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Najaf neighborhood hit hard by coalition bombing

NAJAF, Iraq—Zahraa Hashem's leg won't heal. Her pelvis is crushed and set in a vice. The wound on the back of her leg is too big, too deep to close. The limb looks like a supermarket leg of lamb.

Medical supplies are running out in Najaf, where she lives. There aren't enough antibiotics or gauze or iodine. She writhes in pain, sweating in her hospital bed.

Before the war, she was one of the smartest and most beautiful teen-agers in her ninth-grade class. She planned to be a surgeon. Like almost everyone else in her school, she hated Saddam Hussein. But she isn't with her classmates lining the roads of Najaf, cheering that he is gone.

"These happy people did not pay the price that Zahraa and thousands of Iraqis did," Dr. Ali-Akar said at Saddam Teaching Hospital.

Coalition bombers hit al Karama, Zahraa's middle-class neighborhood, from 1:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. on April 2, killing 40 civilians and injuring 35 more.

The day before, Zahraa, 15, and her best friend, Dunia, had walked home from school. They picked red carnations in a neighbor's yard. They played hopscotch and split a Nestle's chocolate bar. They didn't notice two green Iraqi army trucks in the park across the street.

Zahraa's family had rice, fava beans and chicken for dinner. Zahraa studied math and went to sleep upstairs in her room, which has a terrazzo floor and a picture of Cinderella on the wall.

After midnight, coalition aircraft dropped cluster bombs on the two radar trucks. They also dropped them all over the neighborhood. Twenty houses caved in.

Zahraa heard the bombs hit, and she remembers a red flash. She ran downstairs and was hit while she was trying to get to the shelter, a hole with sandbags in the yard.

Her father and two uncles were killed, and her two younger brothers were injured along with her. Their dried blood is still on the iron garden gate. Another bomb, shaped like a miniature blimp, lies in their front yard next to the palm and eucalyptus trees.

A cousin took in part of the family. The barren wall in his house is cracked. He has no electricity or water, but he has taken in 13 people.

There is no formula for the babies in the neighborhood, no milk for the children, no oil or gas for the cars or pumps, no electricity and no water.

The homes and cars are crushed. Zahraa, her mother and two brothers have no place to go when they leave the hospital.

On Wednesday morning, Zahraa dipped a swab in iodine and wrote "salaam," the Arabic word for "peace," on her arm.

She rarely speaks, except to beg doctors not to hurt her when they clean her wound.

Sometimes, Zahraa hears people on the streets outside cheering because Saddam is gone, but she doesn't join in. Nor do the hundreds of other wounded civilians in the hospital. "The withdrawal of the spirit is always silent," said her doctor, Ali-Akar.

U.S. and coalition officials have said they won't account for Iraqi casualties. "We will not do body counts," U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of coalition forces in Iraq, has said.

But according to records at this 400-bed facility, the largest hospital in Najaf, 338 people died and 410 more were injured in the war between March 20 and April 15. At Najaf General Hospital, the city's second largest, with 200 beds, records show 30 dead and 124 injured. And at the third largest hospital, al Kufa, the director said staff had treated 70 injured civilians and 10 others who died.

In 26 days of war in Najaf, that's 378 dead and 604 injured.

But Najaf has seen more than just its own casualties.

Between March 20 and April 15, 2,500 Iraqi Shiite Muslims were buried at the famous Najaf Cemetery, the largest cemetery in the Middle East. They came from all over the country.

In the same period of time before the war, only about 500 people were buried at the holy site, said Sadik Wanaas, the chief Quran reader for the cemetery.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.