How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? (#4)

February 1st, 2009

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq?

On Friday, January 30, ten days after President Barack Obama promised American soldiers would begin to responsibly leave Iraq, a gun battle broke out in the district of Baiji. One American soldier and one Iraqi militant were each shot to death. A second American soldier was wounded in the gunfire.

SALAH AL-DIN / Aswat al-Iraq: A gunman who shot down a U.S. soldier and wounded another in the district of Baiji was killed by U.S. army fire on Friday, a police source said.

A gunman from Baiji opened fire on Friday afternoon at U.S. soldiers who were standing in front of al-Rifaie school, which is used as a voting center, in the central part of the district, (35 km) north of Tikrit city, killing one of them and injuring another, the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

The U.S. soldiers fired back at the gunman, killing him instantly, the source said, adding the U.S. soldiers arrested the gunman’s brother inside his house in central Baiji.

Aswat al-Iraq news agency managed to contact a source within the U.S. forces’ Joint Coordination Office who said that a gunman opened fire at the U.S. servicemen in Baiji district and the U.S. soldiers fired back and shot him down.

Aswat al-Iraq (2009-01-30): Gunman killed after shooting down U.S. soldier in Baiji

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

Howard Zinn, introduction to “Bomb after Bomb”

December 19th, 2007

This is an introductory essay that social critic and historian Howard Zinn wrote for Bomb after Bomb, by elin o’Hara slavick, a collection of cartographic drawings–based on military surveillance imagery, aerial photographs, battle plans, maps, and mass media sources–of American aerial bombing campaigns. Zinn’s essay was reprinted in the December 15–16, 2007 issue of CounterPunch. It was brought to our attention by Mark Brady at Liberty & Power.

Perhaps it is fitting that elin o’Hara slavick’s extraordinary evocation of bombings by the United States government be preceded by some words from a bombardier who flew bombing missions for the U.S. Air Corps in the second World War. At least one of her drawings is based on a bombing I participated in near the very end of the war–the destruction of the French seaside resort of Royan, on the Atlantic coast.

As I look at her drawings, I become painfully aware of how ignorant I was, when I dropped those bombs on France and on cities in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, of the effects of those bombings on human beings. Not because she shows us bloody corpses, amputated limbs, skin shredded by napalm. She does not do that. But her drawings, in ways that I cannot comprehend, compel me to envision such scenes.

I am stunned by the thought that we, the civilized nations, have bombed cities and countrysides and islands for a hundred years. Yet, here in the United States, which is responsible for most of that, the public, as was true of me, does not understand–I mean really understand–what bombs do to people. That failure of imagination, I believe, is critical to explaining why we still have wars, why we accept bombing as a common accompaniment to our foreign policies, without horror or disgust.

We in this country, unlike people in Europe or Japan or Africa or the Middle East, or the Caribbean, have not had the experience of being bombed. That is why, when the Twin Towers in New York exploded on September 11, there was such shock and disbelief. This turned quickly, under the impact of government propaganda, into a callous approval of bombing Afghanistan, and a failure to see that the corpses of Afghans were the counterparts of those in Manhattan.

We might think that at least those individuals in the U.S. Air Force who dropped bombs on civilian populations were aware of what terror they were inflicting, but as one of those I can testify that this is not so. Bombing from five miles high, I and my fellow crew members could not see what was happening on the ground. We could not hear screams or see blood, could not see torn bodies, crushed limbs. Is it any wonder we see fliers going out on mission after mission, apparently unmoved by thoughts of what they have wrought.

It was not until after the war, when I read John Hersey’s interviews with Japanese survivors of Hiroshima, who described what they had endured, that I became aware, in excruciating detail, of what my bombs had done. I then looked further. I learned of the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, in which perhaps a hundred thousand people died. I learned about the bombing of Dresden, and the creation of a firestorm which cost the lives of 80,000 to 100,000 residents of that city. I learned of the bombing of Hamburg and Frankfurt and other cities in Europe.

We know now that perhaps 600,000 civilians–men, women, and children-died in the bombings of Europe. And an equal number died in the bombings of Japan. What could possibly justify such carnage? Winning the war against Fascism? Yes, we won. But what did we win? Was it a new world? Had we done away with Fascism in the world, with racism, with militarism, with hunger and disease? Despite the noble words of the United Nations charter about ending the scourge of war — had we done away with war?

