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'They want Zarqawi. They can't kill him so they're killing us'
The missiles struck at just after 3am with devastating effect. Eight members of the al-Jabouri family were killed as they slept, their home destroyed. The following morning the US military issued a statement saying that fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, America's number one enemy in Iraq, had been taken out in a precision strike in Fallujah. The town had been pounded nightly for three weeks, with the Americans insisting that those killed and maimed were insurgents mainly from Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group, which kidnapped and murdered the British hostage Ken Bigley and his two American colleagues. Repeated protests by doctors in local hospitals that the vast majority of the casualties are civilians have been dismissed as rebel propaganda. Now the town is waiting for an imminent ground and air assault, amid fears of a bloodbath.
Among the dead in the al-Jabouri family were 26-year-old Atika, who was six months pregnant, her three-year-old son Omar, her husband Thamir, 28, her sister Athra and her mother. Atika's prematurely born baby lived for a few hours after her, but they were buried in the same grave.
The only member of the family to come out alive was Atika's five-year-old daughter, Ayisha. She was asleep, hugging her grandmother, who was killed instantly. Miraculously the little girl survived, but she was badly injured, burnt and lacerated by shrapnel and flying glass. Ahmed Fawzi, Ayisha's uncle, recalled: "I live nearby and ran over after hearing the explosions. There was nothing left. We had to bring out the bodies one by one." Ayisha, with injuries to her shoulder, arms, back and legs, was taken to a hospital in nearby Ramadi for treatment. She is now being looked after by the family of her mother's uncle, Khalil Hammadi, in a village outside Fallujah. Lying on a mattress on the floor, she does not betray the considerable pain she must be under. But the normally bright and inquisitive girl is very quiet.
Mr Fawzi said: "When in hospital in Ramadi, she overheard some discussion about an operation on a boy called Omar. She said to us afterwards 'I hear them talking about Omar'. She did not know at the time he was dead. That is the only time she had talked about her brother. She has not once asked anything about her mother or father. It is very sad, but what can we do?"