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[casi] Collective punishment in Iraqi cities

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The following article highlights the crazy-making problem facing most Iraq citizens.

If they express the slightest pro-American sentiment, they risk reprisal death to themselves or 
family by Iraqi ultra-nationalists; on the other hand if they express the slightest anti-American 
sentiment, they will be rounded up by Americans and risk possible death.

It is a serious situation which if prolonged can result in a virtually schizophrenic society.
I do not know what can be done.  pg

US military metes out collective punishment to Iraqi city
By Peter Symonds
22 December 2003
Despite the attempts of the Bush administration and international media to claim the capture of 
Saddam Hussein as a major breakthrough in suppressing armed resistance, events on the ground in 
Iraq speak otherwise. As the attacks on US troops and Iraqi collaborators continue unabated, the 
response of the US military has been to intensify its heavy-handed repression aimed at terrorising 
the Iraqi people into submission.

Just days after Hussein’s detention, some 2,500 US soldiers sealed off Samarra, a city of 200,000 
people, in the early hours of December 17 and set about smashing their way into homes and factories 
in search of “insurgents”. It was a classic reprisal raid, not unlike those carried out by Israeli 
troops against the Palestinian population, or for that matter by the Nazis against villages and 
towns accused of harbouring resistance fighters in occupied Europe.

The Pentagon identified Samarra as a “hotspot” after two separate US convoys were ambushed 
simultaneously on November 30. American troops responded and claimed to have scored “a significant 
victory” by killing 54 of the attackers. However, journalists who later questioned hospital staff 
and local residents, found an entirely different story: that US soldiers had fired 
indiscriminately, killing nine civilians including a child and an elderly Iranian pilgrim, and 
wounding others.

On December 15, US troops were ambushed again. Military spokesmen claimed that 11 “insurgents” had 
been killed, but like the earlier clash, failed to produce any evidence. According to veteran 
Middle East journalist Robert Fisk, the only dead man to be found was a vegetable seller. The 
following day, American soldiers raided a nearby village and detained more than 70 people, 
including an alleged rebel commander Qais Hatten.

December 17’s huge operation, however, was clearly planned well in advance. US military planners 
decided the city had to be taught a lesson. Or as Lieutenant Colonel Nate Sassaman told the media 
afterward: “Samarra has been a little bit of a thorn in our side. It hasn’t come along as quickly 
as other cities in the rebuilding of Iraq. This operation is designed to bring them up to speed.”

Operation Ivy Blizzard began at 2 a.m. Troops from the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, backed by 
Apache attack helicopters and F-16 fighters, blocked the main routes and poured into the city. 
“Using sledgehammers, crowbars, explosives and armoured vehicles, US forces smashed down the gates 
of homes and the doors of workshops and junkyards to attack the Iraqi resistance that has persisted 
despite the capture of Saddam Hussein,” Associated Press reported.

According to other accounts, US troops detonated plastic explosives to break open doors. In one of 
the city’s industrial areas, the military used Bradley Fighting Vehicles to ram through the doors 
of warehouses and workshops. US military officials cited by the Los Angeles Times described the 
operation as a “robust response” to insurgents in Samarra. Others explained that a force of some 
1,500 fighters was conducting attacks on US troops as well as police and civilians working for the 
US occupation authorities.

In a sinister development, hooded men described as “Iraqi civil corpsmen” accompanied the US 
troops. One of them told the Los Angeles Times: “This is a tribal town, and everyone knows everyone 
else. If someone knows who I am, they will surely try to kill me as a collaborator. The resistance 
is everywhere here.” While he did not explain his role in the operation, the obvious function of 
such Iraqi militia is to finger and interrogate suspected “insurgents”.

