Iraq Shows Casualties in Hospital
By TYLER HICKS with JOHN F. BURNS
ILLA, Iraq, April 2 The boy was bewildered, perhaps 10 or 11, separated from his parents, lying on a hospital gurney. All about was chaos, mothers weeping for their dead and wounded children, doctors and nurses shouting to be heard, coffins shouldered along the corridors to taxis that stacked two and three on their roofs at a time, serving as makeshift hearses.
It was never clear, in the confusion, if the boy was told why he had been asked to follow the nurse out of the ward, down the passageway, past the lamentations and the cursings, to the operating theater. He seemed frightened, and if he heard the question, he never gave his name, or any details of how he got his wound.
Once on the operating table, quickly anesthetized, he knew nothing. His wounded arm was unbandaged and amputated rapidly by the surgeon just below the elbow.
So it was today at the general hospital in Hilla, an hour's drive south of Baghdad, on the road to the site of the ancient town of Babylon, now a soulless re-creation of ancient glory, built as a backdrop to one of Saddam Hussein's ubiquitous palaces. Hilla itself is a nondescript place, a town between here and there, mostly a rambling huddle.
But today Hilla was a front-line city, only a few miles north of American troops advancing up the strategic highway to Baghdad and a showcase of what Mr. Hussein's government wants the world to believe about the American way of war.
Officials marshaling the buses from the Palestine Hotel in the capital made it plain that, for them, the case was open and shut, an example of American weapons being used indiscriminately to kill civilians.
The story of the hospital, as survivors and physicians told it, was of incidents on Sunday or Monday or Tuesday--accounts were confused--in which civilians had come under attack from an American tank that fired on a bus and a car and from an American aircraft that dropped cluster bombs on an impoverished outlying district of Hilla. Dr. Saad al-Fallouji, the hospital's chief surgeon, said that on Tuesday alone, the hospital received 33 victims dead on arrival and 180 others who were wounded by American fire. "Most of them--no, all of them--were civilians," he said. "All of them were from Nadir village, women and children and men of all ages, mostly they had very serious injuries to their abdomens, to their intestines, to their chests and their heads. Many of the bodies were completely torn apart."
Western reporters asked him how he felt about the carnage. "I feel very angry about this," he replied. "Don't you feel angry too?"
Reporters had no difficulty confirming that there had been scores of casualties the dead evident in the procession of coffins, and in the torn bodies that crowded the shelves of the large refrigerator in the hospital's front garden, the wounded filling every ward, many eager to recount how they had come under American fire. Information Ministry officials translated the accounts.
Hussein Ali Hussein, 26, a door-to-door gas salesman, lay on a bed, the stump of one leg covered in a bloody bandage, a mass of flies settling on the gauze. He said that he had been in a car that was hit by an American tank shell as he drove south toward Kifl, near Najaf.
"We believed the Americans, when they said they were not going to attack civilians," he said. "Why would the Americans do this to me?" As nurses arrived to wheel him away for surgery, he added: "But we Iraqis will never accept that this country is ruled by anybody but Iraqis, so we will fight to the last drop of our blood."
Another patient, Bassan Hoki, 38, said he was in the bus attack. Surgeons had amputated his right arm above the elbow, and seeping bandages covered deep wounds on both his legs. Mr. Hoki, with a neatly trimmed, gray-flecked beard, gesticulated with his remaining arm as he described seeing the tank from the window of the bus.
"There was no warning, they simply opened fire," he said.
He said that his mother, who was seated beside him, was killed instantly in the blast. "I looked around me, it seemed like everyone was dead," he said, "people's heads were snapped off their bodies. The bus was torn to pieces."
He said, "I have just one thing to say to George Bush. He is a criminal and a liar to talk of bringing us freedom. He attacks civilians for no reason. This is a crime, a crime, a crime."
It was difficult to mesh accounts from the hospital with the scenes where the attacks were said to have occurred. In Nadir, a sprawl of one- and two-story brick or mud homes astride the line of the American advance, reporters were shown the bus on which, doctors said, 18 people had been killed and 16 wounded by American tank fire. The bus stood in a clearing and reporters were led on a tour of sinuous alleyways to see the damage from what was described as the cluster bombing of an entire neighborhood.
From what officials at Nadir said and from what seemed probable to the eye, the attacks appeared to have been one. The bus, like the houses, appeared to have been hit not by a tank shell but by thousands of shards of shrapnel that had punctured it and shattered the windows but left the body mostly intact. Small, grayish-black pieces of unexploded ordnance, possibly a form of cluster bomb, lay scattered in profusion.
Nadir, by noon today, was deserted, save for families here and there loading up possessions into cars and glimpses of men in military uniforms, some with the red triangular shoulder flashes of the Republican Guard. Several reporters and photographers said later that they had seen a man in camouflage uniform disappearing into one of the houses, carrying a sniper rifle.
Whatever had occurred at Nadir, the incident was part of a wider pattern of increasing tension among Iraqi officials and American troops. Anxieties in the capital had risen overnight, with more intensive bombing of Mr. Hussein's palaces and other strategic targets.
All night long, and through the day, the bombs and missiles struck, booming across the city, with more shuddering of the earth and bursting fireballs of red and orange, as well as billowing clouds of smoke and dust.
From the upper rooms of the Palestine Hotel, especially those facing directly across the Tigris River, it seemed that the Pentagon, in returning to some targets, had in mind not just to destroy, not just to deny the Iraqi ruler the use of this palace or that intelligence headquarters, but to obliterate, perhaps to humiliate, by leaving nothing but smoking rubble.
The air defense headquarters on the east bank of the Tigris, close to the Palestine, were hit by at least two cruise missiles last week and were struck again on Monday night, this time by bombs dropped by aircraft low enough to hear overhead. The missile strikes appeared to have been enough to disable the headquarters, and with it much of the air defense system, since air raid sirens failed within days of the first attacks on Baghdad on March 20, and the anti-aircraft fire fell off sharply, too. But they had left the headquarters punctured, not destroyed, until bombing completed the job.
By Tuesday, all that was left was a mound of grayish-black rubble, and, perversely, a towering bronze statue of Mr. Hussein. arm raised in salute, which appeared hardly scratched.
The case for concluding that the military had had in mind the humiliation of Mr. Hussein and his sons has been made even more strongly by the repeated bombing of the Republican Palace compound, the jewel in the Iraqi ruler's crown. About an hour or two before first light today, at least five more huge blasts hit one of several large, colonnaded buildings clustered near the main palace, a neo-imperialist edifice that some Iraqis say has been one of the headquarters for Qusay, the favored younger son of Mr. Hussein.
Perhaps, these Iraqis have said, the target lies underground, in the maze of tunnels and bunkers built during the war with Iran in the 1980's.
But perhaps, here too, the objective was to obliterate. This morning an entire palace within the compound had disappeared, leaving only the building's signature feature giant, 30-foot-high busts of Mr. Hussein clad in the headdress of the 12th-century warrior Saladin. Three of the busts stood on their pediments while a fourth, its back to the Tigris, leaned drunkenly forward.
Early today reporters on the bus to Hilla said they saw the park set aside for Baghdad's annual international trade fair with about a dozen large buildings completely flattened with smoke still rising.
Iraqi officials said later that the strike had hit a maternity clinic on the fairground, killing nine women.
Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/03/international/worldspecial/03CIVI.html
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