Haythem could only recognize his oldest boy from his tall and slim physique as well as what was left of his shoes. His son’s head had been blown away, his body charred beyond recognition. His wife of more than 20 years was torn apart.
“Only part of her neck and jaw remained,” Haythem told CNN. The rest of her was covered by a body bag.
Choking back tears, he said, “Killing them was not enough, blowing up their skulls, they burned them and disfigured them.”
Haythem’s wife, Mahassen, and his 20-year-old son, Ahmed, were among the 17 Iraqi civilians killed and 27 others wounded in a hail of gunfire September 16 in Baghdad.
Guards working for private security firm Blackwater USA are accused of opening fire on the Iraqis.
The Iraqi government has said the Blackwater guards shot without provocation — something the U.S.-based contractor has denied, saying the guards were in a firefight with gunmen.
An Iraqi government report has accused Blackwater of “premeditated murder,” saying the company’s guards randomly fired at civilians. An Iraqi panel investigating the shootings has asked Blackwater to pay the families of each of the victims $8 million in compensation.
“Money will not compensate us for what we have lost, even if it were piles of it,” Haythem said. “No one can put a price on the lives of those killed.”
Haythem, 46, a doctor who specializes in blood diseases, spoke from his temporary home in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood where he is living with his mother and two remaining children — daughter Maryam, 18, and son Haidar, 17.
While he spoke, his mother sat in a corner of the room, moaning and sobbing, rocking back and forth on a couch. She wore all black.
All Haythem and the family know about the final moments of their loved ones is what two Iraqi police officers who witnessed the shootings have told them — that Ahmed was shot as he was driving his car in Nusoor Square and his mother clutched him tight as he was bleeding.
“Those who witnessed the incident say that my son’s head was scattered and my wife held him and hugged him,” Haythem said. “She was screaming, ‘My son, my son! Help me! Help me!’ ”
The car slowly rolled forward until Blackwater guards unleashed more shots that turned the vehicle into a fireball, according to the witnesses.
“They understood the call for help. They sprayed her with bullets,” he said.
Blackwater has not discussed specifics about the case, saying the FBI is investigating the matter. Blackwater CEO Erik Prince told CNN Sunday one of the Blackwater vehicles was damaged by small arms fire and that his guards committed no “deliberate violence.”
Haythem’s wife also was a doctor and his son was attending medical school with hopes of becoming a surgeon.
“They destroyed my family and they killed my beloved wife, my better half,” Haythem said calmly. “They deprived me of my eldest son who I have raised into a strong, young man. They deprived him of fulfilling his dream to be a doctor and a surgeon. They planted pain and misery in the hearts of my two younger kids.”
His daughter and son live in fear that he too will be slain on the streets of Baghdad, leaving them as orphans.
Maryam sat with her father throughout the interview, not wanting to leave his side. She said she and her mother were close friends — able to chat like sisters and share stories beyond most mother-daughter relationships.
“My friends would always tell me how much they noticed my mom’s love for me. She used to always talk to me about my future and her dreams for me,” she said. “I hope I live up to her expectations.”
Maryam’s last conversation with her mom was the morning of September 16. Maryam had a biology exam that day. Her mom woke her up and reviewed the material with her to make sure she was properly prepared for the test.
“She stayed for another few minutes, joking and laughing,” Maryam said, tears running down her cheeks.
Haythem was dropped off at work that day by his wife and son. They then picked up a college application for Maryam, who is hoping to enter dental school. At some point afterward they were killed.
Haythem first began worrying when his wife was late picking him up from work. Then calls to her cell phone went unanswered. In the chaotic world of Baghdad — where violence and kidnappings are common — anytime a loved one doesn’t show up on time fears of the worst begin.
He eventually made it home and began making more phone calls. The worrying intensified as news reports swirled of a deadly shooting in Nusoor Square. He called his brother, a doctor at a nearby hospital, to check the emergency room and the morgue. The brother found no signs of them.
Haythem’s brother then went to the scene and found a burned-out car. He called Haythem and asked for the license plate number.
“My brother collapsed and said, ‘The family car is burned and may God bless their souls,’ ” Haythem said.
Despite his sorrow and anguish, Haythem maintains a calm and peaceful attitude, saying he only seeks justice through the courts and that he trusts the U.S. and international judicial systems.
“All we want is the fair judiciary do us justice. We ask the judge who takes this case to think before he rules, to be satisfied with his ruling as if he were, God forbid, personally involved,” he said.
Haythem’s and Maryam’s faces light up when they speak of their loved ones. Ahmed, they said, was an achiever, an ambitious young man who not only was always at the top of his class but who also enjoyed sports and singing and had an interest in languages. He was fluent in English and was learning French and Italian.
“He was quiet and very popular and a leader. This was all wasted in a moment,” his father said. “He was guilty of no crime. What compensation is there for that? There can’t be any.”
Maryam just wishes she could turn the clock back. “I only wish I could relive last month, my family around,” she said. “But they are gone. What can we do? If we die, we will do so in Iraq and hopefully we will all meet in heaven.”