Gafel Hamdani has lived 74 years and raised one daughter and eight sons. On Friday night, his three youngest sons were stretched out on the floor of his living room in simple caskets -- killed when a missile hit a Baghdad neighborhood.
“What can I tell you?” the old man said dejectedly as male neighbors gathered around him and the women keened in the next room.
“Isn’t the sight of them enough?” he asked, pointing to his sons, ages 12, 18 and 20.
Grief and shock seized the working-class Shualla district of northwestern Baghdad after a missile slammed into a crowded market area at dusk, killing more than 50 people and injuring about 50 others, hospital workers and residents said.
“I don’t remember so many injured people, so much blood everywhere, in this hospital before,” said Dr. Haqqi Razouki of the nearby Nour Hospital. “Even doctors and nurses were shocked.”
The blast, like a midday missile strike that killed 15 people in another part of the Iraqi capital Wednesday, fanned anti-American passions and accusations that the United States is targeting civilians. U.S. spokesmen have rejected the accusations, saying they have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, and suggested that in some cases Iraqi weapons could have been responsible for the deaths.
Iraqi authorities are highlighting civilian casualties in their political campaign to put pressure on the U.S. and British forces approaching Baghdad. Government ministers and spokesmen use every opportunity to reiterate claims that the United States wants to terrorize the population.
But strikes on civilian neighborhoods have been relatively rare, and that’s one reason many people in the Shualla district were outside -- buying food, meeting with neighbors and trying to live a somewhat normal life -- even while the U.S. bombing was going on a short distance away.
Waiting for Treatment
At Nour Hospital, blood-covered patients moaned as they awaited treatment Friday night.
“People were so badly injured that they were dying in our hands,” said Razouki, who had patients lined up for an available operating room.
Before midnight, hospital staff reported 51 deaths. Information Minister Mohammed Said Sahaf later put the number of dead at 58.
The missile that struck Shualla’s Nasr marketplace, a kind of cul-de-sac filled with about 20 metal stalls selling fruit, vegetables and household items, fell in the middle of the street and sent blast waves and shrapnel in all directions.
It left a crater about 5 feet wide and 3 feet deep and incinerated a car nearby. Pools of blood were still on the ground when government representatives took journalists to the site about three hours later.
“I was standing in my doorway looking around when the rocket fell right in the middle of the market,” said Fadel Jabbar Hussein, who lives just off the marketplace in a neighborhood of modest houses and a Shiite mosque.
He was being treated after getting metal fragments lodged in his stomach and arm.
“Before that, I heard a sound in the sky, and everybody looked up and saw a plane with a white line coming from it -- and then the next minute or two went blank,” he said. “When I opened my eyes, I was on the ground and it was like after a storm -- all the stalls were turned over, people were screaming, there was smoke, a lot of blood.”
At the hospital, the wounded remembered the moments of terror and chaos.
“I saw a plane in the sky, then something threw me on the ground,” Salman Zakker, a 52-year-old father of 12, said as he lay on his side with a chunk of shrapnel protruding from his buttocks. “I could not get up, and I could not feel my legs. Women were screaming. Two boys were lying next to me. I tried to help them get up, but they were dead.”
Another casualty, 17-year-old Ahmed Abbas, said from his hospital bed that two of his friends had been killed.
Ahmed was in critical condition; the youth had a hole in his side, a piece of shrapnel lodged in his right lung and multiple injuries to his lower abdomen.
“I don’t want to die,” Ahmed said with difficulty. “I want to go to school.”
One surgeon said the air attack could not have come at a worse time -- in the early evening when people gather outside at the end of the day.
“I don’t believe America is doing it by accident,” said Dr. Abbas Ali Abbas, 36. “Every day, they kill civilian people. Every day, injured civilians are brought to our hospital. It is not a war. It is slaughter.”
In the hospital, bodies were cleaned and handed over to family members.
A group prayer service was held in an adjacent field, and then the corpses were carried home in wooden boxes on the tops of taxis or battered cars.
Near the market about 10 p.m., three men carried a wooden coffin and screamed and cried and shouted, “Allahu akbar!” -- “God is great!” Nearby, an old man wept, covering his face with his hands.
In Hamdani’s house, over the bodies of his three sons, mourners said the attack would strengthen Iraqis’ unity and resolve in the war.
A Survivor’s Warning
A surviving son, Haider, 24, a university student taking classes in management, stepped forward and warned that strikes such as this one turn all Iraqis into brothers be they Shiite or Sunni.
“We are Shiites,” he said. “They may kill all the Shiites. They may kill all Iraqis. But whatever they do, we will stay true to our Islamic faith.”
At the mosque near the market, named for a Shiite imam, the bodies of friends Marwan Hussein, 14, and Perar Magdi, 12, lay in adjacent caskets.
Perar’s father was killed in the war in Kuwait around the time the boy was born, explained Perar’s stepfather, Arad Jamil, a 28-year-old policeman, and now his son had died in the next war.
“We are not military. We are civilian. Why did they hit us?” he said bitterly as a crowd began screaming.
President Bush “promised a clean war,” chimed in Marwan’s uncle, Abdel Zarak, an engineer. “Is this a clean war?”