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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 June, 2003, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Death on the road to Basra
Tristina Moore
By Tristana Moore
BBC correspondent in Basra

It is another sweltering day in Iraq. The temperature gauge in our car says it is 48C outside - but our translator, Wissam, says it is far hotter than that.

The Basra Highway
Basra highway: Major military route to Baghdad

We left Baghdad several hours ago. We are driving along the motorway built during Saddam Hussein's rule linking the capital with Iraq's second-largest city, Basra.

The road stretches ahead of us - a long straight line - the desert lying on either side. The only sign of life is the odd Bedouin herding his camels.

The land is arid and inhospitable. Every so often, there is a picnic stop by the side of the road. It seems incongruous in the desert.

It was indeed the body of a young boy, his blood-soaked clothes scattered across the road

We pass a number of American military convoys all heading towards Baghdad.

The Americans have set up bases along the motorway signalling the occupation is settling in. As we drive further south, Baghdad seems a world away.

It is a long journey - I feel exhausted, my cameraman is nodding off beside me.

Dark discovery

I still do not know why it caught my eye, why I looked ahead when I did - but I glimpsed a dark shape lying in the middle of the road.

The driver swerved to avoid it, braking sharply. As we passed I looked through window and caught sight of a body. Not the body of an animal, but the body of a child.

I asked the driver to stop, and we drove back. It was indeed the body of a young boy, his blood-soaked clothes scattered across the road. A few metres away, a girl is crying, screaming. She is inconsolable.

The Americans have set up bases along the motorway signalling the occupation is settling in

We see an American soldier and ask him to call for help. Ten minutes later, officers from the US Military Police turn up. In the blazing sun, a crowd is now gathering.

The girl is still crying - her name is Sabrina, she is 13 years old. She is barefoot and wears a ragged dress. She has dark eyes and long, brown hair.

She tells me how she saw her 11-year-old brother, Muhannad, had run up to an American military convoy trying to sell something to the soldiers, but was run over as he crossed the road.

The Americans did not stop.

Tension

The news of this terrible accident spreads quickly. In the distance, a group of women dressed in black are running across the desert towards the road.

The women are crying, wailing for their lost child. The men hold them back. A child beats his head on the ground until it starts bleeding. The unmistakable smell of death lingers in the air.

"Look, this is going to get tense," I overhear an American soldier telling one of his colleagues. "We have to get the body out of here."

The US soldiers look nervous. They are wearing full body armour and carry rifles ready for action.

I thought the Americans came here to protect us and give us security, instead there is death and more suffering
The dead child's mother

"We can't take any chances," one soldier tells me, sweating profusely.

I engage him in conversation. He tells me he is from New York, his name is Al and he is married with three children.

"I've been in the Gulf for five months and I'm tired of all of this" he says. "We have become a target now. All I want to do is to go back to my family."

As he is talking he scans the crowd that has surrounded us. He is a worried man.

'Why?'

With grief comes anger and, soon, the young boy's relatives are hurling abuse at the Americans.

They are Shia Muslims, persecuted by Saddam Hussein. After the war, many of them welcomed the coalition forces but now they blame the Americans.

"I thought they came here to protect us and give us security," the dead boy's mother says.

Wounded child in Basra
Wounded children sway US battle for Iraqi hearts and minds
"Instead there's death and more suffering."

She looks at the body of her son, which has been covered by a blanket. Tears run down her face. Another woman kneels down, she is frustrated.

"I can't understand - why has this happened?" she asks.

A few minutes later, the boy's father lifts the body into the boot of a car. The father is crying as he drives off to the hospital morgue.

My translator, Wissam, is furious.

"Why didn't the Americans stop when they saw they'd run over the child?" he asks me.

Wissam takes off his baseball cap and angrily waves his arms at the American soldiers - some of them can only be around 18. They seem too young to be here.

As we finally drive on, my mind flashes back to the image of the little boy lying in the road and his relatives weeping inconsolably with a haunting expression in their eyes.

In losing their child, they have lost their faith in the foreign faces which occupy their land.

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