As horrifying as the loss of life was, the acceptance of justifications for the killing of innocent people continued after World War II. The United States bombed Korea, with at least a million civilian deaths, and then Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, with another million or two million lives taken. Communism was the justification. But what did those millions of victims know of communism or capitalism or any of the abstractions which cover up mass murder?

We have had enough experience, with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders, with the bombings carried out by the Allies, with the torture stories coming out of Iraq, to know that ordinary people with ordinary consciences will allow their instincts for decency to be overcome by the compulsion to obey authority. It is time therefore, to educate the coming generation in disobedience to authority, to help them understand that institutions like governments and corporations are cold to anything but self-interest, that the interests of powerful entities run counter to the interests of most people.

This clash of interest between governments and citizens is camouflaged by phrases that pretend that everyone in the nation has a common interest, and so wars are waged and bombs dropped for national security, national defense, and national interest.

Patriotism is defined as obedience to government, obscuring the difference between the government and the people. Thus, soldiers are led to believe that we are fighting for our country when in fact they are fighting for the government — an artificial entity different from the people of the country — and indeed are following policies dangerous to its own people.

My own reflections on my experiences as a bombardier, and my research on the wars of the United States have led me to certain conclusions about war and the dropping of bombs that accompany modern warfare.

One: The means of waging war (demolition bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear weapons, napalm) have become so horrendous in their effects on human beings that no political end– however laudable, the existence of no enemy — however vicious, can justify war.

Two: The horrors of the means are certain, the achievement of the ends always uncertain.

Three: When you bomb a country ruled by a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant.

Four: War poisons the soul of everyone who engages in it, so that the most ordinary of people become capable of terrible acts.

Five: Since the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in war has risen sharply with each subsequent war of the past century (10% civilian deaths in World War I, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam, 80-90% in Afghanistan and Iraq) and since a significant percentage of these civilians are children, then war is inevitably a war against children.

Six: We cannot claim that there is a moral distinction between a government which bombs and kills innocent people and a terrorist organization which does the same. The argument is made that deaths in the first case are accidental, while in the second case they are deliberate. However, it does not matter that the pilot dropping the bombs does not intend to kill innocent people — that he does so is inevitable, for it is the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate. Even if the bombing equipment is so sophisticated that the pilot can target a house, a vehicle, there is never certainty about who is in the house or who is in the vehicle.

Seven: War, and the bombing that accompanies war, are the ultimate terrorism, for governments can command means of destruction on a far greater scale than any terrorist group.

These considerations lead me to conclude that if we care about human life, about justice, about the equal right of all children to exist, we must, in defiance of whatever we are told by those in authority, pledge ourselves to oppose all wars.

If the drawings of elin o’Hara slavick and the words that accompany them cause us to think about war, perhaps in ways we never did before, they will have made a powerful contribution towards a peaceful world.

Howard Zinn

State-funded gang war brings “peace” to Baghdad, from “Shotgun Wedding: The Saint, the Insurgent and the Surge’s ‘Success’” by Chris Floyd

November 21st, 2007

Although 2007 will have seen the largest number of American military deaths in Iraq and the passing of the one million mark in Iraqi civilians killed, there has been much triumphant harrumphing of late about a slight drop in the horrific death count in Iraq — proof, we are told, for the umpteenth time, that the war of aggression has finally turned the corner (i.e., the conquered people have finally been beaten into submission).

To the extent that there has been any lessening of the ongoing slaughter for a short period, much of that can be put down to a factor little discussed in the American media-political bubble (at least not in terms of stark reality): the fact that the White House and St. Gen. David Petraeus have simply legitimized what used to be recorded as terrorist acitivity by paying the former killers of Americans to kill and repress other Iraqis. Thus, in some areas of Baghdad now controlled by American-paid, American-armed Sunni extremist militias, executions, mass killings, horrific torture, kidnapping and rampant extortion still go on — but these are no longer counted as insurgent violence. These horrors are now regarded as legitimate police actions by concerned citizens groups — almost all of them former close allies of the most savage sectarian bands (now loosely called al Qaeda by everyone, regardless of any actual relationship, however tenuous, to the gang of one-time CIA ally Osama bin Laden).

