An old man
cries over the coffin of his daughter. His wife and younger daughter
sit in the dirt outside the mortuary in shock and abject sadness.
It is only an
hour and 20 minutes since Nadia Khalaf died, too early for total grief
to set in. But time enough to know their lives have been shattered
them during a random visit to Al Kindhi Hospital in North East Baghdad
at 1pm. The doctors did not know we were coming - we had an official
guide and we were free to choose which hospital.
Nadia was lying
on a stretcher beside the stone mortuary slab. Her heart lay on her
chest, ripped from her body by a missile which smashed through the
bedroom window of the family's flat nearby in Palestine Street.
Her father Najem
Khalaf stood beside her corpse. And I shall try to write what he and
his family said in exactly the order they said it. I shall try because
I hope it will better convey the bewilderment and horror that broke
on one Iraqi household yesterday.
came down into the room as she was standing by the dressing-table," Najem
says. "My daughter had just completed her PhD in Psychology and
was waiting for her first job. She was born in 1970. She was 33. She
was very clever.
said I have a fabulous daughter. She spent all her time studying. Her
head buried in books. She didn't have a care about going out enjoying
herself. My other daughter is the same. She has a Master's degree in
English and teaches at the university. Me? I'm just a lorry driver.
A simple man."
He holds out
his dead daughter's identity card for us to see. His fingers are covered
in her blood.
I go to offer
my condolence to his other daughter Alia, who is 35.
know what humanity Bush is calling for," she says in English, "Is
this the humanity which lost my sister?
a working class family which made two academics. It was never easy
for my parents or for us. We struggled to get where we are. Our flat
is rented, not owned. I receive 75,000 dinars a month as a university
teacher, my main subject Shakespeare. The flat costs 35,000 monthly
- about $12. We were hoping to get ourselves a proper home when Nadia
started working. Now look."
Her mother Fawzia
raises her hand as if beseeching me. But words fail her and she begins
to sob again.
been looking only for peace and security," Alia says, "We
were not interested in collecting money, buying costly clothes. We
didn't care about dresses. Just peace and security. Not this."
Both women were
still in their nightclothes, dressing gowns loose around them. They
said they had risen late because of all the shelling overnight. Like
everyone else, they were talking about the electricity being cut off
on Thursday night.
Nadia was joking
about going for a shower. Alia told her she'd probably be away for
three hours... just waiting for some water.
They were laughing.
"I didn't hear any sound," Alia says, "Suddenly a shell
or bomb or something came through the room. I fell to the floor. My mouth
was full of dust. I was swallowing dust. Then I looked at her.
something big and unexploded, had come through her chest and her heart.
She was covered in blood, unconscious. I ran down to the street, Daddy
and Mummy behind me, screaming for an ambulance. There wasn't any.
A neighbour said he would drive us here to the hospital.
knew it was too late. But we hoped, we hoped."
I tell her that
the International Red Cross have said that the majority of civilian
casualties have been caused by falling anti-aircraft shells. "I
don't know. I don't know. But it is war which has done this. And that
war was started by Bush,"
she says, "Believe me. We have no emnity for foreign people. We
never will. We just want to live our lives."
A group of men
help to put the corpse in a simple wooden coffin. Najem weeps as he
kneels before his daughter. His wife and daughter climb into the back
of the blue car. The other men place the coffin on the roof rack, put
on the lid and secure it with bindings.
Alia asks that
I send her a copy of this story and I promise somehow to do so. It
seems to give her some consolation. The only sort, apart from the spoken
word, which I can offer.
And so they leave.
Three people driven by a neighbour with their precious daughter strapped
to the roof.
Our guide says
they will now wash her body, drape it in white and before dusk lay
her in the ground.
It has been one
of the saddest episodes I have ever witnessed in my 26 years reporting
for this newspaper.
THE IRAQI BODY COUNT DATABASE