(photos by Mike Moore)
AN old man cries over the coffin of his daughter. His wife and younger daughter sit in the dirt outside the mortuary in shock and abject sadness.
It is only an hour and 20 minutes since Nadia Khalaf died, too early for total grief to set in. But time enough to know their lives have been shattered forever.
We discovered them during a random visit to Al Kindhi Hospital in North East Baghdad at 1pm. The doctors did not know we were coming - we had an official guide and we were free to choose which hospital.
Nadia was lying on a stretcher beside the stone mortuary slab. Her heart lay on her chest, ripped from her body by a missile which smashed through the bedroom window of the family’s flat nearby in Palestine Street.
SLAUGHTERED: Najem Khalaf weeps at the sight of his dead daughter Nadia, killed by a missile
Her father Najem Khalaf stood beside her corpse. And I shall try to write what he and his family said in exactly the order they said it. I shall try because I hope it will better convey the bewilderment and horror that broke on one Iraqi household yesterday.
“A shell came down into the room as she was standing by the dressing-table,” Najem says. “My daughter had just completed her PhD in Psychology and was waiting for her first job. She was born in 1970. She was 33. She was very clever.
“Everyone said I have a fabulous daughter. She spent all her time studying. Her head buried in books. She didn’t have a care about going out enjoying herself. My other daughter is the same. She has a Master’s degree in English and teaches at the university. Me? I’m just a lorry driver. A simple man.”
He holds out his dead daughter’s identity card for us to see. His fingers are covered in her blood.
I go to offer my condolence to his other daughter Alia, who is 35.
“I don’t know what humanity Bush is calling for,” she says in English, “Is this the humanity which lost my sister?
“We are a working class family which made two academics. It was never easy for my parents or for us. We struggled to get where we are. Our flat is rented, not owned. I receive 75,000 dinars a month as a university teacher, my main subject Shakespeare. The flat costs 35,000 monthly – about $12. We were hoping to get ourselves a proper home when Nadia started working. Now look.”
Her mother Fawzia raises her hand as if beseeching me. But words fail her and she begins to sob again.
“We have been looking only for peace and security,” Alia says, “We were not interested in collecting money, buying costly clothes. We didn’t care about dresses. Just peace and security. Not this.”
HEARTBREAK: Najem Khalaf eipes the tears from the cheek of his distraught daughter Alia
Both women were still in their nightclothes, dressing gowns loose around them. They said they had risen late because of all the shelling overnight. Like everyone else, they were talking about the electricity being cut off on Thursday night.
Nadia was joking about going for a shower. Alia told her she’d probably be away for three hours… just waiting for some water.
They were laughing. “I didn’t hear any sound,” Alia says, “Suddenly a shell or bomb or something came through the room. I fell to the floor. My mouth was full of dust. I was swallowing dust. Then I looked at her.
“The missile, something big and unexploded, had come through her chest and her heart. She was covered in blood, unconscious. I ran down to the street, Daddy and Mummy behind me, screaming for an ambulance. There wasn’t any. A neighbour said he would drive us here to the hospital.
“We all knew it was too late. But we hoped, we hoped.”
I tell her that the International Red Cross have said that the majority of civilian casualties have been caused by falling anti-aircraft shells. “I don’t know. I don’t know. But it is war which has done this. And that war was started by Bush,” she says, “Believe me. We have no emnity for foreign people. We never will. We just want to live our lives.”
A group of men help to put the corpse in a simple wooden coffin. Najem weeps as he kneels before his daughter. His wife and daughter climb into the back of the blue car. The other men place the coffin on the roof rack, put on the lid and secure it with bindings.
Alia asks that I send her a copy of this story and I promise somehow to do so. It seems to give her some consolation. The only sort, apart from the spoken word, which I can offer.
FINAL JOURNEY: Nadia’s simple wooden coffin is taken to her final resting place
And so they leave. Three people driven by a neighbour with their precious daughter strapped to the roof.
Our guide says they will now wash her body, drape it in white and before dusk lay her in the ground.
It has been one of the saddest episodes I have ever witnessed in my 26 years reporting for this newspaper.
For more ZNet articles covering the effects of the war on Iraq go to http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Iraq/effects.htm