In other words, Bush and St. David are now giving American taxpayer money — and copious amounts of arms, equipment and flash vehicles — to those responsible for some of the most sickening assaults on innocent life since Bush destroyed Iraqi society and plunged it into sectarian warfare, which the Administration has encouraged and exacerbated at every step.

This is one way of keeping the American death count down: you just turn over various walled enclaves in Baghdad to a band of thugs in your pay, lard them with guns and money, then get the hell out of Dodge, letting the thugs do what they will. It is absolutely vital for the Washington warmongers to keep the American death count low. As long as only two or three Americans are being killed every day or so, they can keep a lid on the rising but still very manageable popular discontent with the war back home. The increased use of airpower — blunderbuss assaults on civilian areas with bombs and attack helicopters — also helps toward this goal. And, as noted, it also helps lower the official numbers on terrorist violence, following the age-old tradition of U.S. foreign policy: if somebody is killing, raping and torturing with our money, in our name, why then, it can’t be terrorism. It’s just a grassroots initiative to restore law and order, and bring freedom to benighted peoples.

… In Saturday’s Guardian, the paper’s remarkably courageous man in Baghdad, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, gives us a vivid portrait of one of these American-paid gangs in action. It is the tale of Abu Abed, a violent, neurotic, vainglorious killer of Americans (and former intelligence officer for Saddam Hussein) who has been crowned by none other than St. David himself to rule as undisputed king over the walled Baghdad ghetto of Ameriya:

Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored Ameriya Knights. He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens…A former intelligence officer and a pious Sunni, Hajji Abu Abed has the aura of a mafia don. And for Abu Abed, like a don, connections are everything. His office is decorated with pictures of him hugging US officers, including the senior commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus…On Abu Abed’s desk stands a glass box containing a black suede cavalry hat and a letter proclaiming him an honorary US cavalryman.

The Americans pay him $400 (£200) a month for each fighter he provides, he said, and he had 600 registered. His men are awed by his courage, his piety and his neurotic rages…

Abu Abed began hugging St. David — and taking the Saint’s payoffs — after falling out with al Qaeda in a dispute over loot. The Qaedas were demanding a 25 percent cut of all swag to fund their self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Iraq; Abu Abed balked at the demand, and decided to eliminate his rivals. But he was outgunned his fellow sectarians, so he turned to the Americans.

… And how is the huggable Abu Abed bringing the blessing of freedom to his fiefdom? Like so:

When we arrived at the house where [an] alleged al-Qaida commander was hiding, Bakr [Abu Abed's head of intelligence] was already in action. He was dragging a plump man into a car, grabbing his neck with one hand and his BKC machine gun with the other. The horrified man begged them not to take him. By Allah, I didn’t say Qaida is better than you, you are our brothers, just let me go! A gunman kicked the man and pushed him into a car.

The suspect’s brother, still in his pyjamas, pleaded, and women in nightgowns stood in the street wailing and begging the gunmen to release him. The gunmen pointed their guns at the people and pushed them back. A young fighter carrying an old British sub-machine gun fired a burst into the air.

Abu Abed walked into the scuffle. The detained man was not the [alleged al Qaeda] target. Someone had overheard him saying Abu Abed’s men were worse than al-Qaida after Bakr’s men raided the house. Furious at the insult, Abu Abed aimed his gun at the brother. Al-Qaida is better than us, huh? Did you forget when the bodies were piled in the streets?

Some neighbours intervened, and the man was released. His brother grabbed him by the arm and pushed him inside. Abu Abed, shaking his head and waving his gun, walked back to his car, murmuring Al-Qaida, better than us…

He stopped in mid-stride and turned to charge with his men back into the house. They pushed the gate open and ran inside firing their weapons in the air. In the dark kitchen, they grabbed the man again, pushed him to the floor and kicked him. The women were screaming and crying. One of them pulled away her headscarf and wailed, holding on to the man’s ripped shirt as Abu Abed and the gunmen dragged him out, kicking and slapping him. Other fighters fired their Kalashnikovs in the air. The man was shoved into a car, as was his brother.

Abu Abed, screaming and pointing his gun, charged at the crowd. Qaida is better than me? I will show you! He held his gun high and quoted al-Hajjaj, a 7th-century ruler of Iraq, in a hoarse voice: Oh, people of Iraq, I had come to you with two swords, one is for mercy which I have left back in the desert, and this one — he pointed his gun at the crowd –is the sword of oppression, which I kept in my hand.

