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Out There News

No hiding place for civilians

No hiding place for Baghdad's civilians

By Paul Eedle in Baghdad, FT.com site
Published: Apr 07, 2003

There is no dividing line between civilian and military in Baghdad now. Almost every shell the Americans fire as they battle towards the centre of the city, whatever it is aimed at, risks killing or maiming innocent people.

Iraqi fighters have built sandbagged emplacements on street corners, under highway flyovers, in half-built houses and in wasteland beside main roads; artillery pieces and mobile anti-aircraft missile launchers are tucked under trees in parks. The Iraqi strategy is to force the Americans to fight for every street.

Every battle here is likely to kill or injure civilians. At one roundabout, Iraqi soldiers have dug in by the roadside with machine guns and recoil-less rifles - anti-tank weapons of the type that disabled an Abrams tank on a highway in Baghdad on Saturday.

But this is a residential area: the road leading here is one of Baghdad's main commercial streets, lined with restaurants and shops. Down the side streets are family houses and villas with car porches and orange trees in their walled gardens.

Osama Sabah al-Yemeni, a surgeon who is deputy director of the Kindi hospital in Baghdad, knows the price of this urban warfare. On Saturday, when US B-52 bombers blasted targets south-west of Baghdad and an American armoured column pushed along a ring road through the city's outer suburbs, his emergency department admitted 120 casualties in three hours.

"It was the most terrible day I have seen in my life," he said on Sunday outside the emergency entrance. Jets roared unseen overhead and the blast of bombs or artillery fire resounded from the south.

Minutes later, casualties started to arrive, a dozen in 30 minutes, brought in ambulances, private vehicles and the back seats of traffic police cars, wheeled on battered trolleys into the emergency department surrounded by doctors in blue smocks and desperate relatives.

Some could have been irregular fighters: as doctors plastered a bleeding wound in a barely conscious young man's abdomen and squeezed fluid into an intravenous drip into his arm, two broad-shouldered men in black T-shirts and red headdresses who could have belonged to the Saddam Fedayeen guerrillas pressed through the crowd to see what was happening to their friend.

But most were obviously civilians. Doctors wheeled in an unconscious woman in a pink floral print dress. Blood trickled down her leg. An elderly man in glasses held up a wrist pouring blood to be bandaged. Police and paramedics hauled another elderly man out of the back seat of a car and on to a trolley.

It is impossible to do more than guess at what the people of Baghdad will think of the Americans, and of their own government, after this suffering.

Many Iraqis are already suspicious of US motives for invading their country and hostile to US support for Israel, whatever their opinions of their own government. No matter what the outcome of this war, families of dead and injured civilians may find it difficult to forgive.