A cruel sense of humour is all that is left for Iraqis to cling to after a suicide bombing

By Robert Fisk

02 January 2004

Mystification. why would a bomber blow himself up to destroy a restaurant? There's no doubt that the man who killed eight diners in Nabil's on Wednesday was a suicide attacker.

One of the waiters, a balding, angry man, showed me what was left of him yesterday. Flesh in the forecourt, a set of four blackened fingers below a wall. "You want a chicken tikka?" he asked cruelly. But these are cruel times.

Next door, every member of the family in the now broken villa was taken to hospital. I knew them all. A few months ago, when the hotel across the road was bombed, I'd lent them my phone to call their relatives in America.

"Al-hamdulila - praise be to God - we are all OK," the mother had shouted down the line to Detroit. Not any more. Her husband was hurt in the chest by the blast. All her daughters were cut, too. Why them?

In any other land, there would be a forensic science laboratory and someone would have taken those fingers away for identification. But the Americans were only looking for the detonator. Some hope. The bomber's Oldsmobile was almost atomised. Did he think someone from the occupation authorities was among the diners at the New Year's Eve belly-dancing party?

Mystification. I am talking to a young American soldier from the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment. He's just down from the Syrian border. "We had a problem there," he says. "A guy got hostile with our men last night. Pulled a knife. He was shot dead." A knife? The guy pulled a knife on a soldier? No information in the papers, of course. No mention of the dead Iraqi in the occupation power's usual press conference.

Mystification. Just two days before Christmas, I am driving the desert road at night west of Ramadi. This is bandit country, a death trap for Americans and insurgents alike. Then to the south, there is a great fire, flickering with explosions, shell bursts, flares, streaks of tracer. The light burns brightly on the horizon, pulsates orange and red for almost 20 minutes, the time it takes my car to reach Fallujah. But next day, no one reports a fire. Nothing in the papers. Someone must know. Can't the Americans, watching all this from their satellites, account for this blazing fire in the night?

Mystification. I am in a traffic jam in the Muthhana area of Baghdad, a thieves' paradise, next to a beat-up Toyota with a bearded man at the wheel. The driver's window is broken, the door doesn't close properly, the registration plates have fallen off.

"Well, you're safe," I shout at him. "No one's going to steal your car." The man grins back at me. "No, they can't steal my car," he roars, then reaches to the floor of his vehicle. He comes up with his false left leg and dangles it out of the window towards me. "And they can't steal me either." Chicken tikka? False legs? Where do the Iraqis find their sense of humour?