Wednesday, 24 September 2003

Another Day in the Bloody Death of Iraq

At Least 10,000 Civilians Gunned Down Since the End of the War

by Robert Fisk


click here to visit his website Ahmed Qasm Hamed was dumped in a black sack at the mortuary of the Yarmouk hospital last week. Taleb Neiemah Homtoush turned up at the city morgue with three bullets in his head. Amr Alwan Ibrahim's family brought him to the morgue five minutes later with a bullet through his heart. Amr was to have married his fiancee Naghem in a week's time.

There are flies around the mortuaries and the smell of death, and up at Yarmouk they had so many bodies the other day that I found them lying in the yard because the fridge was already filled with corpses. On stretchers with blankets thrown over them, on the hot concrete beneath the sun, the flies already moving to them in the 45 degree heat. At the city morgue, the morticians appear in dirty green overalls, scarcely glancing at the wailing relatives by the gate, slumped in tears beside a lake of sewage.

After a while--after hours, day after day at the mortuaries--you get to know the victims. Their fathers and wives and cousins tell you how they dressed, how they worked, how many children they have left behind.

Often the children are there beside the cheap wooden coffins, screaming and crying and numb with loss. The families weep and they say that no one cares about them and, after expressing our sorrow to them over and over again, I come to the conclusion they are right. No one cares. "Al baqiya fi hayatek," we tell them in Arabic which, roughly translated, means "May his lost life be yours in the future." But it is lost for ever--his life, and, by even the most conservative estimates, those of 10,000 other Iraqi civilians gunned down since we "liberated" Baghdad on 9 April.

Here, for the record, are just a few of last week's cull. Hassan Ahmed was 26. At the morgue, his cousin Sadeq produces a photograph of the young man for me. Hassan is smiling, he has a thin, slightly bearded face and is wearing a bright purple shirt. His father, a soldier, was killed in the Iran-Iraq war in 1982, when Hassan was just five years old. At 3pm last Wednesday, he was walking in the street in his home neighbourhood of Al-Biyar in Baghdad when someone--no one knows who or why--shot him twice in the head.

Old Sarhan Daoud is almost toothless and bespectacled and is standing outside the doors of the Baghdad city morgue in a long white "dishdash" robe. A few hours earlier, his only sons, 19-year-old Ahmed and 27-year-old Ali were gunned down outside their Baghdad home. There is talk of a revenge killing but the father isn't certain. "We are just trapped in this tragedy," Sarhan says. "There were very few killings like this before. Now everyone uses guns. Please tell about our tragedy." After half an hour, waiting beside the pool of sewage, shoved aside as other corpses are brought into the morgue--the coffins come from the mosques and are re-used day after day--Ahmed and Ali are brought out in their plywood caskets and roped to the top of a minivan into which cousins and uncles and the old father climb for the funeral journey to the family's home village near Baquba.

The family of Amr Ibrahim say they know who shot the 30-year-old construction worker on Wednesday. They even gave the name to the American-paid Iraqi police force. But the police did nothing. "It is anarchy that we live through," his uncle Daher says. "Then, when we get here, they charge us 15,000 dinars (lbs5) for the autopsy--otherwise we can't have a death certificate. First we are robbed of life. Then they take our money." For many in Iraq, lbs5 is a month's wages.

Twenty-six-year-old Fahad Makhtouf was knifed to death near his home on Tuesday night. His uncle speaks slowly. "No one cares about our tragedy. No one cares about us."

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