nephew and driving shrapnel into their sister's stomach.
On the other side of the ward, Ikhlas Faiq weeps silently as her black-clad mother brings her son to visit her. She had just gone shopping. Nearby, 20-year-old Saddam Hussein Jassim sits in bed staring quietly into space, white bandages bound round the stump of his left arm.
Eleven days on, America's war to "liberate" Iraq means only inexplicable grief to these poor Shia Muslims from the suburb of Shu'la in north-east Baghdad.
Dr Inam Mohammed says 62 were killed and 49 injured when the rocket hit their market on Friday evening. They have no idea why they should have been hit.
It is conceivable that the rocket was an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile that failed to self-destruct after missing its target. But people on the scene have no doubt America is to blame.
"I don't believe it was a mistake," says Khayri Abbas, a shopkeeper who lives near the market told journalists visiting the scene.
"The proof is that the same plane was there the day before. Also, a mistake is when a rocket misses a building by a small margin - but there's no building here to be hit. There's no telephone exchange, no ministry, no party headquarters. Look around - you can see this is a popular area, a market where people come to do their shopping, buy food and go home."
In the children's ward of the Nur hospital, Dr Mohammed says surgeons managed to save the lives of one-year-old Sajjar Jaafar and her two-year-old brother Sajjad. But all three of their older brothers and sisters were killed. The children lie in next-door beds, tiny against the adult pillows, frightened by the press of journalists and cameramen bussed in to see their suffering.
Dr Mohammed worked through the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the Gulf war in 1991 but she has never seen anything like this. "This is such a disaster. This is the first time for me to see such people in a market and homes, and so many children dead."
These are only the civilian casualties within easy reach of the international media in their central Baghdad hotel. The government says many more have died in other towns across the southern half of the country, including 26 killed in one day in the holy city of Najaf, outside which Iraqi forces halted the Americans' drive to Baghdad last week.
In Basra, the government says 115 civilians have been killed and 659 injured.