Donald Rumsfeld says the American attack on
is "as targeted an air campaign as has ever existed" but he should not try
telling that to five-year-old Doha Suheil. She looked at me yesterday
morning, drip feed attached to her nose, a deep frown over her small face
as she tried vainly to move the left side of her body. The cruise missile
that exploded close to her home in the Radwaniyeh suburb of Baghdad
blasted shrapnel into her tiny legs they were bound up with gauze and,
far more seriously, into her spine. Now she has lost all movement in her
Her mother bends over the bed and straightens her right leg which the
little girl thrashes around outside the blanket. Somehow, Doha's mother
thinks that if her child's two legs lie straight beside each other, her
daughter will recover from her paralysis. She was the first of 101
patients brought to the Al-Mustansaniya College Hospital after America's
blitz on the city began on Friday night. Seven other members of her family
were wounded in the same cruise missile bombardment; the youngest, a
one-year-old baby, was being breastfed by her mother at the time.
There is something sick, obscene about these hospital visits. We bomb.
They suffer. Then we turn up and take pictures of their wounded children.
The Iraqi minister of health decides to hold an insufferable press
conference outside the wards to emphasise the "bestial" nature of the
American attack. The Americans say that they don't intend to hurt
children. And Doha Suheil looks at me and the doctors for reassurance, as
if she will awake from this nightmare and move her left leg and feel no
So let's forget, for a moment, the cheap propaganda of the regime and the
equally cheap moralising of Messrs Rumsfeld and Bush, and take a trip
around the Al-Mustansaniya College Hospital. For the reality of war is
ultimately not about military victory and defeat, or the lies about
"coalition forces" which our "embedded" journalists are now peddling about
an invasion involving only the Americans, the British and a handful of
Australians. War, even when it has international legitimacy which this
war does not is primarily about suffering.
Take 50-year-old Amel Hassan, a peasant woman with tattoos on her arms and
legs but who now lies on her hospital bed with massive purple bruises on
her shoulders they are now twice their original size who was on her
way to visit her daughter when the first American missile struck Baghdad.
"I was just getting out of the taxi when there was a big explosion and I
fell down and found my blood everywhere," she told me. "It was on my arms,
my legs, my chest." Amel Hassan still has multiple shrapnel wounds in her
Her five-year-old daughter Wahed lies in the next bed, whimpering with
pain. She had climbed out of the taxi first and was almost at her aunt's
front door when the explosion cut her down. Her feet are still bleeding
although the blood has clotted around her toes and is staunched by the
bandages on her ankles and lower legs. Two little boys are in the next
room. Sade Selim is 11; his brother Omar is 14. Both have shrapnel wounds
to their legs and chest.
Isra Riad is in the third room with almost identical injuries, in her case
shrapnel wounds to the legs as she ran in terror from her house into her
garden as the blitz began. Imam Ali is 23 and has multiple shrapnel wounds
in her abdomen and lower bowel. Najla Hussein Abbas still tries to cover
her head with a black scarf but she cannot hide the purple wounds to her
legs. Multiple shrapnel wounds. After a while, "multiple shrapnel wounds"
sounds like a natural disease which, I suppose among a people who have
suffered more than 20 years of war it is.
And all this, I asked myself yesterday, was all this for 11 September
2001? All this was to "strike back" at our attackers, albeit that Doha
Suheil, Wahed Hassan and Imam Ali have nothing absolutely nothing to
do with those crimes against humanity, any more than has the awful Saddam?
Who decided, I wonder, that these children, these young women, should
suffer for 11 September?
Wars repeat themselves. Always, when "we" come to visit those we have
bombed, we have the same question. In Libya in 1986, I remember how
American reporters would repeatedly cross-question the wounded: had they
perhaps been hit by shrapnel from their own anti-aircraft fire? Again, in
1991, "we" asked the Iraqi wounded the same question. And yesterday, a
doctor found himself asked by a British radio reporter yes, you've
guessed it "Do you think, doctor, that some of these people could have
been hit by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire?"
