Despair of a Village at Devastation

Baker Nagill Sacanda Mohammed holds a blackened flatbread in his outstretched arms and begs for answers nobody can give.

Behind him are the smouldering remains of his bakery, the hub of this quiet Shi’ite community until the war finally caught up with it 45 minutes ago.

A few feet away, under sheets of bloodstained newspaper on the pavement, are the remains of his 12-year-old son Abu.

As the wind leafs through the pages then picks them up and blows them down the street, exposing the grisly stain they were laid down to hide, Nagill surveys the wreckage, and asks simply: “Why? Why?”

An hour ago, he was sweating over his brick ovens whose fires he had never allowed to go out since the war started, the only business to stay open. In the second he left his bread to cook and nipped to the back of the house, the heart was ripped out of his family and community.

“Look what they have done to me,” he cries, looking at his bread in disbelief. “My son has been taken. My business has been taken.Why does the war come here?”

Looking around, I can only presume war came to al Salan by mistake.

There are no obvious military targets here, just row after row of mud-walled houses, nestled in the crook of a deserted main road leading to Jordan, 15 minutes out of Baghdad city centre.

The village of about 15,000 Shi-ites survived the first Gulf War unscathed and would have been the type of neighbourhood the US military would have liked to count upon as potential friends against Saddam.

Now the cloud of cordite hanging in the air above a neat row of smoking craters has turned it into another hostile environment for American marines.

Vras al Abadi, a 20-year-old trader, seeks me out to tell me he saw US planes circle overhead then unleash a series of missiles.

The first, he says, hit the bakery. Now they will have no bread.

The next ploughed through the roof of the house next door, mercifully empty since the family joined the evacuees lucky enough to have family on the Iranian border who could offer them refuge.

On the other side of the road, a bus has been shredded as though it were made of cardboard. The driver had been napping in the front when the missiles came. Miraculously he was blown clear and landed in a heap on the road, shocked but unhurt.

I had been brought to this scene of carnage by my old friend and assistant Karin. He was driving up when he saw the place blow up right in front of him.

He came back to get me and we grabbed an official and raced to the village to find locals crying and shouting in the street while the wounded were taken to hospital.

I was surrounded by angry locals, pointing their fingers at me and then at the bloody mess on the pavement, asking me what had they done, why did they deserve this.

Looking around, I imagined with despair just how many times this scene would have to be repeated in the coming days and weeks. Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Information had taken us to see the devastating results of US raids in the South East.

In a carefully stage-managed show, 30 Iraqi soldiers sang anti-American slogans and danced on a US Abrams tank.

Close by, a column of burned out Iraqi vehicles told the story of a full-scale battle won by the Americans.

War has definitely come to Baghdad, and you cannot have full scale war in a city of 4.5million people without bringing death and destruction to civilians like this.

Word and fear are spreading among these ordinary people. What remains to be seen is whether they will respond with armed resistance or acquiescence.