The US soldiers had been primed for the task. Staff Sergeant Tome Walker told the press: “They 
hyped this place like it was the Wild West. We heard there were two factions of foreign fighters, 
and Fedayeen Saddam [Hussein’s paramilitary forces]. We haven’t seen it yet. Maybe later in the 
week.” By the end of the day, 86 people had been detained, just 12 of whom were on the US list of 
targets, and a cache containing 200 automatic rifles and some bomb-making material had been 

According to the US military, several civilians were wounded but no one was killed. But as on 
previous occasions, this bland statement proved to be a mixture of lies and callous indifference to 
the suffering, not to speak of the anger and resentment, which had been caused. A dispatch by 
Robert Fisk entitled “Shooting Samarra’s schoolboys in the back” reported at least one fatality—a 
taxi driver Amer Baghdadi who was shot dead by US troops. Other casualties were in the Samarra 

Maouloud Hussein, 31, was shot in the back as he tried to shepherd his family into the back room of 
their house. His brother Hamid Hussein angrily declared: “You said you would bring us freedom and 
democracy but what are we supposed to think? My neighbour, the Americans took him in front of his 
wife and two children and tied his hands behind his back, and then, a few hours later, after all 
this humiliation, they came and told his wife to take all her most expensive things and they put 
explosives in their house and blew it up. He is a farmer. He is innocent. What have we done to 
deserve this?”

Issam Naim Hamid, 17, was in the emergency ward with a bullet wound to his stomach. His mother, 
Manal, explained that US troops had come to their home at around 3 a.m. and fired through the gate. 
As the family huddled for protection, one of the bullets hit Issam and another hit his father who 
was in a serious condition in Tikrit hospital. Manal was terrified that they would bleed to death 
as the US troops refused to allow anyone to leave the house for several hours.

In a separate interview with the Los Angeles Times, Manal, a teacher, denounced the heavy-handed 
methods of the US military. “The best thing America can do for us is go home and let us take care 
of our own security. This will only make the resistance stronger... How can the Americans treat us 
this way? Where is the democracy they promised us?” she asked.

Asked to comment on the impact of the operation on civilians, Colonel Frederick Rudesheim, 
commander of one of the 4th Infantry Division’s combat teams, was completely unapologetic. 
“Certainly we’ve inconvenienced a number of citizens of Samarra. But these same citizens are the 
ones who’ve been living for months with terrorists among them,” he said.

Rudesheim’s comments reveal the logic behind Operation Ivy Blizzard. It is not only the resistance 
groups that are being blamed for the attacks on US troops. All of the city’s residents, “who’ve 
been living for months with terrorists,” are being held responsible. The response was a form of 
collective punishment, aimed at intimidating and terrorising the city as a whole. The US military 
is increasingly resorting to such methods to pacify a population that is becoming more and more 
hostile to the neo-colonial occupation of the country.

It is significant that the US military has singled out Samarra for special attention. Prior to the 
US invasion, the city and its tribal leaders were regarded as anti-Hussein—traditionally it had 
been a rival to Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. As Ali Hussein, 35-year-old labourer, exclaimed to 
the press: “Saddam accused us of being against him, and now the Americans accuse us of being with 
Saddam.” If Samarra has now become a “hotbed”, it is one more indication of the extent of the 
opposition to the US occupation.

The US military claims that there has been a significant decline in the level of attacks in 
Samarra. The city has been placed under an 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew. The arrests have continued. 
Any lull, however, is dependent on the presence of large numbers of US troops and is therefore only 
temporary. One “insurgent” told the Washington Post: “There is a total siege of the city. They are 
all over the streets. If we hit them, people are bound to get hurt. If one shot is fired, the whole 
street will be shot up.”

Elsewhere, the anti-US attacks and American reprisals continue unabated. Over the weekend, 
guerrillas struck oil storage tanks in southern Baghdad, blew up a pipeline in the al-Mashahda area 
north of the capital and fired a rocket-propelled grenade on a US military convoy in Mosul. The US 
military continued its raids and house-to-house searches in Fallujah and Rawah, as well as Samarra.

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