The piece of metal is only a foot high, but the numbers on it hold the clue to the latest atrocity in Baghdad.
At least 62 civilians had died by yesterday afternoon, and the coding on that hunk of metal contains the identity of the culprit. The Americans and British were doing their best yesterday to suggest that an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile destroyed those dozens of lives, adding that they were "still investigating" the carnage. But the coding is in Western style, not in Arabic. And many of the survivors heard the plane.
In the Al-Noor hospital yesterday morning, there were appalling scenes of pain and suffering. A two-year-old girl, Saida Jaffar, swaddled in bandages, a tube into her nose, another into her stomach. All I could see of her was her forehead, two small eyes and a chin. Beside her, blood and flies covered a heap of old bandages and swabs. Not far away, lying on a dirty bed, was three-year-old Mohamed Amaid, his face, stomach, hands and feet all tied tightly in bandages. A great black mass of congealed blood lay at the bottom of his bed.
This is a hospital without computers, with only the most primitive of X-ray machines. But the missile was guided by computers and that vital shard of fuselage was computer-coded. It can be easily verified and checked by the Americans – if they choose to do so. It reads: 30003-704ASB 7492. The letter "B" is scratched and could be an "H". This is believed to be the serial number. It is followed by a further code which arms manufacturers usually refer to as the weapon's "Lot" number. It reads: MFR 96214 09.
The piece of metal bearing the codings was retrieved only minutes after the missile exploded on Friday evening, by an old man whose home is only 100 yards from the 6ft crater. Even the Iraqi authorities do not know that it exists. The missile sprayed hunks of metal through the crowds – mainly women and children – and through the cheap brick walls of local homes, amputating limbs and heads. Three brothers, the eldest 21 and the youngest 12, for example, were cut down inside the living room of their brick hut on the main road opposite the market. Two doors away, two sisters were killed in an identical manner. "We have never seen anything like these wounds before," Dr Ahmed, an anaesthetist at the Al-Noor hospital told me later. "These people have been punctured by dozens of bits of metal." He was right. One old man I visited in a hospital ward had 24 holes in the back of his legs and buttocks, some as big as pound coins. An X-ray photograph handed to me by one of his doctors clearly showed at least 35 slivers of metal still embedded in his body