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It's Not a War, It's Slaughter

John Daniszewski and Sergei Loiko, LA Times

BAGHDAD, 30 March 2003 - Gafel Hamdani has lived 74 years and raised one daughter and eight sons. On Friday night, his three youngest boys were stretched out on the floor of his living room in simple caskets - killed by the latest explosion in 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, aged 12, 18 and 20.

Grief and shock seized the working-class Shualla district of southeast Baghdad after a missile slammed into a crowded market area at dusk, killing at least 51 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 14 people in another part of the city Wednesday, fanned anti-American passions and accusations that the United States is targeting civilians. US spokesmen have rejected the accusations and suggested that in some cases Iraqi weapons could be responsible for deaths among civilians.

Iraqi authorities are highlighting civilian casualties in their campaign to put pressure on the US and British forces approaching the capital. Government ministers and spokesmen use every opportunity to reiterate their statements that the United States wants to terrorize the population.

On the other hand, strikes on civilian areas are relatively rare, and that's one reason why many people in the Shualla district would have been outside even while the US bombing was going on a short distance away.

At Nour Hospital, blood-covered patients moaned and waited for treatment Friday night. "People were so badly injured that they were dying in our hands," said Razouki, who had patients lined up for a free operating room.

Before midnight, hospital staff reported 51 deaths. Information Minister Mohammed Said Al-Sahhaf later put the number of dead at 58.

At the Nasr marketplace itself, a kind of cul-de-sac filled with about 20 metal stalls selling fruits and vegetables and household items, the missile fell in the middle of the street and sent blast waves and shrapnel in all directions.

The missile left a crater about five feet wide and three feet deep, and incinerated a car nearby. Pools of blood were still on the ground when government minders took journalists to the site about three hours after the blast.

"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 market in a neighborhood of modest houses and a mosque and was being treated for metal fragments in his stomach and arm.

"Before that, I heard a sound in the sky and everybody looked up and saw a plane...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 large 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."

"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 then handed over to the family members. A group prayer service was held in an adjacent field and then the corpses were carried, in wooden boxes, on the top of taxis or battered cars to homes.

In the home of Hamdani, over the bodies of his three sons, the talk was that the attack would only strengthen the unity and resolve of Iraqis in this war.

One son, Haider Gafel, 24, a university student studying management, stepped forward and warned that strikes such as this one turn all Iraqis into brothers whether they be 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, the bodies of friends Marwan Hussein, 14, and Perar Magdi, 12, lay in caskets next to each other.

Perar's father was killed in the war in Kuwait at around the time he was born, explained the boy's stepfather, Arad Jamil, a 28-year-old policeman, and now his son had died in the next war. "Bush promised a clean war. Is this a clean war?" asked Marwan's uncle, Abdel Zarak, an engineer.