Death's embrace gave the bodies intimacies they never knew in life. Strangers, bloodied and blackened, wrapped their arms around others, hugging them close.
A man's hand rose disembodied from the bottom of the heap of corpses to rest on the belly of a man near the top. A blue stone in his ring glinted as an Iraqi orderly opened the door of the morgue, admitting daylight and the sound of a man's sobs to the cold silence within.
Here were just some of the results of America's progress through Saddam Hussein's dominions yesterday, an advance that obliterated the symbols of his regime at the same time as it claimed to be liberating its people.
These were mere fragments in a larger picture of killing, flight, and destruction inflicted on a sprawling city of 5 million. And it grew more unbearable by the minute.
In two adjoining stalls of the casualty ward of Kindi hospital, the main trauma centre of eastern Baghdad, a girl, long black plait held off her forehead by a red Alice band, was laid out beside her little brother. Their mother lay across the aisle, beige dress soaked in blood from hem to armpits. Another brother slumped on the floor, insensible to the fact that he was sitting in his mother's blood.
A neighbour who had followed the family to hospital said the girl had been called Noor Sabah and was 12 years old, though she looked smaller next to the doctors who surged into the examining cubicle. Her brother, Abdel Khader, who began the day neatly dressed in dark trousers and a check shirt, was four or five. When their two small corpses were loaded on to the same trolley to take them to the morgue, even the nurses were reduced to tears.
The elderly female orderlies who had been constantly lugging blood-encrusted trolleys back and forth to the ambulances and battered cars that pulled up at the gates wailed until they were hoarse, and thumped their pain out on the walls.
The doctors turned to watch the small bodies pass, the best they could offer by way of a ceremony, and abandoned the mother, Wael Sabah, on her trolley. "She's fatal," said one. The doctors could do no more than watch her die.
The Sabah family, in their home in the eastern Baladiyat district, had been as far as they could possibly be from the focus of American operations yesterday and still be in Baghdad. A neighbour leaning heavily against a grubby, tiled wall said their home had been hit by a rocket fired from a low-flying American aircraft. Nobody was certain of the details, and they would not change anything anyway for the head of the family, who wept in a doctor's arms outside. Only one thing was clear: nowhere was safe.
On the western banks of the Tigris river American forces began reasserting their mastery over Baghdad before dawn yesterday, with several concussive explosions announcing their presence in President Saddam's preserves.
At dawn truckloads of Iraqi fighters - a few regular soldiers among the militiamen - had dared a counterattack on the compound of President Saddam's palace, which had been seized by American forces on Monday and occupied overnight.
The Americans clearly had been expecting them, or had their own plans to expand their base in central Baghdad from the palace and the Rashid Hotel, which commands sweeping views of the area. This time, with tanks and covered by low-flying aircraft, the US forces were determined to tear deeper into the heart of the city.
As thick black smoke swirled out of at least six separate pyres, and amid a barrage of mortar and artillery fire, the US forces moved northwards along the river embankment and a parallel road. They moved past the grounds of the palace to offices of the Republican Guard, the force under the command of President Saddam's second son and heir, Qusay, which had been pounded on an almost nightly basis for two weeks.
Nothing was safe in their path. At 7am a correspondent from al-Jazeera television was killed by two rockets fired on the local bureau of the Arab satellite network, cutting him down live on camera.
Certainly, the Iraqi militiamen and the remnants of the Republican Guard and the regular army would have encountered no mercy. Only a day before they had waved and made V-signs to passersby from their small positions on the main road off the bridge. They were underarmed, and were pitifully exposed in their small sandbag posts, but they had seemed resolved to fight.
By 9am yesterday they must have fled or been killed as wave after wave of A-10 aircraft swooped overhead, pulverising the entire western bank of the Tigris with heavy machine gun fire. At one point a few dozen Iraqi fighters dived for the river and swam upstream, others scurried into the reeds along the bank. And still it did not stop.
By 9.30am two Abrams tanks loomed into view on Jumhuriya (Republic) bridge, one of the principal spans of central Baghdad, turrets spitting fire and devastation on the Iraqi positions, and on at least one car foolish enough to venture on to the bridge from the eastern shore.
By mid-morning the centre of the Iraqi capital was effectively split in two: the western bank of the Tigris, with its modern neighbourhoods and broad, tank-friendly roads, was under American control.
On the eastern side of the river, shabbier now, but still the repository of Arab history as the site of medieval Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers and militiamen sealed off three bridges that cross the heart of the city with concrete blocks and lorries.
Accepting US supremacy west of the Tigris, they tried to hang on to the eastern shore.
But it seemed futile. By mid-day the tanks on the Jumhuriya bridge were firing on both sides of the river.
They targeted a telephone exchange on the eastern side and fired on a multi-storey hotel at least a mile away, the Palestine, home to the contingent of foreign journalists.
A Reuters television cameraman was killed as he filmed them from his balcony on the 15th floor. Three other staff from the news agency were injured, one seriously, and a cameraman for a Spanish channel was killed.
As it had from the outset of this war, America had absolute control over the skies. Fighter planes prowled low overhead, attacking the eastern, southern and northern suburbs. In one surreal moment two rockets traveled the length of Sadoon Street, a main artery on the east side of the river, flying at about 20 metres.
The amount of firepower deployed, and its duration - with only intermittent pauses from dawn to dusk yesterday - was almost beyond belief. So too were the results as the Iraqi regime began to enter its death throes.
Even on the eastern banks of the river, the city came to a halt, with little evidence of the presence of the millions of Iraqis who normally live there, beyond the accumulating piles of rubbish in the largely deserted streets. Teashops and cigarette kiosks, the last preserves of commerce in a shocked and battered city, were shut.
The militiamen who had swarmed the area only a few days ago, toting their assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades over their shoulders, melted away. The army trucks which had sheltered beneath palm trees and highway overpasses vanished, as did the heavy gun emplacements.
The only sign of motion came from the dreary trickle of civilians heading for safety. They had withstood the bombardments for more than a fortnight, and had been without electricity and phones for nearly a week, and they could take no more. They packed up whatever they could carry and made their way out of the city on foot.
Over at Kindi hospital, doctors had already passed their own point of exhaustion. By mid-afternoon all 12 operating theatres were in action, and still the wounded and dead kept coming in.
The doctors tried to maintain their clinical detachment, reeling off the kinds of injuries they were seeing - burnt faces, disembowelled torsos, fractured limbs and skulls, bodies coated with an all-over glaze of blood. They spoke about the technical difficulties of operating with fitful generators, and with their limited stocks of surgical and other supplies. They attempted to put a figure on the daily death toll - four or five, they said.
But there had been perhaps 15 bodies packed together in just one of the refrigerated containers at the back of the hospital, and a constant ebb and flow of orderlies wheeling the dead to the morgue and families collecting them for the speedy burial dictated by Muslim custom. As with the flow of casualties, too fast and too many to accurately count, it became too much for the doctors. They were overwhelmed.
"This is severely traumatic," said Osama Salah, the director of medical services.
"It is very difficult to a see a child lying in front of you and I have seen three children.
"I keep seeing the faces of my own children in these children. It could be my kid. It could be my cousin, and still the Americans continue, and they don't stop."
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