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Out There News

Cluster bombs in Hillah

Civilians tell of cluster bomb attack

By Paul Eedle in Hillah, Iraq, Financial Times
Published: Apr 03, 2003 

For hundreds of Iraqi civilians in the path of American forces driving towards Baghdad, war has been devastating. The hospitals of Hillah, 60 miles (100km) south of Baghdad, are overflowing with men, women and children maimed by US cluster bombs that smashed into their homes and streets.

Saad al-Falluji, the chief surgeon in Hillah's general teaching hospital, said yesterday that at least 33 civilians had been killed and hundreds injured in two cluster bomb attacks on Monday, one which hit a poor Shia suburb of the city and the other on the small town of Kifl, 20 miles further south.

The Iraqis say these are unprovoked attacks on civilians; the Americans say Iraqi forces have exposed civilians to fire. In the hospital in Hillah, all Ali Abed knows is that a storm of shrapnel killed his wife and wounded his two-year-old son. The child lies in a bed next to him, drifting in and out of consciousness as Mr Abed tells his story.

"At 10 in the morning the fighter planes came over. All the people fled but where were we to go? There were battlefronts everywhere. The city was a battlefront. The countryside was a battlefront.

"Our relatives in the villages said, don't come here, lots of people have been injured, we have been hit. The earth shook and we were hit by shrapnel. My wife was killed right there. My nephew was injured. My son was injured. All of our neighbours were injured. It was terrible."

He said the cluster bombs scattered bomblets shaped like batteries, some of which did not explode immediately. The attack in Kifl came at night. "Everyone was asleep. It was four in the morning," said Aziza Khadem, a middle-aged woman in a black chador standing by the bed of her injured sister. "I heard the bombardment. People opened the doors and tried to get out. But then the bombardment came from all directions - artillery, tanks, soldiers. It hit the houses and five, six, 20 people were killed. Then the planes went away. Where were the people to go? Wherever they could, they fled."

Dr Falluji stood by the bed of a woman who had lost her entire family in the bombing: her husband, four sons and two daughters. She lay with her head bandaged, a tube draining fluid from her nose. "Most of these people, when they saw the aeroplanes, tried to get out of the area," Dr Falluji said. "That is why you get such a number of injuries. Those who are inside the houses do not get injured. This proves they are cluster bombs."

Our international staff adds: Human Rights Watch, the US-based non-governmental organisation, said on Tuesday it was evident from television pictures that US forces were using artillery projectiles and rockets containing large numbers of submunitions, or cluster munitions, in Iraq. It remained unclear whether air-dropped cluster bombs had been used, it added.

When the submunitions fail to explode on impact as designed, they become hazardous explosive "duds" functioning like volatile, indiscriminate anti-personnel landmines, it added. The failure rate of these munitions used by US ground forces in Iraq was high.