Chocolate and death for Baghdad children

BAGHDAD (AFP) — The bodies of Mohammad Radhi and Alaa Mohammad, hands still clutching the chocolate bars given to them by US soldiers, lay on the floor of a Baghdad morgue, their lives snuffed out by a suicide bomber.
“They killed all the children of the neighbourhood,” wept Radhi Hamud, one of the “lucky” fathers.

His 13-year-old boy Husam was still alive, but had lost both of his legs when the car exploded, killing 32 children in all and maiming 31 others.

One by one fathers and brothers were allowed in to the hospital morgue to collect their little ones, all between the ages of six and 15 except for an 18-year-old.

Gently lifting the naked and bloodied bodies, they came out and placed them in man-sized wooden coffins lined up in the courtyard.

Mothers ripped open their black cloaks, threw themselves to the ground, wailed and slapped their bloodied faces.

Just hours earlier the children, in shorts and T-shirts, had been playing outside their homes on sizzling hot summer morning in the working-class district of Al Jedidah, some riding their bicycles.

In a familiar scene often repeated all over this war-torn country, the children were excited by the arrival of a US patrol. This one was hunting for a suspected car bomber and was warning people to stay inside their homes.

The soldiers, who have been more successful in winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi children than those of adults, are usually greeted with smiles and expressions like “hello, mister.”

The children of Jedidah swarmed around them as they began handing out sweets and keyrings of smiley figures wearing caps depicting the US flag.

“My friend Abbas ran out,” said Amer Hamad, 13. “I shouted at him to wait for me, but by then he was already on the street.

“It was then the car came from a side street and blew up.”

One of the soldiers also died, and three of his comrades were wounded.

The blast devastated an entire neighbourhood. Two homes near the blast scene were wrecked by the explosion and one set on fire.

A family of seven died in one home, said a resident who did not wish to give his name, but those deaths could not be confirmed by hospital sources.

Pools of blood, body parts, remains of the car bomb, children’s bikes, small sandals and sweets littered the street.

The hallways of Kindi Hospital were drenched in blood as the dead and wounded were rushed in while dazed relatives stood around.

Some bodies were headless, missing arms or legs or completely blackened.

Abu Hamed whose 12-year-old son Mohammad was killed, said: “I was at home. I heard the explosion. I rushed outside to find my son. I only found his bicycle.”

He found his son in the hospital morgue.

“I recognised him from his head. The rest of the body was completely burnt.”

Hassan Mohammad, another grieving father, swore at insurgents for attacking civilians.

“Why do they attack our children? They just destroyed one US Humvee, but they killed dozens of our children. What sort of a resistance is this? It’s a crime.”

Hana Ali went round several of the city’s hospitals looking for her 11-year-old son without luck.

She found his head at the scene of the blast when she returned home.

‘Saddam probe almost complete’
BAGHDAD (AFP) — The Iraqi judge in charge of questioning Saddam Hussein and his former regime henchmen said Wednesday more than 80 per cent of the investigation into their cases was complete.

“The investigation is quite advanced with more than 80 per cent completed (but) deciding the date of the trials is not the speciality of the investigative judges,” Raed Juhi, a senior judge on the Iraqi Special Tribunal told AFP.

The decision will be made by a five-person court panel, sources close to the tribunal recently said. Juhi is the young judge who faced Saddam at a preliminary hearing in July 2004 and he also appeared questioning the ousted leader in video footage released by the tribunal in June.

He said building up the cases against Saddam and his deputies for genocide against the country’s Kurdish and Shiite communities was going on in tandem with investigating other crimes.

These crimes included the invasion of neighbouring Kuwait in 1990 and the war against Iran in the 1980s, which left almost one million people dead on both sides.

Juhi said the defendants were likely to face several trials with the duration of each depending on the gravity of the accusations and their complexity.

“The complexity of the case will decide the duration,” he said.

Iraq’s parliament is working on draft legislation that would reorganise the court set up by the previous US-led occupation authority before the handover of sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, amid strong criticism by many Iraqi officials of the slow pace in starting the trials more than 18 months since Saddam’s capture.

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