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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 November, 2003, 18:30 GMT
Panorama man saved by phone call
by Tom Giles
Panorama producer

I remember just getting off the phone. The car stopped and I saw some Americans in the corner of my eye, guys I knew were special forces, and I immediately felt fine; I felt this is safe.

US plane
The plane swooping before the incident
As we pulled up, I remember I saw a tank as well - off the side of the road. I jumped out of the car. The other car with John Simpson and Fred Scott (BBC Cameraman) had already got there.

I'd no idea really where they all were. I heard Fred just yell at me: "could you get the tripod". He'd seen these planes coming down very low and wanted to get a shot.

They produced an absolutely overwhelming noise, but in no way at all did you feel any sense of threat because they were Americans. There were loads of senior Kurds all over the place and time and time again, when we'd gone down these roads, that just meant things were secure.

Then my phone went and it was my mum, my mother just calling to say, "Hi Tom how are you, Happy Birthday".

Sound of freedom

Everything in me said get out. Just run. Get out, because every time we'd filmed anything like this before, there had always been another bomb.
Tom Giles

Of course in all the fuss it had slightly slipped my mind - it was my birthday. And you know it just seemed very funny, being in the middle of this conflict and my mum calling to wish me happy birthday.

I said to her: "You know we're nearly on the outskirts of Kirkuk. It's all very exciting". And I joked to her, because I knew she wasn't terribly keen on the war: "listen mum, it's the sound of freedom".

I then held the phone up and just at that moment the noise from the planes became incredibly loud. It got even louder and then there was a bang and a flash.

I saw a fire ball. It felt like it was heading towards the car. In a funny way the bang felt almost like a car had just exploded, but I knew straight away the moment that I saw it, the moment that I heard it, I knew what had happened. I knew that sound - that plane had dropped something on us.

Everything in me said get out. Just run. Get out, because every time we'd filmed anything like this before, there had always been another bomb.

Incredibly lucky

Panic and smoke filled the air after the attack
I just knew I had to just, just run, and I turned and I ran. I just saw this sandbank, jumped over it and backed against it, just waiting for the next one to go off.

Then I realised the phone was still in my hand, and I suddenly saw the signal was full, and my mum was still there, she'd heard the whole thing.

I could hear a sort of hello, hello, so I took the phone and said: "Mum, I'm fine, it's friendly fire, the Americans they're firing on us."

I was incredibly lucky. It wasn't so much that I was close to the explosion, there were others who were closer than I was, but I was incredibly lucky because I could have walked out into an area where a large amount of shrapnel, bodies and debris was blown out across the road.

I guess what saved my life was not walking out, and the reason I didn't walk out was because my mother rang and wished me happy birthday.

In shock

You feel that something fantastically powerful and dreadful has brushed past you.
Tom Giles

As I was behind the bank, one of our drivers - Abdul Bahset - suddenly appeared. He was just in shock, just catatonic, he was a young guy and you could see on his face, just total fear, absolute fear.

Then another driver, Ali, jumped over as well, and he was howling, he had shrapnel I think. I didn't know if it was shrapnel, or if he'd actually been hit in the leg, but he was just howling in pain.

When I found Kamaran (BBC translator) he was obviously coming out of unconsciousness, he was just groaning and his eyes were pushed back.

I think he was just in total shock, his whole body was in shock and you could see there was a little bit of shrapnel in his throat, but that wasn't the problem.

He was clearly breathing all right, and they were just trying to apply a tourniquet to one of his legs when I suddenly saw his foot was just virtually shorn off, the shoe wasn't even around.

Sad feeling

Tom Giles
Tom Giles: Life saved by a phone call
He had his hand out and I held his hand. I remember holding his hand and he seemed to come round - I just said: "Kamaran, I'm here, I'm here for you, it's Tom, it's Tom".

I had to shout this, because I didn't know if he could hear. And in a way it seems so sort of corny. It sounded - almost the whole thing - felt like something from a dreadful sort of war movie where people shout these kind of things at each other.

I honestly convinced myself that actually he was going to be okay because the Americans were saying, there's no problems with his lungs, there's no problem with his heart, and you could see there were no injuries to his chest, which is just as well, because he didn't have a flak jacket.

We got Kamaran on the truck, and I remember thinking, he's okay now, and the truck drove off. But I had a really sad feeling when I saw Kamaran being driven off.

It's as though I should somehow have been with him and I wasn't. I really thought he'd be okay.

When I got down the hill I saw Oggy (BBC News producer) who I'd spoken to on the phone with the ambulances I'd asked him to send. When I asked where Kamaran was he simply said: "Kamaran is dead."


US special forces operative
An American special forces operative walks past
I just felt like a complete idiot. Why did I think he wasn't going to die, why did I even think that? It's just incredible what you think of in those situations.

I don't feel angry about the pilots, I don't really feel angry about the incident at all. I think the pilots were doing a job. They obviously made a dreadful mistake and I doubt that there isn't a moment that the pilot who made that mistake doesn't think about making it.

But I'd like to think he's incredibly upset with himself that he did it and I'd hate to think that he was made to feel that he hadn't done anything wrong.

That may sound slightly cruel, but I wouldn't like the idea that he just got slapped on the back and made to feel: "that's war isn't it", because it was so ridiculously avoidable.

As for Iraq, I didn't mind going back. In fact, in a strange way, I wanted to go back. Mainly I wanted to see Kamaran's family, and I suppose I wanted to go back to where it happened. I wanted to travel down that road again. Maybe I could have made sense of it all.

Memory burns

I thought it would finish off the whole process, put the whole thing to bed.

The moment I met Kamaran's sister Ariyan again - I knew it wouldn't be that straightforward. She was very quiet and demure but her eyes were so full of hurt and loss that it's still hard to forget them.

In many ways, the more time passes, the more I have a stronger sense of Kamaran's final minutes.

It's as if, at the time, your senses - charged full of adrenalin - are numbed to it all. Yet now the memory burns through quite strongly.

You feel that something fantastically powerful and dreadful has brushed past you, making everything in life seem that much more transient and important to appreciate.

In the line of fire
26 Oct 03  |  Panorama
Your comments
07 Nov 03  |  Panorama


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