One Bombing, Many Versions
Iraqis on the Street Quick to Blame U.S.
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page A12
BAGHDAD, July 19 -- There was an explosion. A deep crater proved it. Beyond that, the facts were murky.
The blast outside a police station Monday morning in Baghdad illustrated how, in this land of confusion, there is seldom a version of the truth that is accepted by everyone. Of those at the scene, each person left with his or her own version.
In a few minutes, a suicide vehicle bombing was somehow turned into an insidious air attack by U.S. planes. As the crowd was swept up in that theory, it became the truth for them, for the moment. Anti-American chants grew, cameras gathered, fists waved in the air.
In news broadcasts, much of the Arab world would see that scene: Iraqis appearing angry and aggrieved, insisting that those killed were the martyrs of American aggression.
Here is how that happened:
The primary evidence of the explosion was a gaping hole in the dirt street behind a large police station in a working-class neighborhood. The pit, about 12 feet deep, was charred and still expelling an acrid smoke when it began to fill with oily water from firetrucks. If a vehicle had stood on that spot, it had been tossed far away. Many blackened wrecks nearby were possible suspects.
The scene was a dusty lane tucked between low lines of tin-roofed carwash bays and concrete structures where auto parts are sold, all of which serve the vehicle repairmen working around the neighborhood. Men with oil-stained clothes, hands rough from the pull of a wrench, stood listening to the accounts.
"I was starting to work at the garage when I saw a car coming toward me. He came down the street, and suddenly there was an explosion," said Adnan Mehdi, 26.
No, no, insisted another, a round young man: "We saw a helicopter hovering over our head. An American helicopter. It was right after that that we heard a very big explosion. The helicopter shot something."
"I don't think it was a car bomb. The crater was too big," agreed a policeman nearby.
"It was a rocket," an older man in a white robe exclaimed with abrupt conviction. "I saw it fall. I saw it come from an F-16 overhead. I saw the fighter throwing the rocket." He began to race around, flapping his arms, animatedly recreating this vision.
His claim spread quickly. It reached two women, draped in black abayas, their heads covered. They were older women, with thick faces and hostile eyes. They began muttering loudly, then speaking louder. Soon they were haranguing the crowd, shouting curses and damnation at the Americans and demanding to know what they were doing in Iraq.
The women thrust their arms to the skies, their surprisingly strong voices gripping the crowd. "Where are the true Arabs?" shouted one. "Where is our God? God is great!"
Voices joined theirs, shouting "God is great." The message turned political: "We will avenge you, Bush. Why do you kill our young men?"
© 2004 The Washington Post Company