Monday 7 April 2003

The Allied grip tightens on Baghdad

On the streets, grim evidence of a bloody battle

by Robert Fisk in Baghdad

click here to visit his website The aftermath of battle was everywhere. Burning trucks and armoured personnel carriers, overturned Iraqi field guns, craters and blackened palm trees and, right in the middle of the motorway, just to the right of a cloverleaf interchange, the unmistakable hulk of an American Abrams M1A1 battle tank, barrel pointing impotently towards the highway, its turret a platform for grinning Iraqi soldiers. There were five other US tanks destroyed, the Iraqi Minister of Information insisted later. So, to the Iraqis who drove through the streets of Baghdad, firing their automatic weapons into the air in joy, t'was a famous victory.

And one with a heavy price to be paid in blood and life. By the time I turned up yesterday, the more obvious and terrible detritus of battle – the corpses and the blood and vomit – had been cleared away, but the Iraqi army and the Pentagon did their best to cloak this little killing field with lies. Two thousand Iraqis killed, crowed the Pentagon. Fifty Americans killed, boasted the Iraqis, rather more modestly. Both sides admitted "casualties" and it must be for the reader to judge what these might have been.

A 106mm Iraqi anti-tank gun, three armoured personnel carriers, again Iraqi, and more than 25 military trucks and Katyusha launchers, yes, once more Iraqi, were scattered in burning embers on the plains of dust and earth around the motorway just seven miles from the centre of Baghdad.

Even as I clambered over this mass of tortured and still red-hot metal, the American pilots came back, their invisible jets howling through the air above the battlefield. Then there was the American tank.

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