The convoy drove off, sirens blaring, fighters hanging out of the car windows.

Al Qaeda is not Abu Abed’s only enemy, of course. In addition to constantly threatening to renege on his deal with his new best friends — the Americans he used to kill — if they don’t properly acknowledge his authority, Abu Abed is also violently attacking forces aligned with the Iraqi government:

That night, Abu Abed decided to attack another group of Ameriya Knights under his general command. He suspected their commander, Abu Omar, was allied with the vice-president’s Islamic party, which has been trying to control the Sunni area.

I have to show them there is one commander. If the Americans don’t like it, I will withdraw my men, he told me. Let’s see if they can fight al-Qaida alone. By sunset, his men were gathered in front of the house again. He distributed extra guns and he carried an extra shotgun with his machine gun.

… Abu Omar’s men were rounded up. Some were put in pick-up trucks, others were squeezed in car boots. By the light of headlamps, Abu Abed’s men looted weapons, ammunition boxes and radios.

One terrified child was brought for questioning. Where are Abu Omar’s sniper rifles? Abu Abed asked him.

I don’t know, replied the boy.

Look, this head of yours, I will cut it off and put it on your chest if you don’t tell where the guns are by tomorrow. He tried to put his shotgun in the boy’s mouth but his men restrained him.

–From Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque (2007-11-10): Shotgun Wedding: The Saint, the Insurgent and the Surge’s Success.

Napoleon’s massacre at Alexandria

November 8th, 2007

This is an excerpt from a long letter home by Boyer, a soldier in Napoleon’s army during the campaign to conquer Egypt. Here, in his own words, is what happened when the French army reached Alexandria:

Admiral Nelson had been off the city on the noon of this very day; and proposed to the Turks to anchor in the port, by way of securing it against us; but as his proposal was not accepted, he stood on for Cyprus; while we, profiting by his errors, and turning even his stupidity to our own advantage, made good our landing on the 2d of July, at Marabou. The whole army was on shore by break of day, and Bonaparte putting himself at their head, marched straight to Alexandria, across a desert of three leagues, which did not even afford a drop of water, in a climate where the heat is insupportable.

Notwithstanding all these difficulties, we reached the town, which was defended by a garrison of near 500 Janizaries. Of the rest of the inhabitants, some had thrown themselves into the forts, and others got on the tops of their houses. In this situation they waited our attack. The charge is sounded—our soldiers fly to the ramparts, which they scale, in spite of the obstinate defence of the besieged: many Generals are wounded, amongst the rest Kleber—we lose near 150 men, but courage, at length, subdues the obstinacy of the Turks! Repulsed on every side, they betake themselves to God and their Prophet, and fill their mosques—men, women, old, young, children at the breast, ALL are massacred. At the end of four hours, the fury of our troops ceases—tranquility revives in the city—several forts capitulate—I myself reduce one into which 700 Turks had fled—confidence springs up—and, by the next day, all is quiet.

Later in the same letter, Boyer explains the considerations that, in Bonaparte’s mind, made it necessary to put Egypt’s innocent men, women, and children to the sword:

France, by the different events of the war and the Revolution, having lost her colonies and her factories, must inevitably see her commerce decline, and her industrious inhabitants compelled to procure at second hand the most essential articles of their trade. Many weighty reasons must compel her to look upon the recovery of those colonies, if not impossible, yet altogether unlikely to produce any of the advantages which were derived from them before they became a scene of devastation and horror; especially, if we may add to this, the decree for abolishing the slave trade.

To indemnify itself, therefore, for this loss, which may be considered as realized, the Government turned its views towards Egypt and Syria; countries which, by their climate and their fertility, are capable of being made the storehouses of France, and, in process of time, the mart of her commerce with India. It is certain, that by seizing and organizing these countries, we shall be enabled to extend our views still further; to annihilate, by degrees, the English East India trade, enter into it with advantage ourselves; and, finally, get into our hands the whole commerce of Africa and of Asia.

These, I think, are the considerations which have induced the Government to undertake the present expedition against Egypt.

This part of the Ottoman dominion has been for many ages governed by a species of men called Mameloucs, who, having a number of Beys at their head, disavow the authority of the Grand Seignior, and rule despotically and tyrannically, a people and a country, which, in the hands of a civilized nation, would become a mine of wealth.

