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Accounts From ‘Off Target’

The following accounts from "Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq" are selected from more than 200 interviews gathered by Human Rights Watch during a 5-week mission to Iraq in April and May 2003. During its investigation of the conduct of the war and its effects on civilians, Human Rights Watch visited dozens of battlefields and bombsites from Basra to Baghdad. Researchers interviewed Iraqi civilian victims of and witnesses to the conduct of the war, local doctors, coalition troops, and many others. Some of their stories are excerpted below.

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Coalition Conduct in the War

Failed "Decapitation" Air Strikes Against Iraqi Leaders

In Basra, `Abd al-Hussain Yunis al-Tayyar on April 5 went to his garden to get water. Moments later, a U.S. bomb slammed into the house next door, destroying his house as well. The 50-year-old laborer spent the rest of the day working to pull the seven dead bodies of his family from the rubble. `Abid Hassan Hamudi, a neighbor who also lost his home, saved his daughter and two grandsons from the blast, but 10 other people in his home died. The intended target of the attack was Lt. Gen. `Ali Hassan al-Majid ("Chemical Ali"), who was captured alive in August.

On April 7, in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood, a U.S. strike on a home killed Zaid Ratha Jabir, a 36-year-old engineer, and five members of his family. Only his 4-month-old daughter, Dina, survived. She was found the next day in a neighbor's garden-thrown there by the explosion, with broken bones but alive.

"It was a mistake. I don't know why the house was hit. There was no intelligence, no army nearby, no weapons," said Sa'dun Hassan Salih, Dina's uncle. "Why did Americans tell the world they hit only places of the army? Why did they hit civilian homes?" Pentagon officials told Human Rights Watch the intended target was Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan.

Air-Dropped Cluster Bombs Strikes in Populated Areas

Nihad Salim Muhammad was washing his car in early April when U.S. cluster bombs hit a date grove in Hay Tunis, a densely populated, residential neighborhood of Baghdad. The U.S. Air Force had targeted Iraqi military vehicles hidden in the grove. During the strike, the bomblets injured several people on Muhammad's street, including four children.

Two days after attack, two cousins who lived a few minutes away from the grove-Hussam Jasmi, 13, and Muhammad Mun`im Muhammad, 14-stepped on an unexploded submunition. The bomblet ripped off their legs and ultimately killed them.

Ground-Launched Cluster Munition Strikes in Populated Areas

In Najaf, U.S. cluster grenades killed about 36 civilians on the night of March 28 alone.

"The day of the bombing was a horrible day. There were not enough places to keep the dead people. Many of the dead people were in the lobbies of the hospital," said Dr. Safa' al-`Umaidi, director of the Najaf Teaching Hospital. "Later families came and took them. The government buried unknown people in the cemeteries."

In Basra, Jamal Kamil Sabir, a 25-year-old laborer, lost his leg during a British cluster strike while he and his family were crossing a bridge near their home on March 25. His nephew, Jabal Kamil, 22, took shrapnel in his knee. Jamal's pregnant wife, Zainam Nasir `Abbas, still had shrapnel in her left leg in May because doctors were afraid to remove it during her pregnancy.

Explosive Cluster Duds

Explosive cluster duds-or submunitions that fail to explode on impact-endangered Hilla's inhabitants from the moment the battle for the city began on March 31. Ambulances could not enter one neighborhood to evacuate wounded civilians because their drivers feared running over a dud in the dark. The next morning, hundreds of injured civilians were taken to the hospital by relatives or returning ambulances.

In mid-May, long after the battle ended, cluster duds still threatened the people of Hilla. A Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed a young boy pick up a live dud and carry it down the street through a crowd of his neighbors. Fortunately it did not explode.

On March 26 in Abu Sukhair, a village nine miles east of Najaf, Samir Qassim `Abbas, a 24-year-old taxi driver and college student, went to pick up some passengers.

"I entered a house where I found something that looked like a piece of a lamp. I kicked this thing. When I kicked, it exploded and I fell down," `Abbas said.

Two months later he remained in the hospital. The submunition dud left him with injuries and bone loss in both legs. The right leg required skin grafts, and his left leg needed surgery to replace his tibia.

Iraqi Conduct in the War

Use of Human Shields

Yusif Sahib Jawad, a 29-year-old taxi driver, witnessed fedayeen fighters-paramilitary forces loyal to Saddam Hussein-hiding between houses on Madina Street, where much of the fighting in Najaf took place.

"Most of the fedayeen and Ba`thists distributed and hid between houses because they thought the Americans wouldn't shoot civilians. They used civilians as shields." In one case, he saw members of the ruling Ba`th Party's militia spot a U.S. helicopter overhead, and then move their car next to a car carrying a civilian family. The helicopter fired, and seven civilians died in their vehicle.

Abuse of Red Cross and Red Crescent Emblems

On the night of March 23, during the battle for Najaf, fedayeen fighters came to the Hay al-Hussain Ambulance Center. They told the center's staff that they knew of injured people who needed help. Armed with their guns, the paramilitaries climbed into an ambulance marked with red crescent emblems.

"They got in . . . and then took part in the battle. They used [the ambulance] as a cover to reach the field of battle," said paramedic Rashid Majid Hamid, 42, who witnessed two such cases. Five days later, an intelligence official commandeered an ambulance from the same center and posed as an ambulance driver to scout the road southeast of town.