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In Iraq, a Surge in U.S. Airstrikes

Since clashes broke out in eastern Baghdad in late March the U.S. Army has fired more than 200 hellfire missiles in Baghdad, killing over 251 people. A pilot describes his experiences.

"They were killed because of the cowardly American bombings," the banners read.

The U.S. military said it fired a Hellfire missile in the area that night targeting men officials said they saw loading rockets into a sedan, killing two of them. The military said it monitored the sedan for hours before firing, out of concern for "collateral damage to innocent civilians."

Since the fighting intensified in eastern Baghdad this spring, the U.S. Army has kept six Apaches in the air around the clock.

Military officials say they often refrain from firing, even with legitimate targets in sight, because they are afraid of hurting civilians. "As in all wars, when things go wrong, bad things happen," said Edens, the colonel. "There's no doubt that there have been innocent civilians killed in this ugly war."

Pilots do not work alone. In a command center a couple of miles from the airstrip, soldiers monitor live video feeds from Apaches and unmanned drones. The black-and-white images are displayed on flat-screen TVs, and the quiet chatter is dominated by radio exchanges between pilots and soldiers on the ground. Working 12-hour shifts, the soldiers often monitor targets for hours.

"The challenge you run into is he can shoot a rocket and pull into a garage," said Maj. Will Downing, a supervisor at the operations center, as nearby screens displayed grainy snippets of life in eastern Baghdad. "They shoot and they are gone."

'We Are All Helpless'

Hassan Ali Kreidy, 54, a barber in Sadr City, felt the power of the Apaches' missiles on April 28 when one ravaged his shop and a handful of other businesses. The apparent target of a strike was a car parked in front, he said.

"What can you say? We are all helpless," said Ahmed Abdul Rahim, who owns a cellphone store that was also damaged. "What have we done to deserve this? Our stores are now in danger. None of us are safe here."

At the Martyr Sadr Hospital late last month, several patients said they were wounded in U.S. airstrikes. Their accounts could not be corroborated; some may have been wounded by errant rockets fired by militiamen.

Hussein Amane Kareem al-Obeidi, 37, a day laborer, lay with a bloody tube sticking out of his right nostril and two others draining fluid from his stomach. They were attached to sacks lying on a filthy floor. One was filled with urine, the other with blood.

He said he was at home on May 1 when a missile landed nearby, damaging nine homes. His mother, standing at his bedside, cursed the U.S. military.

"They are occupiers and they consider whoever is in the city to be an enemy to them!" she said. "They came for the destruction of the country and this is what they are doing."

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