An Iraqi boy peered Tuesday inside a car that was towed to a Baghdad police station after two women inside were killed.

October 11th, 2007

Here is a photo of an Iraqi boy peering through the windows of a white Oldsmobile at a Baghdad police station. The driver-side door is streaked with blood.

BAGHDAD, Oct. 9 — Two women died here on Tuesday when their white Oldsmobile was riddled by automatic gunfire from guards for a private security company, just weeks after a shooting by another company strained relations between the United States and Iraq.

The guards involved in the Tuesday shooting were working for an Australian-run security company. But the people they were assigned to protect work under the same United States government agency whose security guards sprayed bullets across a crowded Baghdad square on Sept. 16, an episode that caused an uproar among Iraqi officials and is still being investigated by the United States.

In the Tuesday shooting, as many as 40 bullets struck the car, killing the driver and the woman in the front seat on the passenger side. A woman and a boy in the back seat survived, according to witnesses and local police officials in the Karada neighborhood, where the shooting took place on a boulevard lined with appliance stores, tea shops and money changers.

American government officials said the guards had been hired to protect financial and policy experts working for an organization under contract with the United States Agency for International Development, a quasi-independent State Department agency that does extensive aid work in Iraq.

The organization, RTI International, is in Iraq to carry out what is ultimately a State Department effort to improve local government and democratic institutions. But a Bush administration official said the State Department bore no responsibility for overseeing RTI’s security operations.

… The guards who were in the convoy work for Unity Resources Group, an Australian-run company that has its headquarters in Dubai and is registered in Singapore, according to a statement by the company. Unity Resources was hired by RTI to provide security in Iraq.

Andrew E. Kramer and James Glanz, New York Times (2007-10-09): U.S. Guards Kill 2 Iraqi Women in New Shooting

A Wobbly loves his flag

September 6th, 2007

I love my flag, I do, I do,
Which floats upon the breeze.
I also love my arms and legs,
And neck and nose and knees.
One little shell might spoil them all
Or give them such a twist,
They would be of no use to me;
I guess I won’t enlist.

I love my country, yes, I do,
I hope her folks do well.
Without our arms and legs and things,
I think we’d look like hell.
Young men with faces half shot off
Are unfit to be kissed,
I’ve read in books it spoils their looks;
I guess I won’t enlist.

Anonymous, Industrial Worker (April 14, 1917).

Surging towards Baghdad (or: lies, damn lies, and military press conferences, part 2)

August 29th, 2007

BAGHDAD — Despite U.S. claims that violence is down in the Iraqi capital, U.S. military officers are offering a bleak picture of Iraq’s future, saying they’ve yet to see any signs of reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims despite the drop in violence.

Without reconciliation, the military officers say, any decline in violence will be temporary and bloodshed could return to previous levels as soon as the U.S. military cuts back its campaign against insurgent attacks.

That downbeat assessment comes despite a buildup of U.S. troops that began five months ago Wednesday and has seen U.S. casualties reach the highest sustained levels since the United States invaded Iraq nearly four and a half years ago.

Violence remains endemic, with truck bombs in two northern Iraqi villages claiming the largest single death toll of the war — more than 300 confirmed dead and counting. North of Baghdad, another truck bomb destroyed a key bridge on the road linking the capital to Mosul, the first successful bridge attack since June.

And while top U.S. officials insist that 50 percent of the capital is now under effective U.S. or government control, compared with 8 percent in February, statistics indicate that the improvement in violence is at best mixed.

U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don’t support the claim.

The number of car bombings in July actually was 5 percent higher than the number recorded last December, according to the McClatchy statistics, and the number of civilians killed in explosions is about the same.

U.S. officials have said that the new security plan needs time to work. But many have expressed disappointment at the continued sectarian violence.

The military has been trying to stanch that violence by building walls between neighborhoods and around potential bombing targets. But bombings and sectarian violence still take place.

The number of Iraqis killed in attacks changed only marginally in July when compared with December — down seven, from 361 to 354, according to McClatchy statistics.

No pattern of improvement is discernible for violence during the five months of the surge. In January, the last full month before the surge began, 438 people were killed in the capital in bombings. In February, that number jumped to 520. It declined in March to 323, but jumped again in April, to 414.

