Traumatised Iraqis hunt their dead as Baghdad falls to US troops

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ahmad Musa

Safar 14, 1424 2003-04-16

Occupied Arab World

by Ahmad Musa (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 4, Safar, 1424)

Reality of America’s ‘clean war’ emerging despite propaganda

The US made great play of jubilation in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on April 9, when the US invasion seemed to have forced the collapse of the Iraqi regime. Although official US spokesmen — cautious since being embarrassed by unexpectedly heavy Iraqi resistance in the early stages of the war — emphasised that the war was not over, unofficially they encouraged and were happy to see the media declaring victory. Much was made of the staged scenes of Iraqis destroying a statue of Saddam Hussain (with the help of an American armoured vehicle); there was little mention of the fact that when the US troops raised an American flag, it had to be taken down again because of Iraqi protests.

The fall of Baghdad was the culmination of intense military pressure on the city’s defences that began on April 1, when US army and marine units pushed through Iraqi Republican guard and army units defending the southern approaches to Baghdad. This cautious advance followed a week of intense aerial and artillery bombardment of Iraqi targets in and around the city, which continued over subsequent days. For all the talk of a quick, clean victory, the reality is of a massive slaughter of Iraqis as US and British troops used their undisputed control of the air and their immense technical supremacy to destroy Iraqi defences.

Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the US "shock and awe" policy of physically and psychologically crushing any enemy of US imperialism, gloated: "To appreciate why we’re making such progress, you have to understand the extraordinary advantages our forces have over the Iraqis. It’s a matter of overwhelming might. Our air power is unstoppable. And our ground power has massive capability to destroy the enemy with minimum losses to us." (New York Post, April 3.)

The result has been a slaughter of Iraqi troops and others which may even exceed that of 1991, when more than 100,000 Iraqis were killed in a war that was supposedly characterised by ‘precision’ bombing. By the end of March, the US was admitting to have used over 12,000 ‘smart’ bombs and many times as many dumb ones. The Washington Post reported on April 2 that the 12,000-strong Medina Republican Guard Division positioned around the town of Karbala had suffered a "relentless pounding in recent days by Air Force planes, including B-52 bombers." The Post commented: "Scores of blown-up Iraqi vehicles and dozens of bodies lined the roads as the US troops passed by."

The Los Angeles Times reported that "burned and blasted wreckage of Iraqi military vehicles littered the sides of Route 9 just east of Karbala." The Associated Press reported on April 3 that the road from Karbala to Baghdad was lined with "hundreds of burning vehicles, both civilian and military" and added that "hundreds of dead Iraqis, most in uniform, lay next to the vehicles."

The British Guardian reported on April 3 that the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard defending the town of Kut and the southeastern approaches to the capital had suffered "intense" bombardment over the past week. This included the dropping of two 15,000-pound "daisy cutter" fuel-air bombs on their positions. Daisy-cutters detonate above the ground, engulfing a square mile in a firestorm that sucks out all oxygen, incinerating or asphyxiating everyone in the area.

Other munitions used include a new generation of cluster-bombs, described by opponents as a genuine "weapon of mass destruction." Cluster-bombs are large bombs designed to launch thousands of smaller ones over a large area, killing or maiming hundreds of people at a time. There is no such thing as a ‘precision’ cluster-bomb. A clear pattern has emerged of cluster-bomb use in towns such as Basra, Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad itself; basically, wherever Iraqis have resisted Western advances.

This is the reality behind bland or celebratory Western claims that resistance was minimal, or that Iraqi troops "melted away" as US troops advanced. This is the reality behind military jargon stating that Iraqi defences had been "degraded" or "rendered ineffective".

The US attack on Baghdad itself was similarly bloody. American forces first entered the city on April 3, fighting their way to the centre over subsequent days until the scenes reported on April 9. Columns of US tanks and other armoured vehicles rampaged through the city’s suburbs, seeking out the disorganized and outgunned resistance, and calling air-strikes onto positions which proved stubborn.

