'We lived in safety until the ceasefire'

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The Independent Online
THE bomb had landed in a field a couple of miles south of the ridge bristling with radar and military communications antennae. The debris of the cargo of destruction was scattered among the green shoots of winter wheat as though strewn by a giant sower.

The casings, which came up to the shoulder of the young man who stood them up to display them, were marked with those precise instructions on handling that American munitions manufacturers paint on. A few yards on lay the nose-cone, the stabiliser fins, and the complex proximity fuse. Iraqi sappers had placed stakes with red flags to mark unexploded bomblets, still attached to their miniature nylon parachutes to regulate their descent.

The Iraqis were keen to show that their version of what happened on Thursday was correct. The Americans were insisting that an Iraqi radar had locked on to one of their planes, that they had fired a missile, and taken out the Iraqi missile battery. They also eventually said they had dropped a cluster bomb.

The Iraqi version was very different. They said that no radar had locked on to any aircraft of the US, French or British air forces patrolling the no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel; that no missiles had been fired, and no missile batteries hit; only, according to the Iraqis, a cluster bomb dropped on agricultural land.

The Iraqis would not show us up to see the radar atop the line of hillocks, some 20 kilometres inside the no-fly zone. But they insisted there were no missile batteries for at least 30 kilometres.

According to the local area air defence commander, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Illah Danoun, 'the radar are for use in peace and war'. His equipment included line-of-sight and multiplex communications systems. He said his radar was working all the time, and had always been, for civilian purposes. But it was not connected with any missiles or air defence system.

'All the missile batteries had received orders not to open fire at any time on any planes. The missile batteries received orders not to turn on their radars.'

Military men and local farmers explained how there had been no military target in the area. As they spoke, an allied warplane roared high in the sky, banked, turned, and flew off back to the north.

A farmer, Ali Hussein Ali, vented his feelings about the Americans. He had returned to the land after 12 years in the army. 'In the name of God, the Americans put their feet on our chests. Two years ago they dropped another bomb near my house. I use the casing as a feeding trough for my cows and sheep.'

Abu Faris, the village Mukhtar of Bakhera, 10 miles south of Mosul, was equally outspoken. 'We were living in safety until the ceasefire was announced two days ago. Why do they treat us like this? We are simply families. The plane struck and then flew away. This is only farmland.'