Violence remained virtually unchanged in May, when 404 were killed. The lowest total came in June, the first month U.S. officials said all the new American troops were in place, with just 190 dead, but then swung back up in July, with 354 dead.

One bright spot has been the reduction in the number of bodies found on the streets, considered a sign of sectarian violence. That number was 44 percent lower in July, compared to December. In July, the average body count per day was 18.6, compared with 33.2 in December, two months before the surge.

But the reason for that decline isn’t clear. Some military officers believe that it may be an indication that ethnic cleansing has been completed in many neighborhoods and that there aren’t as many people to kill.

One officer noted that U.S. officials believe Baghdad once had a population that was 65 percent Sunni. The current U.S. estimate is that Shiites now make up 75 percent to 80 percent of the city.

Leila Fadel, McClatchy Washington Bureau (2007-08-15): Despite violence drop, officers see bleak future for Iraq

Guernica

April 26th, 2007
Here is the painting, Guernica

Pablo Picasso (1937), Guernica

Seventy years ago today, on the afternoon of April 26, 1937, a group of twenty-nine German and Italian airplanes, commanded by Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen and acting on direct orders from the Spanish Command, attacked the Basque town of Gernika in northeastern Spain. Gernika (Spanish: Guernica), with a population of about 5,000 regular residents and a large number of refugees from the fighting elsewhere, was completely unarmed. The airplanes had been provided by the fascist powers to aid Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The bombers dropped explosives and incendiary bombs in five waves of bombardment, while the fighters strafed the streets with machine gun fire. The incendiary bombs created a firestorm that destroyed three-quarters of the buildings in Guernica, with most of the rest heavily damaged. The Basque government estimated that about 1,600 civilians were killed in the attacks, and about 900 wounded.

BBC: Up to 200 killed in Baghdad bombs

April 19th, 2007
Photos show the Sadriya market in ruins, with the twisted remains of a car smoking and people walking wounded through the streets.

The Sadriya market was being rebuilt after an earlier attack in February which killed more than 130 people. –BBC

Nearly 200 people have been killed in a string of attacks in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad – the worst day of violence since a US security operation began.

In one of the deadliest attacks of the last four years, some 140 people were killed in a car bombing in a food market in Sadriya district.

A witness said the area had been turned into a swimming pool of blood.

The attacks came as PM Nouri Maliki said Iraqi forces would take control of security across Iraq by the year’s end.

As the number of people killed in the Sadriya market bombing continued to climb, Mr Maliki called the perpetrators infidels and ordered the detention of the Iraqi army commander responsible for security in that area.

This monstrous attack today did not distinguish between the old and young, between men and women, he said.

It targeted the population in a way that reminds us of the massacres and genocide committed by the former dictatorship.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the attacks were a horrifying thing, but said insurgents would not derail the ongoing security drive in Baghdad.

Burned alive

The bomb in Shia-dominated Sadriya was reportedly left in a parked car and exploded at about 1600 (1200 GMT) in the middle of a crowd of workers and shoppers.

The market was being rebuilt after it was destroyed by a bombing in February which killed more than 130 people.

The powerful bomb started a fire which swept over cars and minibuses parked nearby, burning many people and sending a large plume of smoke over Baghdad.

Television pictures showed a blasted scene littered with blackened and twisted wreckage.

One witness told the Reuters news agency that many of the victims were women and children.

I saw dozens of dead bodies, the man said. Some people were burned alive inside minibuses. Nobody could reach them after the explosion.

There were pieces of flesh all over the place.

Ahmed Hameed, a shopkeeper in the area said: The street was transformed into a swimming pool of blood.

About an hour earlier, a suicide car bomb attack on a police checkpoint in Sadr City killed 35 people.

Another parked car bomb killed at least 11 people near a hospital in the Karrada district of Baghdad, while in al-Shurja district at least two people were killed by a bomb left on a minibus.

Two other attacks in the capital killed and wounded about 11 more people.

Hospitals in Baghdad were inundated with more than 200 injured people, many of them with serious burns from the bomb at the Sadriya market.

Car and suicide bombings have occurred almost daily in Baghdad in recent months, despite a US-led security crackdown since February.

The bombers are proving that they can slip through the tightened security net and defy the clampdown, says the BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad.

Security handover

Most of the attacks have been in Shia areas, increasing pressure for the Shia militias to step up their campaign of reprisal killings against the Sunni community in which the insurgents are based, says our correspondent.

