“I am a journalist. I’m dying, I’m dying,” screamed Mazen al-Tumeizi, a correspondent for the Arabic television channel al-Arabiya, after shrapnel from a rocket fired by an American helicopter interrupted his live broadcast and slammed into his back.
Twelve others were killed and 61 wounded by rockets from two US helicopters on Haifa Street in central Baghdad. They had fired into a crowd milling around a burning Bradley fighting vehicle that had been hit by a rocket or bomb hours before.
It comes on one of Iraq’s bloodiest days for weeks in which at least 110 people died in clashes around the country. The Health Ministry said the worst casualties were in Baghdad and in Tal Afar near the Syrian border, where 51 people died.
“The helicopter fired on the Bradley to destroy it after it had been hit earlier and it was on fire,” said Major Phil Smith of the 1st Cavalry Division. “It was for the safety of the people around it.” Mr Tumeizi, a Palestinian, was the sixth Arab journalist to be killed by American troops since Baghdad was captured last year. The videotape of his last moments shows how Mr Tumeizi was killed during a live television broadcast, with the Bradley blazing in the distance and a crowd of young men celebrating its destruction, but it shows no reason why the helicopters should open fire.
Many of those hit by the rockets in Haifa Street, in a tough neighbourhood of tower blocks notorious as a centre of resistance to the occupation, were on their way to work. “We are just ordinary workers. We are just trying to live,” said Haidar Yahyiah, 23, sobbing with pain from a broken leg as he lay in bed in nearby Karkh hospital.
He and others described how they had been woken by the sound of explosions in Haifa Street in the early dawn. They had been sleeping on the roofs because it is too hot in the Baghdad summer to sleep inside. They saw a vehicle on fire. But it was several hours later, at about 8am, that they sallied out.
By then US troops had already removed four lightly wounded soldiers from the Bradley.
Young men and children had swarmed over the vehicle, cheering triumphantly, waving black flags and setting it ablaze again. The US military said that a Kiowa, a light reconnaissance and attack helicopter, fired rockets at the Bradley to destroy weapons and ammunition on board. But it is evident from the al-Arabiya video that the rockets landed among people standing or walking far away from the Bradley.
Hamid Ali Khadum was on his way to work when he was hit. “At first I thought I had just tripped over dead people but then I realised I was wounded myself,” he said as he lay in Karkh hospital waiting for an operation on his heavily bandaged left leg. The rest of his body was peppered with shrapnel. A male nurse standing nearby said: “This happens not just in Haifa Street but in all Baghdad, and not just in Baghdad but in all Iraq.”
The slaughter in Haifa Street took place only a few hundred yards from the heavily defended International Zone (what used to be called the Green Zone) which houses the headquarters of the Iraqi government and its American ally. It is a measure of the military failure of the US occupation that it has failed to assume control of this Sunni Muslim neighbourhood in the heart of the capital. Early yesterday, insurgents fired more than a dozen rockets and mortars into the International Zone. The zone contains the US embassy and Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace.
There was violence elsewhere in Baghdad. Colonel Alaa Bashir, the police chief of the Yarmouk district in west Baghdad, was killed by a bomb while on patrol. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a vehicle packed with explosives at the gates to Abu Ghraib prison ? he was the only one to die. A US plane attacked a machine-gun team from the Mehdi Army in their stronghold in Sadr City in east Baghdad.
In Ramadi, a city controlled by insurgents west of Baghdad, 10 people were killed and 40 wounded in fighting, according to the local hospital. A US Humvee was also set ablaze, but casualties were unknown.