Silent Witnesses Reveal The
Growing Lawlessness Of Baghdad

By Harry De Quetteville
The Telegraph - UK

At Baghdad's central mortuary, a host of silent witnesses give the lie to coalition claims that Baghdad is becoming a safer place to live.
Despite Gen Ricardo Sanchez's assertion that violence here is "no worse than in any American city", the blood-stained stretchers, coffins and bullet-torn bodies have piled up here in recent months. Some new arrivals wait outside the building in the searing sun while space is found for them in the coolers inside.
As the bodies lie propped up on the forecourt, often covered by little more than a towel, the stench from the gore and a nearby open sewer forces bereaved relatives to wrap their red and white checked scarves over their noses and mouths.
Some are sick as they sit in front of the heavy blue doors that lead to the mortuary proper.
Although more than 60 US soldiers have been killed since President George W Bush declared an end to major hostilities at the beginning of May, they are not the only ones paying the price for instability in the Iraqi capital. Locals, too, have been dying, and in significantly larger numbers.
"Life is far more violent in Baghdad now than it was three months ago," said Dr Abdel Latif Muhammed, a forensic surgeon at the mortuary, to which all violent deaths are referred for post-mortem examinations. "The vast majority of bodies brought in here have died from gunshot wounds."
According to one mortuary assistant, the number of dead arriving has more than doubled. "Three months ago we used to receive fewer than 20 dead a day," said Hamid Madhi, "now we get at least 45, almost all killed in shoot-outs."
The body count upsets Gen Sanchez's theory. According to recent statistics, New York city suffers about 309 homicides a year, not even one a day.
Baghdad's shoot-outs fall into two categories: those involving coalition troops and those involving thieves.
"Many of the bodies have US bullets in them," said Dr Muhammed. "They have been killed after attacking Americans, or they are killed in crossfire between guerrillas and Americans.
"The others are finished off by robbers. It is nothing for them to kill now."
One afternoon, when the morning rush had faded and the bodies waiting outside had been moved inside, Khuthaier Abbas, 70, came looking for his son.
Mr Abbas said his son Hamze had been killed by US troops the day before. "He was in his car and they told him to stop but he didn't hear so they shot him," he said. "The police just told me to look here, and I found him. Of course I will never know the names of those who killed him."
The spiralling violence is not unwelcome to all, however. The grizzled mortuary staff chuckle as the bodies are brought in. For them, this is boom time.
"Under Saddam I used to make almost nothing working here, just a few dollars," said Dr Muhammed, with a flash of the black humour for which those in his trade are famous. "Now the Americans pay me $120 [£80] a month, so life is good."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.




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