Too much grief and death

Lindsey Hilsum, in her Baghdad diary of the last days of the war, records how one terror succeeded a

Monday 7 April
I have grown used to sleeping in my clothes in case I am taken away in the night by men with guns. For the past four days the electricity has been cut, and water supply has been intermittent. Each morning, we go down to the lobby of the Palestine Hotel and mill about with the 300 other journalists, waiting to see if the ministry of information functionaries will herd us into buses and take us on a tour of bomb-sites or hospitals. If we stray, we may be expelled or worse - five of our colleagues spent a week in the Abu Ghraib prison for having the wrong kind of visa.

But today the war has come to us. From our balcony, we can see across the River Tigris to the presidential palace. Men are running along the river bank. We can hear tank fire. An ammunition dump has been hit and is exploding into sparks and spirals of black smoke. Suddenly, through the long lens of the camera, four cockroaches crawl into view - Bradley fighting vehicles. The Americans are taking over the palace compound.

Tuesday 8 April
The Reuters office on the 15th floor of our hotel has been hit by a tank round. At first we are incredulous. Why are they targeting us? Two journalists are dead. The US military says sniper fire was coming from the Palestine. We have seen and heard nothing like that. The rifles that the Iraqis have can't shoot accurately beyond 600 metres, and their rocket-propelled grenades have a flat trajectory range of only 350 metres - a thousand, if they aim in the air and the round curves down. The American tank that fired the shot that killed our colleagues was nearly two kilometres away. So, even if the troops did see a camera raised and mistook it for a weapon, they knew it couldn't have been a threat.

Wednesday 9 April
By the afternoon, no fewer than eight Abrams tanks have drawn up about half a mile from the hotel. We watch the Americans and the Iraqis nervously eyeing each other. The Iraqis tentatively step forward waving white handkerchiefs or plastic bags. Gradually they gain confidence. Someone takes a piece of broken glass and stabs a canvas portrait of Saddam Hussein. The crowd cheers. Our driver, Yussuf, is grinning from ear to ear. "Welcome, welcome, Americans," he says as he waves our white flag - my scarf tied on to a broomstick. Later the marines move their huge armoured vehicles to the hotel and we watch as they pull down the statue. It's a stunt for the cameras, of course, but it does have iconic power: he's gone; no one need fear him any more.

Thursday 10 April
This should be a happy day - Baghdad is liberated. But it turns into one of the worst days of my life. We hang around at the Adhamiya Palace, just occupied by the marines. They tell us that 38 of their number were injured in the gunfight to seize the area a few hours ago. A battle line is ranged on the roof above us and every few minutes they shoot. They have no tape to cordon off the road and no megaphone, but if cars come along the road and don't obey the instruction to stop - shouted in English - they shoot. They shoot a blue Passat and we hear screaming. Moham-med, our translator, insists on investigating. A few minutes later he runs back across the road. He is carrying in his arms the limp body of a little girl. She is bleeding from the head - she was in the back of the car the marines shot. Two more people are injured, says Mohammed. Worse: a man who came out on to his balcony to see what was happening has been shot dead.

The marines begin to patch up the little girl, whose name is Zahra. She is six years old. Her aunt, with a huge flesh wound in the buttock, refuses out of modesty to let the male paramedic examine her, until I persuade her she has no choice.

Less than half an hour later it happens again. A rocket-propelled grenade impacts near the palace and the marines fire wildly in its direction. A white van is riddled with bullets. The driver slumps over the wheel and the vehicle careers into a wall. Again, Mohammed rushes out to fetch the wounded - a man and a woman. As the marines prepare to airlift Zahra and the others to hospital, they try to stop us filming. We point out that if we hadn't found her, Zahra would have been left for dead.

Friday 11 April
All across town, people are lugging computers on to donkey carts and stuffing kitchen sinks into their car boots. Iraqis rush up to us to express their horror and fear. "We need government!" shouts a well-dressed young woman, watching someone load an air-conditioning unit on to a car roof. The Americans do nothing. "My priority is force protection," says an army colonel. I understand why - a marine was killed last night in a suicide attack - but their indifference has created anarchy. Even the hospitals are being stripped.

We go to the military intelligence headquarters, where people are desperately searching for news of relatives who disappeared during the long years of torture and oppression under Saddam Hussein. That was a long-drawn-out, grinding terror, a fear that gripped people every moment of their lives. But now they are experiencing a new terror, as the streets are given over to armed gangs of looters, and nervous American marines shoot a six-year-old girl because her uncle didn't hear an instruction to stop.

In the afternoon, we learn that Zahra died overnight. Suddenly I am crying. Our leaders said this war was to liberate the Iraqi people, but we have seen too much grief and death.

Lindsey Hilsum is diplomatic correspondent for Channel 4 News

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