Only the dead have seen the end of war ó Old Arab saying
Baghdad, April 21: Israa Abdul Karim is five years old. Her brother Saif Abdul Karim is seven. They are in the Al-Mansour Hospital for Children ó earlier called the Saddam Hospital for Children ó with their mother, Karina Ali, 35, and grandmother Shukriya Mahmoud, 66. They are patients of Dr Abdul Hamid al-Sadoun.
The doctorís story
Come here, come with me and take a look. Ok, you donít want to meet all the patients' But we have to live with them. You are a sahafi, a journalist, and you canít bear to look at them'
Ok, this here is Israa. (He takes Israa from her grandmother Shukriyaís hand.)
See here, look at her buttocks. See, see the whole skin has peeled off and the muscles are torn. She cannot sit, she cannot lie down. She wants to be in her grandmotherís arms, but every time Shukriya picks her up Israa howls with pain.
I know Iím talking too much, that Iím being cruel. But what do I do' I donít sleep for nights. I have no money, no salary to buy khabbus (bread). All of us doctors are doing the work of nurses.
The nursing staff has fled. We are only nine doctors. There are 500 beds in this hospital. We try to keep patients in 100 but we cannot manage more than 60. If I donít go mad, who will'
Come here to this bed. This is Saif, Israaís brother. See, his left leg is plastered to the thigh. There are multiple fractures on the tibia and fibula. There is heavy internal bleeding. He needs blood, lots and lots of blood. We are sending him to another hospital.
And this is Saifís mother, Karina Ali. She is swathed in her black chador and you canít see her injuries. But there are pieces of lead shrapnel in her bloodied back.
What happened, you ask' Why donít you ask her'
Karina Aliís story
We lived in Abu Ghraib, north of Baghdad. That night we decided to leave. For two nights there was a lot of bombing. Iím told Baath Party people were in the locality. My husband Abdul Karim Abbas, 40, was a veterinary assistant in the ministry of agriculture. He got a salary of 54,000 dinars ($18, about Rs 900) but we had food rations. Saif goes to school. Israa will go to school next year. I have another son, Salman.
That night, around 9, we left Abu Ghraib in our pick-up. My brother, Mahmoud Ali, drove. His wife, Ferozia, and their children, Noor, Mohammed and Saifuddin were in the front seat. I was in the seat behind them with my husband and children. My sister Sarah was also with us. Our belongings were in the back. The children were on our laps.
Even when we left Abu Ghraib, we could hear the noise of aircraft. We were between Abu Ghraib and Al Rashdiya when the old pick-up hit a rough patch. Mahmoud was worried and afraid the tyres would not hold. He stopped the car and checked the undercarriage with light from a cigarette holder.
It was too dark. Then he talked to my husband and they decided to switch on the headlights for some time till the rough road was over.
We started again. Then I donít know what happened. There was a flash of light that I saw through the windshield. The car swerved to one side. And there was an explosion. Salman and Saif and Israa were on my lap. I crouched with them, holding them tight. I felt myself being thrown away. Allah, what was happening! There were more explosions and flashes. My ears had locked. I was shouting but could not hear myself.
My back was hurting. I realised I was on the ground with the children still holding on.
There were two pick-ups behind us. I donít know how long it was but we were put in another car. Where was my husband' Where were Mahmoud and Ferozia and Sarah' Allah, where is my family'
(Mahmoud Ali and Ferozia and their children, Noor, Mohammed and Saifuddin, and Karinaís husband, Abdul Karim, were killed in the bombing.)
Karina is unstoppable. Her face is covered by purdah till the bridge of her nose. Tears roll down from the eyes, wetting the cloth that masks her face. She is wailing and shouting and cursing. She lapses into rhetoric. The language of propaganda has been drilled into her mind and in this hour of tragedy it rolls out of her. Words spray like shrapnel.
ďI want to ask Bush ó why did you do this' Because of Saddam Hussein' My husband is not Saddam. My children are not Saddam. My brother is not Saddam.Ē
For so long, Israa and Saif have seen their mother concerned only for them. Now her defences are breaking down. Israa and Saif stop sobbing because their mother is weeping. They are frozen still by Karinaís gestures and loud wailing.
Doctor al-Sadoun wants the ward cleared of outsiders.
[Yesterdayís report had referred to Baghdad as a 4000-sq-km city. It should have been 400.]