Should we laugh or cry at this? Should we always blame "them" for their
own wounds? Certainly we should ask why those cruise missiles exploded
where they did, at least 320 in Baghdad alone, courtesy of the USS Kitty
Isra Riad came from Sayadiyeh where there is a big military barracks.
Najla Abbas's home is in Risalleh where there are villas belonging to
Saddam's family. The two small Selim brothers live in Shirta Khamse where
there is a store house for military vehicles. But that's the whole
problem. Targets are scattered across the city. The poor and all the
wounded I saw yesterday were poor live in cheap, sometimes wooden houses
that collapse under blast damage.
It is the same old story. If we make war however much we blather on
about our care for civilians we are going to kill and maim the innocent.
Dr Habib Al-Hezai, whose FRCS was gained at Edinburgh University, counted
101 patients of the total 207 wounded in the raids in his hospital alone,
of whom 85 were civilians 20 of them women and six of them children
and 16 soldiers. A young man and a child of 12 had died under surgery. No
one will say how many soldiers were killed during the actual attack.
Driving across Baghdad yesterday was an eerie experience. The targets were
indeed carefully selected even though their destruction inevitably struck
the innocent. There was one presidential palace I saw with 40ft high
statues of the Arab warrior Salaheddin in each corner the face of each
was, of course, that of Saddam and, neatly in between, a great black
hole gouged into the faηade of the building. The ministry of air weapons
production was pulverised, a massive heap of pre-stressed concrete and
But outside, at the gate, there were two sandbag emplacements with smartly
dressed Iraqi soldiers, rifles over the parapet, still ready to defend
their ministry from the enemy which had already destroyed it.
The morning traffic built up on the roads beside the Tigris. No driver
looked too hard at the Republican Palace on the other side of the river
nor the smouldering ministry of armaments procurement. They burned for 12
hours after the first missile strikes. It was as if burning palaces and
blazing ministries and piles of smoking rubble were a normal part of daily
Baghdad life. But then again, no one under the present regime would want
to spend too long looking at such things, would they?
And Iraqis have noticed what all this means. In 1991, the Americans struck
the refineries, the electricity grid, the water pipes, communications. But
yesterday, Baghdad could still function. The landline telephones worked;
the internet operated; the electrical power was at full capacity; the
bridges over the Tigris remained unbombed. Because, of course, when "if"
is still a sensitive phrase these days the Americans get here, they will
need a working communications system, electricity, transport. What has
been spared is not a gift to the Iraqi people: it is for the benefit of
Iraq's supposed new masters.
The Iraq daily newspaper emerged yesterday with an edition of just four
pages, a clutch of articles on the "steadfastness" of the nation
steadfastness in Arabic is soummoud, the same name as the missile that
Iraq partially destroyed before Bush forced the UN inspectors to leave by
going to war and a headline which read "President: Victory will come
[sic] in Iraqi hands".
Again, there has been no attempt by the US to destroy the television
facilities because they presumably want to use them on arrival. During the
bombing on Friday night, an Iraqi general appeared live on television to
reassure the nation of victory. As he spoke, the blast waves from cruise
missile explosions blew in the curtains behind him and shook the
So where does all this lead us? In the early hours of yesterday morning, I
looked across the Tigris at the funeral pyre of the Republican Palace and
the colonnaded ministry beside it. There were beacons of fire across
Baghdad and the sky was lowering with smoke, the buttressed, rampart-like
palace sheets of flame soaring from its walls looked like a medieval
castle ablaze; Tsesiphon destroyed, Mesopotamia at the moment of its
destruction as it has been seen for many times over so many thousands of
Xenophon struck south of here, Alexander to the north. The Mongols sacked
Baghdad. The caliphs came. And then the Ottomans and then the British. All
departed. Now come the Americans. It's not about legitimacy. It's about
something much more seductive, something Saddam himself understands all
too well, a special kind of power, the same power that every conqueror of
Iraq wished to demonstrate as he smashed his way into the land of this
Yesterday afternoon the Iraqis lit massive fires of oil around the city of
Baghdad in the hope of misleading the guidance system of the cruise
missiles. Smoke against computers. The air-raid sirens began to howl again
just after 3.20pm London time, followed by the utterly predictable sound