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By Nir Rosen, with the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
in Iraq

PART 5 (final)
The wrong Ayoub

AL-QAIM, western Iraq - According to a major from the
Judge Advocate General's office working on
establishing an Iraqi judicial  process, at least
7,000 Iraqis are being detained by US forces. Many
languish in prisons indefinitely, lost in a system
that imposes English-language procedures on Arabic
speakers with Arabic names not easily transcribed.

Some are termed "security detainees" and held for six
months pending a review to determine whether they are
still a "security risk". Most are innocent. Many were
arrested simply because a neighbor did not like them.
A lieutenant-colonel familiar with the process adds
that there is no judicial process for the thousands of
detainees. If the military were to try them, that
would entail a court martial, which would imply that
the United States is occupying Iraq, and lawyers
working for the administration are still debating
whether it is an occupation or a liberation.

The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's (ACR) S2 section,
responsible for intelligence, has not proved itself
very reliable in the past and soldiers are getting
frustrated. "You get all psyched up to do a hard
mission," says Sergeant Scott Blow, "and it turns out
to be three little girls. The little kids get to me,
especially when they cry." Even the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) operator could not recognize
a large picture of Oday Saddam Husayn, one of Saddam's
sons, hanging on a wall.

The little confidence S2 deserves is made clear by the
case of a man called Ayoub. Apache Troop, acting on
intelligence Captain Ray and his S2 staff have
provided it, raids Ayoub's home. Tanks, Bradleys and
Humvees squeeze through the neighborhood walls as the
CIA operator eyes the rooftops and windows of nearby
houses angrily, a silencer on his assault weapon.
Soldiers break through Ayoub's door early in the
morning, and when he does not immediately respond to
their orders he is shot with non-lethal ordnance,
little pellets exploding like gun shot from the
weapon's grenade launcher. The floor of the house is
covered with his blood. He is dragged into a room and
interrogated forcefully as his family is pushed back
against their garden's fence.

Ayoub's frail mother, covered in a shawl, with
traditional tribal tattoos marking her face, pleads
with the immense soldier to spare her son's life,
protesting his innocence. She takes the soldier's hand
and kisses it repeatedly while on her knees. He pushes
her to the grass along with Ayoub's four girls and two
boys, all small, and his wife.

They squat barefoot, screaming, their eyes wide open
in terror, clutching each one another as soldiers
emerge with bags full of documents, photo albums and
two compact discs with Saddam Hussein and his cronies
on the cover. These CDs, called The Crimes of Saddam,
are common on every Iraqi street and, as their title
suggests, they were not made by Saddam supporters. But
the soldiers saw only the picture of Saddam and
assumed they were proof of guilt.
Ayoub is brought out and pushed on to the truck. He
gestures to his shrieking family to remain where they
are. He is an avuncular man, small and round, balding
and unshaven, with a hooked nose and slightly
pockmarked face. It would be impossible for him to
look more innocent. He sits frozen, staring numbly
ahead as the soldiers ignore him, occasionally
glancing down at their prisoner with sneering disdain.
The medic looks at Ayoub's injured hand and chuckles
to his friends, "It ain't my hand." The truck blasts
country music on the way back to the base. Ayoub is
thrown in the detainment center. After the operation
there are smiles of relief among the soldiers, slaps
on the back and thumbs up.

Several hours later a call is intercepted from another
Ayoub. "Oh shit," says Captain Ray, "it was the wrong
Ayoub." The innocent father of six who has the wrong
name is not immediately let go. If he is released they
risk revealing to the other Ayoub that he is sought
after. The night after his arrest a relieved Ayoub can
be seen escorted by soldiers to call his family and
tell them he is fine, but will not be home for a few
days. "It was not the wrong guy," Captain Justin Brown
says defensively, shifting blame elsewhere. "We raided
the house we were supposed to and arrested the man we
were told to."

When the soldiers who captured Ayoub learn of the
mistake, they are not surprised. "Oops," says one.
Another one wonders, "What do you tell a guy like
that, 'sorry'?" A third says: "It's depressing. We
trashed the wrong guy's house, and the guy that's been
shooting at us is out there with his house not
trashed." The soldier who shot the non-lethal ordnance
at Ayoub says, "I'm just glad he didn't do something
that made me shoot him." Then the soldiers resume
their banter. Lieutenant-Colonel Gregg Reilly, the
squadron commander, acknowledges that he will have to
make a big gesture of apology. "I can't just drop him
off at home and say 'sorry'," he says. "We embarrassed
him in front of his family."

The tapes of the other Ayoub's conversations are sent
for analysis. In them he speaks of proceeding to the
next level and obtaining landmines and other weapons.
This rightfully alarms the army's intelligence
officers. They are confounded by the meaning of the
intercepted conversation until somebody realizes it is
not a terrorist intent on obtaining weapons. It is a
kid playing video games and talking about them with
his friend on the phone.

