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[casi] Civilian deaths stoke Iraqis' resentment


(5) Civilian deaths stoke Iraqis' resentment

Bitterness may widen resistance

By Vivienne Walt

San Francisco Chronicle
4 August 2003

Baghdad -- It was 10:30 p.m. on a sweltering night in late June when
12-year-old Mohammed Al-Kubaisa climbed the concrete steps leading to the
roof of his family's house.

The boy held two blankets, so he and his identical twin brother,
Moustafa, could curl up together for the night, one of their favorite
summer habits. Mohammed had just reached the top, when he turned to watch
the military maneuvers on the street below: American soldiers patrolling
with rifles. One soldier looked up in the
darkness and saw a figure on the roof, watching him.

A single shot exploded into the air, slamming into Mohammed's chest.

In the chaos that followed, Mohammed's mother, Wafa Abdul Latif, recalls
dragging her son inside and holding the screaming boy as his blood poured
onto the floor. She says Mohammed was struggling to breathe when a group
of American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division slammed through the
front door and pushed her aside to search the house for hostile gunmen.

"There were two patrols walking from different directions," Latif, 44,
said in her living room as she clutched a large framed portrait of
Mohammed. "One group thought the shot had come from inside the house."

Mohammed's death on June 26 is an almost forgotten incident as daily
attacks by armed insurgents continue to dog the Americans trying to
pacify Iraq. More than 50 U.S. soldiers have been killed in hostilities
since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to the war's major
combat operations.

But Iraqis say that the regularity of deaths in their own civilian
population has drastically affected feelings regarding the U.S.

In numerous interviews, they warn that more than other factors -- like
widespread unemployment, fuel shortages and electricity blackouts --
civilian casualties have hardened bitterness against U.S. soldiers, and
could prolong or widen the armed resistance against them.

"It has increased our hate against Americans," said Ali Hatem, 23, a
computer science student at the University of Baghdad. "It also increases
the violence against them. In Iraq we are tribal people. When someone
loses their son, they want revenge."


Neither the Iraqis nor the Americans keep statistics for dead civilians,
but the numbers are clearly mounting.

At least three Iraqis were killed in west Baghdad's elite Mansour
district July 27, when U.S. soldiers from Task Force 20 opened fire on
cars that overshot a military cordon. The drivers had apparently missed
seeing the cordon when they turned into the area from an
unblocked side street.

In other incidents, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne shot dead 13 Iraqi
protesters in late April in the pro-Saddam Hussein city of Fallujah, 50
miles west of Baghdad. Soldiers fired on another demonstration June 18 at
the gates of Baghdad's Republican Palace, killing at least two people.

In both incidents, U.S. forces said they believed they were being fired
upon from armed insurgents hidden in the crowd. Iraqi witnesses have
denied the charge.

The death of young Mohammed was cited in a report released July 23 by
Amnesty International, which the London-based organization presented to
officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-dominated body
that runs Iraq.

Amnesty said its researchers in Iraq had determined that U.S. forces were
at times trigger-happy and were ill-prepared for policing Iraq.

"Coalition forces must abide by law enforcement standards and therefore
use force in line with the principles of necessity and proportionality,"
says the report. "They should use firearms only if lives are in danger
and there is no other means to respond."

U.S. officials express regrets that innocent people have been caught in
the cross fire.

"I'm working very hard to ensure that with our tactics we aren't
alienating the Iraqi people," Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S.
forces in Iraq, said late last week.


Some of the bereaved Iraqis say they are pained that U.S. soldiers have
not offered apologies or compensation, or even attempted to comfort them.
Iraqi traditions generally call for monetary compensation when a murder
occurs, and among several tribes, a retaliatory killing is expected.

When asked whether his officers had apologized to the families of those
killed during the botched Mansour raid, Sanchez replied: "Apologies are
not something that we have as a normal procedure in the military

As for compensation, the Pentagon rejects nearly all claims in cases
where Iraqis are mistakenly killed by U.S. soldiers during a combat
operation. Under U.S. laws drafted during World War II, such cases fall
under the so-called combat exclusion. Combat operations include
foot patrols, like the one that killed young Mohammed.

"Our soldiers are conducting combat operations . . . and we are still
engaged in (them)," Col. Marc Warren, judge advocate for the U.S. Army's
V Corps and the senior U.S. attorney in Iraq, said Sunday.

Warren said Mohammed's death was nonetheless being investigated, because
he was only 12.

Soldiers, in fact, did visit the boy's family to express their regrets.

"They asked us what compensation we wanted," said Latif. "My husband was
incensed. He said he wanted 10 of their men to die in exchange."

The couple said the Americans told them that one soldier had been
arrested for Mohammed's death, a claim denied by military spokesman Col.
Guy Shields.

"The incident was investigated. Nobody was disciplined," Shields said,
adding that Mohammed's death was simply an unfortunate accident of war.

The family insists the boy could have been saved that tragic night, had
it not been for the unyielding soldiers at a checkpoint in the Hay
Al-Jihad district of south Baghdad.

"I tried to rush him to the hospital in my car," said a neighbor, Yaser

17. "They stopped us at the checkpoint because it was nearly curfew time.
They said we could not go on, even though they saw Mohammed bleeding." No
civilian is permitted outdoors in Baghdad after 11 p.m., under a curfew
imposed last April.

Ala drove back to the house, where Mohammed bled to death in the car.


Another troubling incident involving the 82nd Airborne was the fatal
shooting of 24-year-old Uday Ahmed on July 9.

That day, Uday was earning some money fixing his neighbor's 1982 car. In
search of a spare part, he walked a few blocks from his house in the
southwest Baghdad district of Saidiya to an auto-repair yard.

While walking across the yard, he held the car's distributor, a round
metal object slightly bigger than a fist -- roughly the size and shape of
a hand grenade. He was clearly visible from the rooftop of the Dorah
Police Station that abuts the repair yard. There, 82nd
Airborne soldiers are posted around the clock behind sandbags, rifles at
the ready.

>From atop the roof, a soldier spotted Uday and fired. Details of what
happened came from several witnesses who spoke three weeks after the

"I heard the bang of a rifle shot and swung around," said Ali Hassan, 40,
who runs a falafel stand about 20 feet from where Uday stood. "This man
was holding a car part. He doubled over bleeding and then glanced up. At
that moment, a second shot came from the roof of the police station. It
hit him and he dropped. There was blood everywhere."

Moustafa Ahmed, Uday's 28-year-old brother, displaying an autopsy report
from Iraq's Ministry of Health, said, "No Americans have visited us to
speak about what happened. And we don't feel we can go speak to them."

The 82nd Airborne soldiers posted at the Dorah Police Station would not
comment and referred a reporter to the division's base two blocks away.
Commanders refused to discuss the incident.

Young Mohammed's twin brother, Moustafa, meanwhile, has left home to live
with an aunt and her children. "I don't want to be at home," said the shy
boy. "There is no one to play with anymore."


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