As the first UK journalist to be embedded with the rebel Mahdi Army, Hala Jaber reports on its terrifying battle
On a bare patch of ground outside the entrance to Sadr general hospital, 15 women clad from head to foot in black squatted in a sandstorm, wailing and waiting for their dead. Lightning flashed, thunder rolled and the women’s robes were spattered with mud falling from a sky filled with rain and sand, but they did not notice. “Ya’mma, Ya’ba” (“Oh mother, oh father”), cried Amira Zaydan, a 45-year-old spinster, slapping her face and chest as she grieved for her parents Jaleel, 65, and Hanounah, 60, whose house had exploded after apparently being hit by an American rocket. “Where are you, my brothers?” she sobbed, lamenting Samir, 32, and Amir, 29, who had also perished along with their wives, one of whom was nine months pregnant. “What wrong have you done, my children?” she howled to the spirits of four nephews and nieces who completed a toll of 10 family members in the disaster that struck last Tuesday. “Mothers, children, babies; all obliterated for nothing.” The keening of Zaydan and her distraught circle of friends was drowned out briefly by sirens shrieking as ambulances sped through the hospital gateway with the latest consignment of casualties from a brutal battle that has been raging for the past month in Sadr City, a slum of more than 2m souls on the eastern side of Baghdad. Doctors and nurses with pinched faces darted out of the dilapidated hospital to greet the wounded and dying, while administrators stared at the weeping women and saw that they were beyond comforting. Zaydan had hardly moved from the hospital for 24 hours since her family’s home was demolished as she and her sister Samira, 43, prepared lunch. Neighbours were trying to dig bodies out of the debris when another rocket landed, killing at least six rescuers. Apart from the two sisters, the family’s only survivor was their brother Ahmad, 25, who arrived at the hospital with leg injuries and shock. “I lost everybody,” was all he could say. On Wednesday afternoon, Zaydan was still waiting for seven family members to be disinterred from the rubble and delivered to Sadr general. The other three were in the morgue, among them a nephew, aged three, lying on a trolley in a puddle of blood from a head wound. Two-year-old Ali Hussein is pulled from the rubble of his family's home in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, April 29, 2008.(Karim Kadim/AP Photo)
A baby’s life ebbs away in Sadr City
TWO-YEAR-OLD Moqtada Raed never stood a chance of ecovering from the shrapnel wound to his leg. At the Imam Ali hospital in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City last week, he writhed on his thin plastic mattress and whimpered to his father, Ahmad, who knew that nothing could be done to save him.
Moqtada’s thigh had been cut deeply when the family home was struck, apparently by a US rocket, on Tuesday afternoon. He was bleeding profusely.
Eventually his eyes fluttered and began to close, and doctors rushed to his bedside, gently slapping his face to keep him conscious. He died that evening.
The boy was one of the youngest victims of fighting that has killed nearly 1,000 people in Sadr City over the past month.
Hospital officials estimate that of at least 935 who have died, about 700 were civilians. Most were killed by bombs, artillery and sniper fire.