I gave the little girl a name. Rita. I doubt it's a common name in Iraq but it seemed to fit her round face, brown eyes and straggle of blood-soaked hair. The military medics staunched the bleeding from her bullet wounds and whisked her off to a field hospital by helicopter, leaving her mother's corpse to be turned over to a local mosque for burial. I saw most of what happened to her family, her father, mother and baby sister, near the checkpoint on Highway 7, south of Kut, beside the deep irrigation ditches and fields of green wheat. But in the hectic aftermath of the clash between US forces and the Iraqi soldiers who had appeared to open fire on the family I understood less the more I was told. Why were they travelling down the road towards the barrels of US tanks, and why did Iraqi soldiers chase them in a truck, dismount and shoot them? Rita's father was a civil servant called Haytham Rahi, the Kuwaiti translator, sweating in his US fatigues, discovered. But what combination of decisions, beliefs, mistakes and misfortune led him to catastrophe was a mystery. It took six weeks for other journalists to track down the family, unravel their tale of bad fortune and learn that Rita's real name was Tghreed.
LRB 5 June 2003 | PDF Download