It was a routine foot patrol. As we made our way up a broad boulevard, in
the distance I could see a car making its way toward us. As a defence
against potential car bombs, it is now standard practice for foot patrols
to stop oncoming vehicles, particularly after dark.
"We have a car coming," someone called out, as we entered an intersection.
We could see the car about 100 metres away. It kept coming; I could hear
its engine now, a high whine that sounded more like acceleration than
slowing down. It was maybe 50 yards away now. "Stop that car!" someone
shouted out, seemingly simultaneously with someone firing what sounded like
warning shots - a staccato measured burst.
The car continued coming. And then, perhaps less than a second later, a
cacophony of fire, shots rattling off in a chaotic overlapping din. The car
entered the intersection on its momentum and still shots were penetrating
it and slicing it. Finally the shooting stopped, the car drifted
listlessly, clearly no longer being steered, and came to a rest on a kerb.
Soldiers began to approach it warily. The sound of children crying came
from the car. I walked up to the car and a teenaged girl with her head
covered emerged from the back, wailing and gesturing wildly. After her came
a boy, tumbling on to the ground from the seat, already leaving a pool of
"Civilians!" someone shouted, and soldiers ran up. More children - it ended
up being six all told - started emerging, crying, their faces mottled with
blood in long streaks. The troops carried them all off to a nearby sidewalk…
From the pavement I could see into the bullet-mottled windshield more
clearly, the driver of the car, a man, was penetrated by so many bullets
that his skull had collapsed, leaving his body grotesquely disfigured. A
woman also lay dead in the front, still covered in her Muslim clothing and
harder to see.
Meanwhile, the children continued to wail and scream, huddled against a
wall, sandwiched between soldiers either binding their wounds or trying to
comfort them. The Army's translator later told me that this was a Turkoman
family and that the teenaged girl kept shouting, "Why did they shoot us? We
have no weapons! We were just going home!" After a delay in getting the
armoured vehicles lined up and ready, the convoy moved to the main Tal Afar