TEXT AND PHOTOS BY HAYDER DAFFAR
he infamous battle of the Baghdad airport took place in the first week of April 2003. It was the final battle of the “official” conquest of Iraq. Even the Iraqi army admitted it was the deathblow. We call it the Battle of al-Hawasim (“the finals”). The same phrase, since then, is used to refer to any thug, thief, or criminal in the chaos of life after Saddam.
Our entire army was concentrated in the south of Baghdad waiting for the American troops to come on land. But the American 101st Division of air-transported vehicles landed at the airport west of Baghdad and surprised Saddam’s army. The Iraqi response was to send the entire National Guard (the equivalent of the US Special Forces in training and skill) and all of Saddam’s freedom fighters directly to the scene. Many Arab men also voluntarily joined up to meet a certain death.
Very few Iraqis survived the airport battle, which made it a myth on the tongues of the entire country. Rumors swirled around, mixed with stories from the few survivors, about the epic fight that took place at Saddam’s international airport. But now even the earth cannot tell us the truth about what happened—the land was completely burned by mysterious American weapons. After the war, the American army brought many bulldozers filled with new soil to cover the evidence before the eyes of thousands of Iraqis and to bury the thousands of stories that took place on the famous airport road, aka the Highway of Death.
The most important things that survived are a few video CDs that I collected from friends and some photos that I took of the scattered bodies I found on the airport road. The CDs contained videos taken with small hand cameras by Fedayeen Saddam or Saddam’s freedom fighters. These brutal special warriors were trained from the early stages of their lives to do two things: Obey and kill. I still remember how I used to watch these videos of their training on the Iraqi national channel on TV, before the war broke out. They were exiled to the desert in camps with no food or water for weeks, and the cameras monitored how they managed to survive by eating raw desert animals. I still remember seeing them butchering a wolf and eating it raw. The Fedayeen were the Iraqi stars of the airport battle. The movies they recorded show how they were unleashed by the hundreds to kill and butcher American soldiers at the beginning of the battle at the airport. There is this part of the video showing a group of them standing to take a photo together while each of them is holding the head of an American soldier. So if they were winning the battle, how and why did they all disappear?
Some people described it as a blue light; others just said that they saw an unbelievably strong glow that made them go blind for minutes afterward. The stories vary, but the truth is one. There were thousands of fierce Iraqi warriors with strong German and Russian artillery and tanks at that field, and they were all killed in one day. The stories that we received say that the Americans were horribly defeated in the first two days. Saddam’s Fedayeen made small hills of American bodies spread around the field, burned some, ate the livers of some, and celebrated on their bodies. Then on the third day the American troops started to retreat, and the absentminded warriors who had no commanders above them (by that time the high commanders of the army, along with Saddam and all his gang, had managed to escape and disappear forever) thought that they won the battle. They moved further to take over the airport buildings, which were occupied by the marines. Soon after that, US aircraft came and bombed the hell out of everyone. No one could add any details to this part of the story because no one survived. But there were two important pieces of evidence on which I can guess that the American aircraft did use illegal weapons in that shelling.
One: I was a volunteer with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. Our job during the war was to collect the bodies of Iraqis and bury them where they fell. Only two days after the Iraqi troops were defeated in the airport battle, we went to the airport road. Luckily, I had my camera with me. The bodies had not shed one drop of blood and they were wearing clean clothes, but they were all either completely charred, or nothing but a skeleton wearing a uniform. I hurriedly took as many pictures as I could and then we buried the bodies and left the place.
Two: After the war, I joined several other international activists doing research on 50 houses adjacent to the airport road. Each of the 50 houses had at least one resident who had started to suffer from skin disease, respiratory diseases, or other symptoms of cancer. We ordered a Geiger-Müller counter to measure the local radioactivity, and it indicated levels way higher than what a human being can take. Once the American Army started to change the soil of the airport road less than a week after the war was over, we became certain that some kind of radioactive bomb was used.
The truth about whatever happened in that battle died under the new soil of the airport road. All I have now to remember it are the pictures of those burned bodies and the videos of Saddam’s fighters.