The attacks in Baghdad came as officials from more than 60 countries attended a UN conference in Geneva on the plight of Iraqi refugees.

The UN estimates up to 50,000 people flee the violence in Iraq each month.

BBC News (2007-04-18): Up to 200 killed in Baghdad bombs

Listen: Kurt Vonnegut on the firebombing of Dresden

April 14th, 2007

Billy went into his bedroom, even though there were guests to be entertained downstairs. He lay down on his bed, turned on the Magic Fingers. The mattress trembled, drove a dog out from under the bed. The dog was Spot. Good old Spot was still alive in those days. Spot lay down again in a corner.

Billy thought hard about the effect the quartet had had on him, and then found an association with an experience he had had long ago. He did not travel in time to the experience. He remembered it shimmeringly–as follows:

§

He was down in the meat locker on the night that Dresden was destroyed. There were sounds like giant footsteps above. Those were sticks of high-explosive bombs. The giants walked and walked. The meat locker was a very safe shelter. All that happened down there was an occasional shower of calcimine. The Americans and four of their guards and a few dressed carcasses were down there, and nobody else. The rest of the guards had, before the raid began, gone to the comforts of their own homes in Dresden. They were all being killed with their families.

So it goes.

The girls that Billy had seen naked were all being killed, too, in a much shallower shelter in another part of the stockyards.

So it goes.

A guard would go to the head of the stairs every so often to see what it was like outside, then he would come down and whisper to the other guards. There was a fire-storm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn.

It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.

So it goes.

The guards drew together instinctively, rolled their eyes. They experimented with one expression and then another, said nothing, though their mouths were often open. They looked like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.

So long forever, they might have been singing, old fellows and pals; So long forever, old sweethearts and pals–God bless ‘em–

§

Tell me a story, Montana Wildhack said to Billy Pilgrim in the Tralfamadorian zoo one time. They were in bed side by side. They had privacy. The canopy covered the dome. Montana was six months pregnant now, big and rosy, lazily demanding small favors from Billy from time to time. She couldn’t send Billy out for ice cream or strawberries, since the atmosphere outside the dome was cyanide, and the nearest strawberries and ice cream were millions of light years away.

She could send him to the refrigerator, which was decorated with the blank couple on the bicycle built for two–or, as now, she could wheedle, Tell me a story, Billy boy.

Dresden was destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945, Billy Pilgrim began. We came out of our shelter the next day. He told Montana about the four guards who, in their astonishment and grief, resembled a barbershop quartet. He told her about the stockyards with all the fenceposts gone, with roofs and windows gone–told her about seeing little logs lying around. There were people who had been caught in the fire-storm. So it goes.

Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to form cliffs around the stockyards. They had collapsed. Their wood had been consumed, and their stones had crashed down, had tumbled against one another until they locked at last in low and graceful curves.

It was like the moon, said Billy Pilgrim.

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The guards told the Americans to form in ranks of four, which they did. Then they had them march back to the hog barn which had been their home. Its walls still stood, but its windows and roof were gone, and there was nothing inside but ashes and dollops of melted glass. It was realized then that there was no food or water, and that the survivors, if they were going to continue to survive, were going to have to climb over curve after curve on the face of the moon.

Which they did.

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The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbing them learned that they were treacherous, jagged things–hot to the touch, often unstable–eager, should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more solid curves.

Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all.

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American fighter planes came in under the smoke to see if anything was moving. They saw Billy and the rest moving down there. The planes sprayed them with machine-gun bullets, but the bullets missed. Then they saw some other people moving down by the riverside and they shot at them. They hit some of them. So it goes.

The idea was to hasten the end of the war.

Kurt Vonnegut (1969), Slaughterhouse-Five, chapter 8.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007) was an American novelist known for his works blending black comedy and science fiction to illuminate the human condition. His most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death, written in 1969, drew from Vonnegut’s own experience in World War II, where he was captured by Nazi forces and witnessed the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war. After surviving the bombing in a meat locker, he and his fellow prisoners were put to work by their guards cleaning up bodies until they were found and freed by Soviet forces in May 1945. Before the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five, few people in English-speaking countries knew about the bombing of Dresden and it was rarely discussed by historians of the war.

Vonnegut died at the age of 84 on Wednesday, April 11, in Manhattan, New York, from complications related to a fall in his home.