Massacre At Hilla: An Eyewitness Report
Note: This is a rush transcript.
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Host: Agence France Press correspondent Nayla Razzouk reports seeing cluster bomblets all over a neighborhood, though the Pentagon has denied using them in Hilla. However, the Pentagon has just admitted that they used them elsewhere in Iraq. Amnesty International has condemned the Hilla bombing and the US use of cluster bombs, saying that the use of cluster bombs against a civilian area of Hilla constitutes an indiscriminate attack in grave violation of international humanitarian law. Just before the program, we reached Nayla Razzouk of Agence France Press in Baghdad.
Nayla Razzouk, Agence France Press Correspondent in Baghdad: I went down to Hilla yesterday, which was April 2nd, and the Information Ministry had organized a tour to the hospital in Hilla, which is a big city south of Baghdad- which is 80 kilometers from here, so about 50 miles south of the capital. We toured the hospital and talked to the patients and doctors and nurses in that hospital.
Amy Goodman: And what did they say?
Nayla Razzouk: Well, the people and the doctors said there was a bombing by planes on the outskirts of the town, and there were at lest 33 people killed and around 400 others wounded from that bombing that day.
Amy Goodman: In your piece, you described a man who is sitting among the coffins of his family; can you describe him to us?
Nayla Razzouk: Oh, that was a different story, you're confusing 2 stories in Hilla. The man we saw at the hospital who lost 15 people from his family is a man who was driving on a road in the outskirts of Hilla possibly around the time of the bombing- but who says he was the target of a bombing or strikes by helicopters on his vehicle- which was carrying, as he said; his wife, six children, his mother, his father, three of his brothers and their spouses, who were all dead.
Amy Goodman: You have also written about the use of cluster bombs. Can you talk about that?
Nayla Razzouk: Actually, yes. At the site where these people were bombed, the first incident, they said that what slammed in the area where they reside were parts of cluster bombs, which were bomb-lets that exploded around their houses, in their back yards- and they said a lot of bomb-lets were left on the ground. Our photographer who was there soon after the bombing has pictures of these bomb-lets equipped with small parachutes. Iraqi officials are saying these are parts of cluster bombs. The doctors at the hospital say that it appears that those wounded and killed were by cluster bombs, because of the locations of the injuries on the patients and the people who were killed and injured, their injuries concentrated on their lower limbs and in the head. This is what the doctors explained to us. And this, actually, is a lot of what we saw. We saw a lot of children that had burns and bruises and injuries on their legs.
Amy Goodman: The US military Center Command said that they're dropping on Iraq, for the first time in combat history, a new version of a cluster bomb that adapts to wind and weather to hit targets more accurately- the 'CBU-105 wind corrected munitions dispenser'.
Nayla Razzouk: Yes, actually, I read that report but there is no way to confirm it because we didn't see that. I think that was a kind of cluster bomb that was dropped on military targets in Iraq, not like the ones we saw in Hilla. In Hilla, it appears to be the usual cluster bombs, the doctors know that because of the kinds of injuries that they saw and from a lot of the pictures that the foreign media took that day and the next day, because a lot of them were still on the ground. The Iraqi army tried to remove some of the ordnance left on the ground, but of course this is a country in a war situation, so things don't get cleared as [quickly] as in a country where there's peace. So, that's why some of the Iraqi authorities are saying that the children have played with these ordnance and later on these blow up.
Amy Goodman: Can you describe Nader, the 5 year old?
Nayla Razzouk: Nader is a 5 year old who appears to be less than 5 years old. In a country such as Iraq, where the children suffer a lot, they often don't get enough food or have proper medicine- and some children often look younger than they are. He's 5 years old.he just sits on a bed and is a sad boy. He has a bandage on his eye- but we don't know what happened to him afterward because by the time I left he didn't have his operation yet. I hope that he'll regain his sight, he has a bandage on his eye and he sits there looking out the window. He's too young to understand what's going on, but from the people around him like his mother and his family, he knows something is happening, he is hearing the bombing. He is surely in shock.