The procrustean application of spurious information
gathered by intelligence officers who cannot speak
Arabic and are not familiar with Iraqi, Arab or Muslim
culture is creating enemies instead of eliminating
them. One intelligence officer of the 3rd ACR can
barely hide his disdain for Iraqis. "Oh, he just hates
anything Iraqi," explains an officer engaged in
operations on Tiger Base, adding that the intelligence
officers do not venture off the base or interact with
Iraqis or develop any relations with the people they
are expected to understand.

A lieutenant-colonel from the army's civil affairs
office explains that these officers do not read about
the soldiers engaging with Iraqis, sharing cigarettes,
tea, meals and conversations. They only read the
reports of "incidents", and they view Iraqis solely as
a security threat. They do not know Iraq.

In every market in Iraq, hundreds of wooden crates can
be found piled one atop the other. Sold for storage,
on further examination these crates reveal themselves
to be old ammunition crates. For the past 25 years
Iraq has been importing weapons to feed its army's
appetite for war against Iran, the Kurds, Kuwait and
the United States. The empty crates are sold for
domestic use. The soldiers of the 3rd ACR assume the
crates they find in nearly every home implicate the
owners in terrorist activities, rather than the much
simpler truth.

During Operation Decapitation, one of Apache's
soldiers discovered one such crate overturned above a
small hole dug into a man's back yard. "He was trying
to bury it when he saw us coming," one soldier deduced
confidently. He did not lift the crate up to discover
that it was protecting irrigation pipes and hoses that
had been dug into a pit.

Saddam bestowed his largesse on the security services
that served as his Praetorian guard and executioners.
Elite fighters received Jawa motorcycles. Immediately
after the war, Jawa motorcycles were available in
every market in Iraq that sold scooters and
motorcycles. Some had been stolen from government
buildings in the frenzy of looting that followed the
war and which was directed primarily against
institutions of the former government.

Soldiers of the 3rd ACR are always alert for Jawa
motorcycles, and indeed it is true that many Iraqi
paramilitaries have used them against the Americans.
On a night that Apache receives RPG (rocket-propelled
grenade) fire at the border checkpoint, they drive
back to Tiger Base through the town. When they spot a
man on a Jawa, they fire warning shots. When he does
not stop, they shoot him to death. "He was up to no
good," Captain Brown explains.

Reilly maintains that Jawas are fedayeen
(paramilitaries loyal to Saddam) motorcycles and that
most curfew violators and placers of improvised
explosive device use them. Sheikh Mudhafar of the
local Huseiba mosque claims to know the victim. "He
was an innocent construction worker," he says. "I saw
the dirt from the gypsum on his hands myself. Now tell
me if his father or brother is going to thank the

The day after Tiger Strike, Reilly meets with the
clerical and tribal leaders, deliberately arranging
the meeting immediately after the operation so that he
can explain to them what he has done and why. In
previous meetings following operations, community
leaders have informed him of innocent men he has
arrested, and he has deferred to their judgment and
released them.

The clerics ask Reilly to release a religious leader
he has arrested. "They said it looked bad to arrest
him, they didn't say it was the wrong guy," Reilly
explains later. The tribal sheikhs also ask for one
man to be released because his wife has kidney failure
and there is nobody else to take her to Jordan for
treatment. The Solomon-like Reilly discusses the issue
of paying reparations for the innocent man his
soldiers killed by the border checkpoint, a common way
of administering justice among Arab tribes of the

Reilly is very concerned about the way Iraqis perceive
US troops. "I am responsible for administering justice
here for the whole area," he says. "We cannot treat
the Iraqis as second-class citizens." He discusses the
coming holy month of Ramadan with the clerics, meeting
with them at the local Islamic school and agreeing to
lift the curfew that normally extends from 2300 until
0400 for that month, when Muslims fast during the day
but eat and enjoy festivities at night. Three RPGs are
shot at the school. "The clerics were in terror,"
Reilly says afterward. "They were very angry. It was
good for them to feel that terror." It is the third
time Reilly has personally been attacked.

The next night the 3rd ACR's Bandit Troop departs the
base at 0200, hoping to find those alleged al-Qaeda
suspects who were not home during Operation Tiger
Strike two days before. Soldiers descend on homes in a
large compound, their boots trampling over mattresses,
in rooms the inhabitants do not enter with shoes on.
Most of the wanted men are nowhere to be found, their
women and children prevaricating about their
locations. Some of their relatives are arrested
instead. "That woman is annoying!" complains one young
soldier of a mother's desperate ululations as her son
is taken from his house. "How do you think your mother
would sound if they were taking you away?" First
Sergeant Clinton Reiss asks him.

They return to the base at 9am. That day there is a
pizza party at the chow hall. Soldiers guard the
detainees, go out on patrols, and battle the desert,
sweeping away the sand desert winds have blown on
their temporary home. But the sand comes back every
time the wind blows.

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights
reserved. Please contact for
information on our sales and syndication policies.)

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