Figures compiled from official and unofficial sources suggest that at least 2,000 Iraqis were killed in clashes on April 3 and April 4 on the approaches to and within Baghdad’s international airport (which the US claimed to have taken with minimal resistance). The American military claims as many as 3,000 Iraqis were killed on April 5 during a three-hour assault through southwestern Baghdad by tanks from the Third Infantry Division. At least 1,000 Iraqis are believed to have been killed on April 7 during the US tank assault on the Republican presidential palace on the banks of the Tigris. Hundreds more are estimated to have been killed during the eight hours of fighting on April 8 in both the south and east of Baghdad, as US forces pushed into the centre of the city to attack the main headquarters of Iraq’s government and military.

The casualties among Iraqi civilians have been horrific. Journalists for Arab television networks and newspapers, the British Guardian and Independent and the Washington Post have all testified that large numbers of civilians were killed or wounded by US and British forces as they crushed resistance in Baghdad, Basra and other Iraqi cities and towns. The US military, in particular, has indiscriminately bombed civilian areas and targeted civilian vehicles.

A dispatch filed on April 8 for the Washington Post by correspondent Anthony Shadid cited a wounded man at Baghdad’s Kindi hospital, who said, "I’m a civilian. My car was attacked. They attacked my car." Another man wounded by shrapnel in an artillery barrage during the attack on April 5 on southern Baghdad stated: "We didn’t do anything to them. I was 100 percent sure they would not shoot at a civilian. Now I’m 100 percent sure they will." A man from the southern suburb of Yamama accused US forces of "firing at any car, any person." The hospital was reportedly stacking bodies on top of one another in its morgue.

Robert Fisk of the Independent wrote on April 8 about the civilian casualties he had seen in Kindi hospital: a two-and-a-half-year-old boy dying, a man who saw a family blown to pieces in front of him by a US bomb, an 11-year-old girl with her stomach torn open by shrapnel.

Britain’s Daily Mirror on April 8 published a report under the headline "Boy Bomb Victim Struggles Against Despair," which read, in part: "Ali Ismaeel Abbas, 12, was fast asleep when war shattered his life. A missile obliterated his home and most of his family, leaving him orphaned, badly burned–and blowing off both his arms."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 100 civilian casualties per hour were being brought into Baghdad’s hospitals during the first week of April. Morphine and other medicines were running out, staff were exhausted and operating facilities were stretched to the limit. The WHO reported amputations being performed without anesthesia.

There have been reports of similar carnage from towns all over the south of the country. A correspondent for the Saudi Arabian-based Arab News interviewed a wounded resident of the small town of Sanawa on April 8: "One Iraqi soldier would fire a few shots at a fighter plane, and they [the US aircraft] will respond with a barrage of shots killing as many as 50 civilians in the effort to get him."

Arab News reported on April 9 from a residential neighbourhood of Najaf that had been devastated by US aircraft attempting to destroy a column of Iraqi military trucks: "Many Iraqi military vehicles were abandoned, burned out after being targeted by US planes. A resident of the street, who said his uncle and sister were killed in the bombings, told Arab News: ‘I think the Americans wanted to destroy these military trucks, but in order to do that they had to destroy our neighbourhood three streets deep.’ Just yards from these trucks lay the rubble of what once were civilian homes, completely destroyed–houses, shelters and cars."

On top of the loss of life inflicted on the Iraqi people, many of their cities and towns have been devastated. The power generation and communication infrastructure has been destroyed or damaged. Water and drainage mains have been ruptured, cutting off water supplies of clean water and flooding suburbs with raw sewage. Bridges, highways and thousands of government and civilian buildings have been reduced to rubble.

While a few Iraqis may have expressed relief at the end of both Saddam Hussain’s regime and the US attack on the city, many, many more were slaughtered in the bloodbath with which the US and Britain responded to the unexpected courage and resistance they met from Iraqis seeking to resist an imperialist invasion of their country. That is the reality of the American-British war that will scar Iraq and the Iraqis for generations, regardless of the official version of history that will be written by the victors.

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