Dozens of Iraqi children die in Baghdad bomb attack

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The Independent Online

The children went to their deaths while queuing for American candy at a neighbourhood party. In one of the bloodiest days of Iraq's war of occupation, three suicide bombers took the lives of 35 children, the largest number killed in any single attack since the war began 17 months ago.

The children went to their deaths while queuing for American candy at a neighbourhood party. In one of the bloodiest days of Iraq's war of occupation, three suicide bombers took the lives of 35 children, the largest number killed in any single attack since the war began 17 months ago.

The Yarmouk hospital ward was full of children, covered in blood, eyes staring with pain and incomprehension, silent in shock. The crying, long wracking heartbreaking sobs, came from the parents huddled around the beds. "The Americans called us, they told us come here, come here, asking us if we wanted sweets. We went beside them, then a car exploded," said 12-year-old Abdel Rahman Dawoud, lying naked in a hospital bed, his body riddled with shrapnel.

The parents were quick to direct their anger at the US soldiers, rather than the militants, blaming them for luring their children into danger.

Altogether 46 people were killed and 208 wounded , but the vast majority of the victims were children, and many of them, said the doctors, were not expected to survive the night.

The disaster at Al-Amel, in the south-west of the capital, began shortly after an American convoy arrived in the working class area, which had hitherto escaped much of the violence. They were there for a ceremony to install a new pumping system at a sewage station. They started to hand out sweets, and excited little boys and girls rushed over just as the bombers struck at just after 1pm. Two cars exploded within minutes. As those who survived fled, screaming, a third went off directly on their path. The US forces sealed off the area with tanks and armoured cars, and helicopter gunships circled overhead.

But the lethal damage had already been done, and the sheer extent of it was clear yesterday afternoon. The pumping station was relatively undamaged, but one of the cars used for the bombing, a mess of twisted metal, had been catapulted into the forecourt, human flesh hung from the cream coloured walls over the main entrance.

The scale of the human cost was evident at Yarmouk Hospital in the city centre. Ambulances and commandeered private cars brought in the injured, one makeshift stretcher carried a young boy and his severed leg. Doctors and nurses struggled to get past frantic, wailing relations.

Rusel Abbas Obeid lay on a bed inside in a torn pink jumpsuit, deep gashes on her stomach and cuts on her face from shrapnel. She had gone out to a shop and then ran over to join her friends around the American armoured cars.

Wiping blood from her daughter's face with an already saturated handkerchief, Hamdiya Hossein Obeid said: "When the first explosion came I felt my heart pound. I ran out but my neighbours stopped me because there might be other bombs. But then there were the other explosions and I knew I had to find her. It took me about half an hour before I did so. In that time I saw so many of the young ones lying on the road, many of them were dead, I think. Others were very badly wounded. It was terrible, terrible."

Dr Nariman Abdelhassan, rushing between wards, said yes, most of the victims brought in were children. No, she did not know how many of them would survive. She had been at the Yamuk for four months, and was getting rapid experience in dealing with bomb victims.

"Shrapnel wounds are very difficult, so we have a lot of problems, and these patients are very young, and vulnerable, so it does not look very good," she said in a tired voice. "When I studied medicine I did not think I would be doing this now. But Iraq has changed so much ..."

Karab Abdel Karim, 16, had also gone out in search, for two of his brothers. "I went out after the first explosion and then got hit by the second. I felt my leg crack, and I fell. The third bomb went off further down. Who knows, I may have run towards it." Nine-year-old Mohammed Akhbar Yunis's right arm had been shredded, and there were also serious injuries to the chest. He was conscious and thirsty but could not hold down the water his father was trying to pour into his mouth. "My son is hurting very badly, you can see that. I do not know what will happen, it is up to Allah. I hate the people who did this.

"But I also blame the Americans, they came into our neighbourhood and brought this with them. They must know that they are targets, and people around them become targets. Why did they have children around them? And why did the ministry opening the pump invite them?" He started crying.

Faiza Hamza Abduradah, in charge of the plant insisted that neither she nor the Sanitation Department had asked the Americans to come. "They just turned up. The contract for this new pump had been given by the Americans, not by us. They came and had a ceremony, and the children came along. It was all over, and they were preparing to leave when the bombs went off.

"Half the children in just one street have been killed. I saw so many of them dead and hurt. I live here, these are my neighbours, of course I am very upset. I do not know, why the Americans came here, I wish they had not. But, obviously, it was not a secret. Some people knew they were coming."

Bigley relatives hold face-to-face meeting with Straw

The family of the British hostage Ken Bigley yesterday held their first meeting with a cabinet minister as the Government said it was ready to enter into "dialogue" with the kidnappers.

Craig and Philip Bigley, the son and brother of the 62-year-old engineer being held in Iraq, talked for an hour with the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to discuss progress in efforts to secure the release of Mr Bigley from the Tawhid and Jihad group.

The meeting at the Foreign Office in London came as Tony Blair and Mr Straw said they were prepared to listen and "respond" if the hostage takers, led by the Jordanian-born radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, contacted the British Government.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference, Mr Blair said: "I am not sitting here saying, 'If they get in contact with us then we are just going to refuse to do anything'."

Anne Penketh and Cahal Milmo

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