- The death of two innocent Iraqis was thought so unremarkable
the US military did not even report it, but Peter Beaumont says it reflects
an increasingly callous disregard of civilian lives in coalition operations
- Farah Fadhil was only 18 when she was killed. An American
soldier threw a grenade through the window of her apartment. Her death,
early last Monday, was slow and agonising. Her legs had been shredded,
her hands burnt and punctured by splinters of metal, suggesting that the
bright high-school student had covered her face to shield it from the explosion.
- She had been walking to the window to try to calm an
escalating situation; to use her smattering of English to plead with the
soldiers who were spraying her apartment building with bullets.
- But then a grenade was thrown and Farah died. So did
Marwan Hassan who, according to neighbours, was caught in the crossfire
as he went looking for his brother when the shooting began.
- What is perhaps most shocking about their deaths is that
the coalition troops who killed them did not even bother to record details
of the raid with the coalition military press office. The killings were
that unremarkable. What happened in Mahmudiya last week should not be forgotten,
for the story of this raid is also the story of the dark side of the US-led
occupation of Iraq, of the violent and sometimes lethal raids carried out
apparently beyond any accountability.
- For while the media are encouraged to count each US death,
the Iraqi civilians who have died at American hands since the fall of Saddam's
regime have been as uncounted as their names have been unacknowledged.
- Mahmudiya is typical of the satellite towns that ring
Baghdad, and the apartment block where Farah died was typical of the blocks
to be found there - five storeys or so high, set among dusty paths lined
with palms and stunted trees. In Saddam's time, the people who lived here
were reasonably well-off - junior technicians for the nearby factories
run by the Ministry of Military Industrialisation. These are not the poorest,
but they are by no stretch of the imagination well-off.
- When the Americans arrived, say neighbours, the residents
of this cluster of blocks liked the young GIs. They say there were no problems
and that their children played with the troops, while residents would give
them food as the patrols passed by.
- But all that came to a sudden bloody end at 12.30am last
Monday, when soldiers arrived outside the apartment block where Farah and
her family lived. What happened in a few minutes, and in the chaos of the
hours that followed, is written across its walls. The bullet marks that
pock the walls are spread in arcs right across the front of the apartment
house, so widely spaced in places that the only conclusion you can draw
is that a line of men stood here and sprayed the building wildly.
- I stood inside and looked to where the men must have
been standing, towards the apartment houses the other way. I could not
find impacts on the concrete paths or on the facing walls that would suggest
that there was a two-way firefight here. Whatever happened here was one-sided,
a wall of fire unleashed at a building packed with sleeping families. Further
examination shows powder burns where door locks had been shot off and splintered
wood where the doors had been kicked in. All the evidence was that this
was a raid that - like so many before it - went horribly wrong.
- This is what the residents, and local police, told us
had happened. Inside the apartment with Farah were her mother and a brother,
Haroon, 13. As the soldiers started smashing doors, they began to kick
in Farah's door with no warning. Panicking, and thinking that thieves were
breaking into the apartment, Haroon grabbed a gun owned by his father and
fired some shots to scare them off. The soldiers outside responded by shooting
up the building and throwing grenades into Farah's apartment.
- The randomness of that firing is revealed by a visit
to the apartments. Windows are drilled with bullet holes; ceilings in kitchens
and bedrooms and living areas are scarred where the rounds smashed in.
Hodhbain Tohma was on the roof, fiddling with his new satellite dish to
make it work, when the soldiers came. 'I heard the shooting first, then
an explosion. Then I heard women screaming. I looked over the roof and
saw a line of soldiers on the path firing weapons wildly towards the building
as a helicopter arrived above us. The shooting all seemed to me to be on
- Abdul Ali Hussein was in the apartment next door to Farah's
when the shooting began. 'I was asleep when we heard the shooting, and
then an explosion blew open my door and filled my apartment with smoke.
I grabbed my family and took them to another room and covered them with
- 'I went to see if anyone needed my help next door. I
went into three rooms, saw Farah lying in the kitchen near the window.
She was injured and burnt, but still alive. I ran to get cotton wrapping
and bandages to try and treat her. We didn't have enough and so tore up
a head-cloth to try and stop the bleeding. The soldier shouted at me: "Where
are the fedayeen ?" They told me to leave her because she was dead.'
- As we were talking, a weeping man in a head-cloth arrived
- Qasam Hassan, the brother of the second fatality, Marwan. Qasam told
us how Marwan died. 'When I heard the heavy shooting, I was in another
apartment building visiting friends. My brother was worried, so he went
out to look for me. He was not carrying any arms. He could not find me,
and as he came back to the building the Americans shot him. He ran and
fell behind the building and died. Among all of them they only had one
translator. How could people know what was going on?'
- What is most curious about this story is that, when I
called the US military press office in Baghdad, it said it could find no
record of the raid or of the deaths. It is curious because the police in
Mahmudiya have told us how US military policemen delivered the bodies to
their station the next morning; how the local commander had expressed his
commiserations; how the same Iraqi police had complained that the new troops
from the 82nd Airborne Division, who arrived fresh from the US last month,
had apparently reversed the policy of the previous US unit in the town
to take local police on raids.
- It became less puzzling when I spoke to Nada Doumani,
spokeswoman for the International Committee for the Red Cross, who confirmed
what she has said before - that despite repeated requests from the Red
Cross, it can neither get information nor figures on civilian deaths during
- What happened at Mahmudiya would be disturbing enough
if it was unique, but it is not. It is part of a pattern that points not
to a deliberate policy but perhaps to something equally worrying, an institutional
lack of care among many in the US military for whether civilians are killed
in their operations. It is not enough to say, as some defenders of the
US military in Iraq do, that its soldiers are tired, frightened and under
pressure from the simmering guerrilla attacks directed against them. For
it is the impression that the US military gives of not caring about those
innocent Iraqis that they kill that is stoking resentment.
- Iraqis have been killed at vehicle checkpoints and killed
in their homes in night-time raids. Policemen have been shot down doing
what US forces have asked them to do, trying to keep the peace. Indeed,
the allegations that US soldiers are too 'trigger happy' even led to complaints,
in mid-August from Ibrahim al-Jaffri - then holding the rotating presidency
of the Iraqi provisional government - urging US troops to exercise more
care before firing.
- 'All we want are answers,' said Qassam Hassan. 'All we
are asking for is justice.'
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