At least 11 civilians, nine of them children, were killed in Hilla in central Iraq yesterday, according to reporters in the town who said they appeared to be the victims of bombing.
Reporters from the Reuters news agency said they counted the bodies of 11 civilians and two Iraqi fighters in the Babylon suburb, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Nine of the dead were children, one a baby. Hospital workers said as many as 33 civilians were killed.
Razzaq Kazem al-Khafaj grieves over the bodies of his children in Hilla in the southern province of Babylon. Khafaj lost 15 members (including six children) of his family as his car was bombed by coalition helicopters while fleeing al-Haidariyeh towards Babylon.(AFP/Karim Sahib)
Terrifying film of women and children later emerged after Reuters and the Associated Press were permitted by the Iraqi authorities to take their cameras into the town. Their pictures – the first by Western news agencies from the Iraqi side of the battlefront – showed babies cut in half and children with amputation wounds, apparently caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs.
Much of the videotape was too terrible to show on television and the agencies' Baghdad editors felt able to send only a few minutes of a 21-minute tape that included a father holding out pieces of his baby and screaming "cowards, cowards'' into the camera. Two lorryloads of bodies, including women in flowered dresses, could be seen outside the Hilla hospital.
Dr Nazem el-Adali, who was trained in Edinburgh, said almost all the patients were victims of cluster bombs dropped around Hella and in the neighboring village of Mazarak. One woman, Alia Mukhtaff, is seen lying wounded on a bed; she lost six of her children and her husband in the attacks. Another man is seen with an arm missing, and a second man, Majeed Djelil, whose wife and two of his children were killed, can be seen sitting next to his third and surviving child, whose foot is missing. The mortuary of the hospital, a butcher's shop of chopped up corpses, is seen briefly in the tape.
Iraqi officials have been insisting for 48 hours that the Americans have used cluster bombs on civilians in the region but this is the first time that evidence supporting these claims has come from Western news agencies. Most of the wounded said they were hit by American munitions and one man described how an American vehicle fired a shell into his family home. "I could see an American flag,'' he says.
One of the editors in Baghdad, a European, when asked why he would not send the full videotape to London, wound the pictures on to two mutilated corpses of babies. "How could we ever send this?'' he said.
Further south, there was heavy fire around the town of Diwaniyah, about 80 miles south-east of Baghdad. It was the second day of close combat between American forces and Iraqi troops, after fighting in the town of Hindiyah on Monday. It appeared that US troops were looking to take on some Iraqi forces after initially advancing largely unopposed through vast tracts of empty desert but deliberately avoiding population centers.
According to reports from Diwaniyah, US Marines deliberately provoked a firefight by moving into an area where they had come under fire before. The marines came under heavy fire from rocket-propelled grenades and machine-guns.
Iraqi Republican Guard troops and other fighters fired on the advancing marines from fortified bunkers and positions in buildings and behind vehicles. Corporal Patrick Irish of the US Marines said: "They were shooting from buildings, from dug-out positions, from holes, from everything. They would jump out to shoot. They were behind buses. You name it, they were there."
Although the Iraqis were outgunned by the heavily armed marines, the firefight went on for about 10 hours, according to Lieutenant-Colonel B P McCoy of the US Marines. They used 155mm artillery to destroy Iraqi tanks and mortar positions. "We hammered them pretty hard," said Lt-Col McCoy. At least 75 Iraqis were killed in fighting on Diwaniyah's outskirts and at least 44 soldiers, including some Republican Guard officers, were taken prisoner, Lt-Col McCoy said. There was no report of American casualties.
North-east of Diwaniyah there was heavy bombing yesterday near Kut to clear the way for ground forces, according to the US military. American marines also claim to have "secured" an air base at Qalat Sukkar, south-east of Kut, which US forces want to use as a staging ground.
Overnight, planes bombed the area around Hindiyah. Ominously, there were also reports of missiles streaking towards the Shia holy city of Kerbala, where any damage to the shrines could set the Shia Muslim world alight.
The Iraqi military said its troops were fighting US forces inside Nasiriyah and on the outskirts of the city, and had inflicted heavy casualties. "The blood of the enemy is flowing profusely," a military spokesman said at a press briefing, who claimed that fighting was still going on as he spoke. He claimed the forces fighting in and around Nasiriyah included Republican Guards, regular Iraqi army soldiers, volunteers from across the Arab world, and ordinary Iraqi citizens.
US Marines fought their way across the city's bridges last Tuesday but did not take control of the city. Since then, Iraqi forces have made several ambushes in the area.
The Iraqi spokesman also said US forces launched an attack on the Shia holy city of Najaf yesterday, and claimed fighters inside the city had forced them to retreat after suffering heavy losses.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd