AC: Putting a face on the civilian victims

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Length: 5:03

JOHN ROBERTS: First, though, to Iraq and CNN's Michael Ware.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An overcrowded morgue -- this father pleads for help.

"I came here," he says, "for my son."

Just 17 years old, Mohammed al-Tamimi left his aunt's house almost two weeks ago, bound for home. He hasn't been seen since. His increasingly dispirited father, Ali cannot rest, trawling Baghdad's hospitals, jails, army barracks, and morgues.

It's his third visit to this one.

"I have looked everywhere, but I can't find him," he says. "He's my son. I feel lost."

He's far from alone. These faces, each seeking someone dear, fill Baghdad's central morgue. More than 13,000 men, women and children have died in the past four months alone, according to the United Nations, victims of insurgent violence and sectarian death squads.

And this sad place is swamped each morning, prompting a macabre efficiency. Viewing bodies is impossible in the crush, so a large video screen has been installed with photographs of the dead scrolling slowly past. With many of the images still bloodied, barely recognizable, we agreed not to show the screen.

Inside, women hold worn photographs. As men peer at the screen, a wail rises up, while outside, by hastily made coffins, other grieve, and even more wait.

At home, Ali's wife, Rahma, can't help but hold a mother's hope her boy will return.

RAHMA AL-JOUBORI, MOTHER OF MISSING SON (through translator): My heart is telling me that he's still alive. I just want him back. I have no other son, except Mohammed.

WARE: His grandmother, however, is sure he's dead. "He's gone," she sighs.

But Rahma can't bear the thought.

AL-JOUBORI (through translator): I'm keeping my eyes on the gate of the house, waiting for him to push through the gate.

WARE: Ali would keep a similar vigil, but, heavy with mourning, he's forced to return to driving his minibus taxi.

"I had to go back to work," he says. "It's very hard for me. But what can I do?"

All Rahma can do is pray. Most of the disappeared die at the hands of death squads, for the sake of their faith, a cruel torment for this family. Ali is a Shia, Rahma a Sunni. For them, the sectarian divide has meant nothing. Now it's the source of their terrible lament.

"Before, we didn't have this Sunni vs. Shia thing," says Ali. "We were the same, brothers living together, playing, eating together. I don't know where all this came from, or where it will end."


ROBERTS: Michael Ware joins us now live from Baghdad.

And, Michael, up until that report, these have really been impersonal statistics. We have seen, through this report, how bad it is for these people.

What's being done about it?

WARE: Well, John, obviously, this is the greatest problem plaguing Iraq at the moment.

The U.S. military says it's the civil -- well, the military says it's sectarian violence. Let's face it. You've seen it. For the Iraqis living it, this is civil war. There's very little that can be done. The U.S. military says more people are dying from this now, more Iraqis, than the insurgency itself.

Now, we know, for example, that over the past three weeks coalition and Iraqi forces have conducted 58 targeted raids at death squads. As a result, they have detained eight death squad leaders and more than 180 members. Yet, John, the killings continue.

There was at least 50 bodies that showed up on Baghdad streets this morning. More than 20 of them were blindfolded.

ROBERTS: Michael, when you look at the pattern of these killings, is it ethnic cleansing, or does it start to lean toward that border into genocide?

WARE: Well, ethnic cleansing, I'm afraid to say, is something that is being uttered here on the ground. Now, again, for a nation that can't accept that Iraq is in civil war, ethnic cleansing is also something that I'm sure it will shudder to contemplate. Nonetheless, the report released today from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq gives some hint.

It says that entire communities have been disrupted to varying degrees, neighborhoods split, people driven out. This feels like ethnic cleansing -- John.

ROBERTS: Michael Ware in Baghdad for us tonight -- Michael, thanks very much.