A Grim Ritual at the Baghdad Morgue

(Andrea Bruce/The Washington Post) VIEW FULL PHOTO GALLERY

As the visiting families enter the guarded room, a technician sprays a flowery fragrance over them, attempting to mask the faint smell that permeates the Baghdad morgue.

Four computers and a flat-screen television, arranged in front of rows of blue plastic chairs, reflect women draped in black and men wearing polished shoes shuffling into the cramped room and squeezing into the seats.

Eyes wide, the visitors lean forward, closer to the screens. Tongues click with pity and disapproval. Image after image of unidentified murder victims flashes by at heartbeat speed. A widow raises a pink Kleenex to her mouth.

The visitors fall silent.

Photos show blue-faced men who have been handcuffed, gagged and tortured. Headless corpses and limbs. Bulging eyes. Bullet holes. Charred faces, frozen in a scream.

The room opened in 2004 to help the morgue identify the bodies arriving by the hundreds from all over Iraq. July 2007, just over a year ago, was the deadliest month, with more than 2,000 victims. At that time, a line of wives, husbands, mothers and fathers waiting for their turn in the room wound through the hallways.

Visitors have passed out and thrown up. Many shake or scream. One smashed the back window in rage. An employee says his nightmares have changed from images of the lifeless bodies, which he now knows by heart, to the heartbroken faces of the families he watches over every day.

Now, another nightmare. A woman, eyes deep in black circles, falls to the floor. She recognizes her18-year-old son, who was engulfed in flames after an IED explosion four days ago. He had been fixing his bicycle at the side of a road. Police took his body to the morgue before the family arrived on the scene.

A white-haired man in the room continues to scrutinize the screens. A full year's worth of images, thousands of images, reflect in his thick glasses. Craning his neck, he squints and tilts his head and tries to recognize something familiar. A piece of clothing. A tattoo. Placing the memory of his son on every frame.

By Andrea Bruce

By Liz Heron  |  October 26, 2008; 8:14 PM ET  | Category:  Baghdad
Previous: The Tigris, Abandoned by Fish | Next: Partying the Night Away in Baghdad


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But the war's over. We won. At least in Palin's vision of America. She needs to visit this morgue in Iraq.

Posted by: coloradodog | October 27, 2008 8:20 AM

And the slaughter and carnage brought on by the Bush administration and their supporters continues. Does anyone expect anything different? It is who and what they are and always have been! "Criminals!"

Posted by: motiv8ed | October 27, 2008 9:02 AM

What a waste of life. Iraqi and American. And for what? We don't even know. The idea that the Bush administration believed Iraq and Sadaam were a threat to the United States is ridiculous. So why did Bush do it? we may never know. How sad.

Posted by: rj2z | October 27, 2008 10:51 AM

I hardly know how to contrast this article with the rapid Palin fans filmed in Leesburg this morning. There is no sense to sensibility left. Politicians distort ideals of freedom into fear and control, and the people internalize such distortions without seeing how racism and fear can be used against them by the state---without ever truly discovering that blood is what links us all, fear links us all, the horror of death links us all. Each person must use their conscience to dissent to all violence of any sort, starting with jingoistic chanting which propels reflex and squelches reason and fairness.
It is not o.k., ever, to kill or torture anyone for any reason, period, end of story. Not because they are "terrorists," not because they are not "True Americans," not because we fear them, not because we cannot overcome our racist pysche, not because it makes us feel better about our falling stature in educational, scientific, and literary achievement in the world.
I cannot apologize enough to these dear people of Baghdad. I cannot apologize enough to prisoners detained around the world in at least 9 U.S. created prisons, including Guantanamo; I cannot apologize enough to Troy Davis for the life he has lived behind bars for 28 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
I feel so depressed about the lack of indignation in the papers, the lack of free, independent smaller papers speaking up for justice, the lack of people who defend basic humanity simply for humanity's sake, on no other premise, not racial, sexual, religious, political, national-- on virtue that we all are animated solely by blood that alternately boils or soothes, but never, under any circumstance, wants to be spilled for any reason. Let that be the comraderie that lets us all protect each other's freedom with freedom and non-violence, not with guns, fear, and jingoism.

Posted by: DreamsAmelia | October 27, 2008 12:38 PM

Thanks to King Bremer this is what happens when you fire the Iraqi military who made $2 to $12 a month and hire Blackwater at $150,000 every 6 months. This is what happens when you fire the Bath Party (which is in Jordan and other Arabic countries-kind of like Republicans) They then go organize the laid off Army into "insurgents" and raise hell. Good job Bremer and Bush - your legacy is in the faces of every victim.

Posted by: kevenbarnes | October 27, 2008 12:50 PM

Granted that the war was an unnecessary stupidity, and that America has a lot to answer for that will take decades to resolve, if not centuries, if not forever--but let's not lose sight of the real criminals in this particular story: the bomb planters, the religious and tribal partisans who think nothing of torturing and maiming their fellow citizens.

When we leave Iraq, these monstrous people will not magically turn to peace, and their sponsors will not miraculously start using their (our) oil money to open a bunch of factories and farms to employ the militants.

Posted by: floomby | October 27, 2008 3:46 PM

Your tax dollars. . .HARD AT WORK!

Now thats what I call a "redistribution of wealth". . .Redistributing our tax dollars into a "socialized system" of death and destruction . . .
All in the name of "FREEDOM"!

John McCain. . .if you think this is "Victory". . .you need your FREAKING HEAD EXAMINED. . .

Mr McCain & his jingoistic, demagouge of a running mate call our incursion into Iraq a "noble and honorable" undertaking. . .HUH?

How can anything that is based upon a lie ever be considered "noble"?

When this war is over. . .the United States is going to have to apologize to the world. . .not only for our lie that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. . .but also because of the destabalization around the world that our little democracy experiment caused..


Posted by: gerw00071 | October 27, 2008 4:46 PM

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