IRAQ UPDATE: April 26-27, 2003
April 28, 2003
IRAQ UPDATE: April 26-27, 2003
Reported by satellite phone to Doug Pritchard
The team reported that they have spent a lot of time assessing the presence
of unexploded ordnance in Baghdad. This morning at 7 am local time, U.S.
army specialists were attempting to defuse 2 large Iraqi missiles in a
munitions dump in Zafanaria, a residential neighbourhood five miles
southeast of downtown. An explosion then occurred which killed forty people
including eighteen members of one household. Munitions and shrapnel from the
dump were blown over a two-mile radius. When the team arrived at 3 pm,
U.S.troops had walked away from the scene, but munitions were still burning
and exploding in the dump. The team found grenades, landmines, and mortar
shells scattered all over this neighbourhood and the adjacent one called Al
Molimeeme. No security or cleanup crews were evident and curioU.S.children
continued to approach the burning dump and to pick up live shells or pieces
of munitions from the streets.
The team had also been trying to get U.S. army attention for another large
stockpile of Iraqi mortar shells stored in new cases under a bridge. U.S.
soldiers in the area said they had no time or resources for such concerns
and were not prepared to station personnel or vehicles to guard it and were
not even prepared to rope off the area. The team asked whether they couldn't
take a few
troops from the hundreds guarding the Oil Ministry building. The team then
brought an NBC TV camera crew to document the problem.
In the course of the day, the team visited over ten sites where similar
dumps of Iraqi ordnance or unexploded U.S. ordnance are evident. At one
location they saw a live U.S.missile partly buried in the ground. At another
there were six twenty-foot long Iraqi Surface-to-Air missiles lying on the
ground with other bombs. It appears that wherever Iraqi tanks, antiaircraft
batteries, or barracks had been located, there are similar stocks of live
shells left behind by dead or fleeing Iraqi troops.
A U.S. soldier said that they are starting to work on this problem,
beginning with "major" stockpiles, but it will be some time before they get
to those located in residential areas.
Team members had a long talk with a U.S. soldier from Mobile, AL. He was
still quite disturbed by an incident where he and his unit fired on an Iraqi
vehicle near Saddam Palace and killed a father and injured his two girls.
Iraqis are also asking questions about the thousands of Iraqi troops who
were killed near the Baghdad airport with no survivors and no records of the
deaths. U.S. troops still have the area sealed off. Iraqis ask if the U.S.
used chemical weapons.
The team made some hospital visits yesterday. At Saddam Children's Hospital,
they learned there are many premature babies, some of whom will not survive
because of shortages of oxygen and other equipment. Diarrhoea and
malnutrition are still prevalent. Families were digging up the shallow
graves in the hospital grounds trying to find their children, because the
hospital has no records left for recent deaths. They also visited a cancer
Hospital which is also short of oxygen and medicines.
Team members were able to visit the Presbyterian Church in Baghdad and found
our contacts doing well. They will make another visit soon. The team also
met with a U.S. Army information officer at the central command office in
Baghdad to learn more about reconstruction plans. This officer had no
information and will try to find another officer for a subsequent meeting.
The team worshipped at St Raphael's Catholic Church in downtown Baghdad.
They have made many friends there over the past six months at the church and
the associated hospital.
Reports conflict about the reason for the explosion at the munitions dump
yesterday in the southeast suburb of Zafanaria. The U.S.says Iraqis fired
into the dump triggering the explosion. Iraqis say the U.S. was detonating
munitions there as they had on the three previoU.S. days and it went awry.
CPT came on the unsecured dump site several hours later and anyone could
have removed ordnance or triggered further explosions.
Electricity is still only operating for one or two hours during daylight and
not at all at night. Prices for food are high with vegetables selling at
four times their pre-war prices while people have little or no income. The
team has heard no reports of cholera or typhoid in Baghdad although
diarrhoea and malnutrition are common.
Today Stewart Vriesinga saw another Iraqi job-seeker being harshly treated
by U.S. soldiers outside the Palestine Hotel. A large and angry crowd
immediately gathered and remained until the man was released.