Uncle Sam regrets ...

When U.S. officials warn of "regrettable civilian casualties" resulting from a renewed bombing of Iraq, they should talk to Rema al-Attar.

By Dennis Bernstein
February 24, 1998 1:00AM (UTC)
main article image

With all that wall space in the White House, perhaps President Clinton can find some room for a painting by Laila al-Attar. He may not remember her, but he should -- she was the Iraqi artist who was blown to bits by the U.S. bombers sent to punish Saddam Hussein in 1993. So was her husband.

Their only daughter, Rema, survived, blinded in one eye. Rema -- "little deer" in Arabic -- left Baghdad soon after the bombing. She has had five operations on her face in Los Angeles and Canada, and is still in pain.


She was 24 when "the bombs changed everything." In 1995, she married and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where her husband has a business. Trained as a draft designer, she took courses at a community college until their baby, Laila, was born four months ago. Rema is anxious to complete her courses in interior design as soon as possible. "I can still do this work with my one good eye," she says.

Perhaps the Clintons might call on Rema next week on their way to visit their daughter Chelsea at Stanford, which is only a few minutes away. She might shed some light on the consequences of the impending decision to bomb Baghdad again.

The president will surely remember the last time. It was June 27, 1993, in the first months of his presidency. As commander in chief, he announced, he was acting to foil an alleged plot to assassinate former President George Bush during his victorious visit to Kuwait.


It was 2 a.m. when the bombs started falling. Rema's family was sound asleep. "There was no warning. We heard an explosion and felt the walls shake. We tried to get out but we couldn't do it. The whole house collapsed on top of us."

Rema was terrorized then and confused now. "It had nothing to do with us. My father was a successful businessman. My mother was an artist. I used to work as a display designer in a museum. We had nothing to do with politics. It was two years after the (Gulf) war had ended."

Rema has never received an apology from the government that took her parents away from her "in the prime of their lives." Rema was buried alive for five hours under the broken stone and rubble that was once her home. "I was very deep under and no one could hear me. I was dying by the time they got through. They didn't get to my parents for another two hours. It was two hours too late."


Her mother, Laila, was director of the Iraqi National Art Museum and a powerful force in gaining recognition for woman artists throughout the Middle East. She was also, her daughter remembers, "very beautiful, very well respected and very kind."

Rema does not speak of anger and revenge, but of sorrow and fear. "I get scared so easily now, I can't do anything. I always wear dark glasses." And she has one major concern -- her brother, who miraculously escaped serious injury when "smart bombs" turned his parents and his home into a bit of what Pentagon officials refer to as "acceptable collateral damage."


"I'm very worried about my brother," she says. "He is still in Iraq and they are getting ready to bomb."

Dennis Bernstein

Dennis Bernstein is a producer for Pacifica Radio.

MORE FROM Dennis Bernstein

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Iraq Middle East White House