Amy Goodman: What exactly happened to him? Nayla Razzouk: Well, he was with his family when the bombing took place, but his house was saved from the bombing. Nothing happened to it, but he was still under shock from then. And then- according to his mother and family, and other people from the village, is when he went out the next day to play, that maybe he stepped on or kicked- you know how little boys kick things that are on the ground- and that it exploded.
Amy Goodman: Nayla Razzouk is the Agence France Press reporter in Baghdad.
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! Correspondent: Nayla, I've wanted to ask you; we've heard reports that as many as 61 people have now died since Sunday from these attacks in Hilla. What are the numbers that you've seen and what do the hospitals look like in Hilla?
Nayla Razzouk: Well, it's very difficult to have accurate figures about casualties in Hilla or in Baghdad, or anywhere in Iraq. The thing is this; the Minister of Information himself gives a press conference and he gives and figures. But a lot of the times when we go to hospitals, we find people and ask them where they were wounded, and then they come up with stories that no one ever reported about what happened in Hilla. Every time you went into a room, you had a different story, and I found a lot of stories that I never reported. You must understand, Hilla is about 50 miles from Baghdad, and this was the only time that we, as the press, had been allowed to go that far. So we don't really know what's happening. I assume that a lot of bombings are taking place in several places around the country and civilians are getting wounded, and often we don't know about them unless it is by accident. Just today, I was getting back from a neighborhood, and we found in that hospital, they brought in 10 people who were killed and dozens wounded. And when we asked where this had happened, they told us 'in a neighborhood near the city center', and nobody had ever reported about it. This is the way it happens usually.
Jeremy Scahill: Nayla, what signs do you see of preparations for what many have been calling 'the siege of Baghdad'? We understand that they are saying US forces are just a few miles away from Baghdad. What is happening right now in the capital city?
Nayla Razzouk: Well, I think the Iraqi population has been preparing for weeks with what it could find for food and medicine. The Iraqi authorities have distributed food rations for the next 6 months. So, in terms of food, the Iraqi people are technically prepared. They have been stocking fuel and water and digging water wells- but in terms of the security situation, we don't really know. Even though the US authorities claim to be at a short distance, the Iraqi authorities deny this and keep saying 'look at Basra and other cities in the south where the US, until today, did not answer. And the Iraqi official line is that the Americans can't enter any city in Iraq, and we cannot go to the periphery of the city to see just what's going on outside town. But apart from that, the streets of Baghdad are, since day one, we see deployments of armed elements and troops and police and security forces and armed elements from the ruling Ba'ath party and all kinds of deployments to guard the streets at every corner.
Jeremy Scahill: Nayla Razzouk, from Agence France Press. We only have a few minutes and I know you're on a deadline, but I want to ask you about- we have seen reports of thousands of foreigners from Yemen or Palestine or Syria crossing international borders into Iraq to fight US forces. What evidence do you see about this? We heard that a group of Yemenis came to the Palestine Hotel where you are staying yesterday to announce their intent to become Fedayeen, 'self sacrificers' for Iraq. What do you seeing in terms of foreign mercenaries or Mujahideen crossing into Iraq?
Nayla Razzouk: Well, it's not something new that we're seeing here. We have been reporting on it all along. I went to a training camp over a month ago where there were Arab nationals from a number of countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, from all kinds of countries, and even Arabs who had been living in Europe coming in to join training camps that have visited by the Iraqi authorities themselves. The people at these camps are usually between the ages of 20 and 40 years and they are adamant about joining the fight because of what they perceive as a fight against the Arabs and Muslims and they are required by their patriotic feelings and religious duties to combat what they call the 'invaders of Arab and Muslim land'. Actually, the other day Iraqi authorities announced that there was some 6,000 fighters, half of them ready to die for Iraq.
Amy Goodman: Nayla Razzouk, Agence France reporter, speaking to us from Baghdad, Iraq.
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