Bricks are expensive in Iraq today. Last Wednesday three poor farmers set out to demolish a wall in an abandoned Iraqi military camp at Arab Jabour, on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, and sell the bricks it was made from.
They knew the camp was dangerous because of unexploded cluster bombs used by the US against the Iraqi army camp during the war. This whole area was heavily bombarded, because it was here that the US army had advanced towards the capital in April. Some weeks ago a shepherd had taken his flock to graze there. When the sheep wandered back alone, his neighbours went to look for him and found his dead body, torn apart by an explosion.
One of the men was Fadhel Shaker Hussein, a skinny 21-year-old with a thick beard who had been a conscript in the army during the war. "I left school early to support my parents who farm vegetables and dates near the army camp," he said. "My help was very necessary, because I have seven sisters and only one brother." He was also planning to get married.
Despite knowing the dangers, the men did not take many precautions. The camp contained a number of old free-standing brick walls which had been used in training, and they started to knock them down with special picks used by Iraqi builders. It seemed easy money for the farmers, because the price of bricks has risen threefold since the war as the fuel oil used in kilns has become more expensive.
Working beside Fadhel were two friends, Adnan Ani Hussein, 20, and Muthana Hamed al-Jabouri, both the sons of poor farmers. Adnan had left the army three years before and was also trying to support his parents, six brothers and three sisters.
As they worked on the wall the three men suddenly saw what they later identified - from photographs in the hospital they were taken to - as a cluster bomb. "We did not know what it was at the time," said Fadhel. "We thought it was just a discarded piece of metal sticking in the ground, but now I am sure it was one. We only saw it for a moment before it blew up." Other farmers said they were certain that the camp had been hit by cluster bombs during the war. One of them said: "Maybe a brick was dislodged and hit the bomb."
Fadhel was hit in the stomach, bladder and hand and was taken to the Yarmuk hospital in Baghdad. Adnan, hit in the lower stomach, was in another ward. Both men and their families complained that half the drugs they needed had to be bought by them privately, because there were none available in the hospital, and on Friday there was only one doctor looking after 250 patients. Muthana, whose family seemed to be slightly better off than those of Fadhel and Adnan, had been taken to a private hospital with wounds in his leg.
Fadhel and Adnan were still visibly shocked, speaking only a few disjointed words in weak voices. Their relatives, standing around their beds, looked depressed - their future ability to carry out the physical labour demanded of farmers, and thus their ability to feed their families, remains in doubt. All want their land cleared of unexploded mines, but the community is so poor that they know they will have to scavenge whatever they can for a living, regardless of the risks.Reuse content