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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.”
Up at the Yarmouk, they’ve had a bad week. Mortada Karim has just received the bodies of three men, all shot dead, from local police stations. All are believed to have been murdered by thieves. “Four days ago, we had one of the worst cases,” he says. “A mother and her child. There had been a wedding party and people had been shooting in the air. The Americans opened fire and the woman and her child were hit and killed.” On the same day, they received an Iraqi man, killed by his father because they had quarrelled over the loot they had both stolen in Baghdad.
Last month, a family of nine were brought to the Yarmouk. The mortuary attendants believe the five women were found by their brothers in a brothel and in the subsequent “honour killings” their brothers were caught up in a gun battle.
On the walls of the city mortuary, families have for weeks left photographs of those who have simply disappeared. “We lost Mr Abdul-emir al-Noor al-Moussawi last Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, in Baghdad,” it says beneath the photograph of a dignified man in suit and tie. “He is 71 years old. Hair white. Wearing a grey dishdash. A reward will be paid to anyone with information.” Or there is 16-year-old Beida Jaffer Sadr, a schoolgirl apparently kidnapped in Baghdad–her story has already been told in The Independent–whose father’s telephone number is printed below her picture. “Blond hair, brown eyes, wearing a black skirt,” it says.
The occupation powers, the so-called “Provisional Coalition Authority”, love statistics when they are useful. They can tell you the number of newly re-opened schools, newly appointed doctors and the previous day’s oil production in seconds. The daily slaughter of Iraq’s innocents, needless to say, is not among their figures. So here are a few statistics. On Wednesday of last week, the Baghdad city morgue received 19 corpses, of which 11 were victims of gunfire. The next day, the morticians received 11 dead, of whom five had been killed by bullets. In May, approximately 300 murder victims were brought to the morgue, in June around 500, in July 600, last month about 700. In all of July of last year–under Saddam’s regime–Dr Abdullah Razak, the deputy head of the morgue, says that only 21 gunshot victims were brought in.
Of course, it’s possible to put a gloss on all this. Saddam ruled through terror. If there was security in Baghdad under his regime, there was mass murder in Kurdistan and in the Shia south of Iraq. Tens of thousands have been found in the mass graves of Iraq, men–and women–who had no death certificates, no funerals, no justice. At the Abu Ghraib prison, the head doctor, Hussain Majid–who has been reappointed by the prison’s new American guards–told me that when “security prisoners” were hanged at night, he was ordered not to issue death certificates.
It might be argued that under the previous regime, the government committed the crimes. Now, the people commit them. How can the Americans be held to account for honour killings? But they are accountable, for it is the duty of the occupying power to protect the people under their control. The mandate of the CPA requires it to care for the people of Iraq. And they don’t care.
None of the above statistics take into account the hundreds of shooting incidents in which the victims are wounded rather than killed. In the Kindi hospital, for example, I come across a man whose father was caretaker of a factory. “Looters came and he opened fire on them and then the Americans came and shot my father because he was holding his gun,” he said. “He’s had two operations, and he’ll live. But no one came to see us. No one came to say sorry. Nobody cared.”
One of the most recent corpses to arrive is that of Saad Mohamed Sultan. He was an official interpreter for the occupying powers and was, incredibly, shot dead by an American soldier on a convoy as he travelled with an Italian diplomat to Mosul. After shooting him, the Americans drove calmly on. They didn’t bother to stop to find out who they’d killed. Saad was 35. He had a wife and two children.
In the yard of the City Morgue, a group of very angry young men have gathered. They are Shia and, I suspect, members of the Badr Brigade. They are waiting for the coffin of Taleb Homtoush who was killed by three bullets fired into his head as he stood at the door of his Baghdad home on Wednesday. Taleb had lost his legs in the Iran-Iraq war. Two of his brothers were killed in the same conflict. Another cousin who will not give his name, a tall man, is spitting in anger as he speaks.
“You must know something,” he shouts at me. “We are a Muslim country and the Americans want to create divisions among us, between Sunni and Shia. But no civil war will occur here in Iraq. These people are dying because the Americans let this happen. You know that the Americans made many promises before they came here. They promised freedom and security and democracy. We were dreaming of these promises. Now we are just dreaming of blowing ourselves up among the Americans.”