BAGHDAD, Iraq – At the ruins of a bomb shelter struck by American missiles, Iraqi officials Sunday mourned the civilian victims of their last war with the United States and celebrated global anti-war protests aimed at preventing another one.
Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan presided over the ceremony inaugurating a memorial for the 403 people -- mostly women and children -- Iraq says were killed when U.S. warplanes fired two missiles at the Amariya bomb shelter on Feb. 13, 1991.
"This is one of the most horrible crimes committed by the evil American administration and its evil allies. They are merchants of war and makers of darkness," he told a crowd of government officials, foreign diplomats and peace activists.
Survivors and victims' relatives also attended the ceremony, some of them openly weeping as they recalled the bombing.
"The memories still run in my blood," said Ahmed Dhia, 28, who lost his sister in the attack and was one of only 14 survivors. Despite 10 months of medical treatment in Germany, he still bears scars on his face and torso. "This is how America treats human beings."
The Amariya bombing was the worst civilian tragedy of the 1991 Gulf War, launched by a U.S.-led coalition after Iraq invaded Kuwait. U.S. generals believed the shelter to be a command center. Reporters who visited the site saw charred bodies of women, children and men being pulled from the wreckage.
The United States and Britain are threatening to attack Iraq again if it doesn't fully cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections aimed at verifying that Iraq has destroyed its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, as ordered by U.N. resolutions ending the Gulf War.
The inspectors paid surprise visits to at least 10 sites on Sunday, including food factories, an air base in the northern city of Mosul and a science college.
Inspectors also visited an army unit in the al-Taji area 25 miles north of Baghdad to tag newly produced Al Samoud missiles, which chief inspector Hans Blix said were tested to ranges exceeding the 94-mile limit set by the U.N. Security Council, as well as three other sites involved in making missiles, spokesman Hiro Ueki said.
Meanwhile, aircraft of the U.S.-British coalition that patrols the southern "no-fly" zone over Iraq attacked five cable communications sites on Sunday. The strikes were in response to Iraqi threats to the aircraft, U.S. Central Command said.
On Saturday, millions of people around the world demonstrated against the threat of war, a global outpouring Baghdad officials celebrated as an Iraqi victory and "the defeat and isolation of America."
"The demonstrations and marches that are sweeping the world are a bright picture that clearly reflects the opposition by the people of the world to America's policies of arrogance and aggression," Ramadan said at Sunday's ceremony.
Iraq's tightly controlled newspapers gave prominent coverage to the demonstrations. "The world rises against American aggression and the arrogance of naked force," read one headline. "The world said with one voice: 'No to aggression on Iraq,'" read another.
"These demonstrations expressed in their spirit, meaning and slogans the decisive Iraqi victory and the defeat and isolation of America," the government daily Al-Jumhuriya said in a commentary.
Sunday's ceremony inaugurated a memorial built adjacent to the damaged bomb shelter, a concrete bunker whose roof still bears the missile's entry hole and whose floor is still stained from incinerated bodies.
Poets read impassioned verses composed for the occasion, and a children's choir was accompanied by the National Philharmonic Orchestra.
The new building, ringed by hundreds of symbolic graves, houses photographs of the victims and displays of their personal belongings: a necklace, an asthma inhaler, a toy kitchen set.
A giant clock faces the sky, its hands frozen at 4:30 -- the early-morning hour of the attack.
The memorial service was held Sunday because Eid al-Adha, an important Muslim holiday, fell on Feb. 13 this year.
Zeinab Sabah, 61, came to the shelter on the attack's anniversary to mourn her daughter Hanan, who died with her husband and four children. Sabah was turned away and told to return Sunday.
When she did, tears flowed down her cheeks, which are tattooed with traditional dots. Pulling her black chador around her face, she recalled how she ran to the shelter when she heard about the bombing, and found rescuers still pulling out bodies.
"I saw screaming, smoke and fire," she said. "Things that, by God, cannot be told."
She said her grief is so deep that it has made her ill, and she wept again when she spoke of her daughter's beautiful 9-month-old baby boy.
"I think of the day when I will see them next," she said.