From the site of the explosion near
a Baghdad police recruiting station that killed dozens
September 14, 2004
At the hospital, I meet Ahman, his chubby cherubic 20-year-old face scarred
with burn marks, his arms charred to the bone, as he lies on a blood-stained
bed at and tries to make sense of the day's horror, etched in his mind like
a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
"Human beings were piled one on top of the other like pieces
of meat," he says, shivering. "I'm all choked up with
shock I saw it with my own eyes."
At the site of the explosion, the one today near a police recruiting
station that killed dozens, the living continued the madness, even
as the bodies and still moist remains of the dead were hauled away.
Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, witnesses and residents
blamed the Americans for the attack.
"This was a peaceful, modest lower-middle class neighborhood
where everyone cared about everyone," rages Hossein, a 41-year-old
train driver who was sitting in a teashop when the explosion occurred. "I
was born here. This explosion has changed everything in this neighborhood
Another day of bloody insanity in Iraq.
This marks my eighth
trip into Iraq over a period of almost exactly two years. In
that time I've covered more car bombings than I can remember. They've
almost become routine: interview angry people at the scene, try
to get comments from freaked out U.S. soldiers, race to the hospital
and walk open-eyed through corridors of blood and grief. Interview
victims and a doctor, or two. If I'm lucky, I get done with the
reporting by early afternoon. If I'm real lucky, I forget about
what I saw by dinner time.
Today I'm not lucky on either count.
The car bomb is aimed at the country's nascent U.S.-backed police
forces. Most of the nearly 50 killed in Baghdad were unemployed
young Iraqi men crowded around a police recruiting station, looking
for work. Some were playing billiards and video games, to while
away the hours while they waited for their applications to be taken.
Others were sipping sweet, dark brewed tea at a teahouse.
They all carried those red and blue folders with photocopies
birth certificates, report cards and medical records, a familiar
sight to those navigating Iraq's bureaucracy.
The explosion, centered right in front of the teashop, caught
them completely by surprise.
"These operations are carried
out by people using the latest techniques in killing people," said
Brigadier General "Amar," who pleaded to me that his
last name not be published for fear he'd be targeted by insurgents. "If
it was in our capacity to stop such things before they happened,
I would even sacrifice myself for them."
At the scene of the Baghdad bombing, the nauseating odor of burnt
flesh and streaks of blood litter the streets and sidewalks. "Long
live bin Laden," reads the graffiti on the building next to
a local mosque.
Grieving and tearful civilians along with emergency workers collect
corpses and body parts, including a severed head that lay near
one of the 15 or so stores crushed by the explosion.
Ehsan is a 38-year-old who runs a music shop badly damaged in
the blast. He flails about like a madman, flinging his broken drums
and trumpets across his tiny shop.
"There were some kids playing billiards," he says. "They
were killed. There were young men waiting to join the police force.
They were killed. There were customers in my shop. They died as
well. Who can accept this? Does Jesus accept this? Does Moses accept
American Apache helicopters hovered above the chaotic
disaster site. Some of the Americans some attempti to turn the
scene into a political rally. "Down with Allawi! Down with
Bush!" one man chants.
Others shake their heads in disgust at those who blamed the attack
on America instead of the rebels insurgents. "The man eating that
sandwich died,'' says Al'a, pointing to a fried chickpea sandwich
on the bench behind his cart.
He says he himself he helped carry at least 40 wounded, loading
them into passenger cars and police trucks for the short trip to
nearby Karkh hospital. He has no doubts whom to blame.
"Some call them Wahabbis, others resistance," Tamimi
said. "I call them terrorists. They kill by the dozen. Is
this human?" Some of the locals an American helicopter had
launched an air strike on the crowd, just as it had bombed Iraqis
standing atop a burning Bradley fighting vehicle on nearby Haifa
Street last Sunday. "It was an American rocket! American rocket!" young
men scream. "It was the Americans!"
But luckily my translator operated mortars during the Iran-Iraq
war, and is a bit of a artillery expert. He says the cheap unpolished,
shrapnel from the explosion clearly shows that it was Iraqi-made
ordnance, most likely leftovers from deposed Iraqi president Saddam
Hussein's arsenal packed into a car, the style favored by Iraq's
Others rail that the U.S. and Iraq's interim government should
have done a better job protecting Iraqis from insurgents, or else
remove potential targets of terrorism from the city.
"We blame the occupation forces and the Iraqi interim government
for this explosion," says Abdul, a resident of the area, known
as a stronghold of Sunni Arabs favored under the deposed government
of Saddam Hussein. "We ask them to remove this police facility
from this area because it's a densely populated area."
Most people living in a dense urban neighorhood, I think to myself,
would welcome a police station in their midst.
Indeed, even the cops admit that the country is sputtering toward
chaos. Police officer Ra'ad, 44, a 22-year veteran, says he was
at a nearby garage having his car repaired when the bomb went off.
He rushed to help the victims. "The government can't control
the saboteurs," he says. "The police are not in control."
It had started out as a quiet, ordinary day, the capital's stifling
summer had at last given way to a comfortable breeze. Ahman, the
20-year-old recruit lying in the hospital, remembers getting his
paperwork together and heading to the Iraqi police recruiting station
in the Karkh district, defying his mom's plea to avoid government
He remembers being told that the police weren't taking applications
on this day, to come back the next day. He remembers turning on
his heels dejectedly and walking away.
Next came the explosion, like a fiery thunderclap in his face.
He woke up amid carnage that he can't get out of his mind.
"My mom didn't want me to join the police," he says. "She
said it was too dangerous. She was right. But what could I do?
In the hospital, Massoud, 24, lies moaning on
his bed. The bomb had seared the flesh off his legs, wrapped heavily
in Bandages. "I wanted to be recruited. I just wanted to be
a policeman. I just wanted to be hired by someone," he says.
"I was standing in line, all of a sudden there was an explosion
and I couldn't feel anything," he said. "I feinted and
I was in an ambulance." He voice trailed off as a narcotic
drip mercifully ushered him off to sleep. In another corridor,
an old woman shrouded in an all-covering black abaya sits on the
ground and weeps softly. A blood soaked gurney stood idly by.
"No, no, no" a middle-aged man gently cries as his
unmoving son, face covered in a bloody white sheet, is wheeled
away toward the morgue. A shaken Amar Safar, deputy health minister,
shakes his head as he scans the hospital. "Look at the dead
body," he says. "That's an Iraqi. If they are fighting
for Iraq and the people of Iraq, then why are they attacking the
Borzou Daragahi is a freelance journalist whose articles have appeared in major
newspapers, including The New York Times. He sends out occasional
letters like this one to friends and family. You can subscribe by sending
a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
.................... Spam?! Khalaas!