Baghdad's unexploded bombs
A two-inch-long black cylinder hangs on a white "stabilizer" ribbon from the branch of a lemon tree, a deadly fruit in a leafy Baghdad neighborhood.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It's one of the unexploded cluster bombs fired by US forces last week that still litter several residential areas of the city.
On this street alone, residents say the controversial bomblets have killed four men. About 100 unexploded cylinders lie under bushes and in the gutters of houses in the district of Al Khouarneq, according to US bomb disposal experts who were encasing them in plaster Tuesday or blowing them up.
The cleanup marked one aspect of tentative efforts by US and Iraqi officials to restore normality to the Iraqi capital of 5 million people Tuesday, as citizens helped collect unexploded ordnance, opened a very few shops, welcomed the return of electricity to a handful of streets, and worked to mend local telephone exchanges.
Sporadic gun fights and looting continued to make Baghdad decidedly unsafe, however, and US troops in the center of the city beefed up their security measures.
But the homeowners in southern Baghdad were more frightened of the little black cylinders in their midst than looters.
"Bush and Blair said they were looking out for the people, that they were not going to hurt anyone, but there are bombs outside our houses," says Kawther Hussein, a mother of three who shook with fear as a loud explosion rocked her normally placid suburban street.
US and British media have reported several deaths and injuries in recent days resulting from Iraqi civilians handling cluster bombs in other Baghdad neighborhoods. The United States, like most other countries, regards cluster bombs as legitimate weapons against concentrations of enemy troops or armor.
Asked about the cluster bombs found in Baghdad, US Central Command spokesman Lt. Herb Josey in Qatar replied that Saddam Hussein's "regime has in many instances placed military targets near civilian areas to increase the chances of collateral damage. In general, we try to target legitimate military targets only. If cluster bombs are the best weapons to use against a target, they are the weapon of choice. We take into account the chances of civilian casualties all the time."
The quiet streets of Al Khouarneq, lined with olive trees, bougainvillaea bushes, and roses, are now pitted with the telltale pockmarks left by the shards of metal dispersed by cluster bomb explosions. Neighbors say that four civilian men died in the US attack early in the morning of April 7, Rashid Majid and two of his sons, Arkan and Ghassan, and a neighbor, Uday Kedr.
It was unclear from local residents' accounts whether they were killed in the raid itself, while going to help extinguish a fire in a nearby home, or whether one of them set off an unexploded bomblet by picking it up. "I heard a big bang, then a series of bangs, and everyone was terrified. They were very astonished with fear," says Ahmed, a local resident who declined to give his family name.
The submunitions now lying around the area are of a type fired either by 155 mm artillery or Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, says US Army Capt. Thomas Austin, a combat engineer who was supervising the destruction of the lethal bomblets Tuesday.
It was unclear what the shells had been aimed at. Local people said Iraqi troops had set up two antiaircraft guns by a highway 200 yards from the houses that were hit and more than half a mile away are the ruins of an Iraqi air-defense training center, residents say has been abandoned since 1991. Capt. Derek Mayfield, who is with US forces now occupying the base, says his troops have found no unexploded US ordnance on the base, indicating it wasn't a target.
Whatever the intended target, the shells fell in the middle of a residential district of two-story sand-colored houses with flat roofs, where people are now fearful to sit in their gardens or walk the streets. The bomblet in the lemon tree was outside No. 5, 19th Street. "I live at number seven, and I am so afraid," says Hassan Samr, a computer engineer. "So is my family."
A few doors up, Qusay Abdel Majid showed reporters his front garden, treading lightly around the three unexploded cluster bomblets that lay on the grass under a palm tree to point out another under a rosebush.
Captain Austin says his men dealt with about 20 unexploded submunitions on Monday, digging small dams around them, pouring plaster of Paris over the bomblets to freeze the sensitive fuses, and then carrying the bombs in their hardened cases away for destruction.