With Alaa Hassan
BAGHDAD – An Iraqi doctor who was in Haditha during a deadly U.S. raid last year says there are many more stories like that in Haditha that are yet untold.
The Pentagon admitted last week that U.S. Marines killed 24 civilians including a 66-year-old woman and a 4-year-old boy in the western Iraqi town last November. Before that, the military had maintained the civilians were killed by a roadside bomb.
"There are many, many, many cases like Haditha that are still undercover and need to be highlighted in Iraq," Dr. Salam Ishmael, projects manager with the organization Doctors for Iraq and former chief of the junior doctors in Baghdad’s Medical City Hospital, told IPS.
In Haditha itself, he said, the U.S. military cut electricity and water to the entire city, attacked the hospital, and burned the pharmacy.
"The hospital has been attacked three times. In November 2005, the hospital was occupied by the American and Iraqi Army for seven days, which is a severe breach of the Geneva Conventions," he said.
"In one of these attacks, the U.S. soldiers used live ammunition inside the hospital. They handcuffed all the doctors and destroyed the entire contents of the medical storage. It ended with the killing of one of the patients in his bed."
The Iraqi Red Crescent reported at the time that nearly 1,000 families had been forced to flee their homes in Haditha following the launch of the U.S.-led military operation.
The Pentagon has responded to allegations of a massacre at Haditha by withdrawing the concerned soldiers from Iraq and investigating them for criminal misconduct. Authorities also say they will launch a new round of "ethical training" for American troops before they are sent overseas.
Joseph Hatcher served in the western Iraqi town of Dawr from February 2004 until March last year. He said his cultural training before deployment consisted of a three-hour class and a pamphlet he was given.
"It’s just here’s where you are on a map, because you’d be surprised how many people don’t know that," Hatcher told IPS. "The only language training we received was a handout flip book type flyer which was how to say things like ‘go down on your hands and knees’ and ‘don’t resist.’ We didn’t learn how to make any kind of conversation."
During his time in Iraq, Hatcher took part in many house-to-house raids similar to the one in Haditha. He said none of the members of his unit spoke Arabic, and usually they went in without a translator.
"We would use very little language at all in house raids," he said. "You point a barrel of a gun at somebody and pull them to the ground. It’s fairly standard. There’s no way to know if you’re getting anyone of value. You just arbitrarily raid an entire block."
Salam al-Amidi worked as translator for the U.S. military in the northern city of Mosul, which has been controlled by insurgents for over a year. He said he was the only translator for more than 5,000 U.S. troops.
He said the U.S. military relies mostly on paid informants in deciding which houses to raid.
"Maybe that person wanted revenge on that family and came and told us that he saw someone selling weapons. We would just go to that house at three in the morning, we’d break the door, and break everything in the house."
The Washington Post reported Monday that Marines went to the home of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi, took him outside, and shot him four times in the face. Like the killings in Haditha, the involved Marines are being investigated. All eight have been removed from Iraq and are being held at Camp Pendleton in California.
Increasingly, though, politicians are arguing that military justice is not enough.
"The test will be whether the leadership in the Department of Defense and the administration does not try to confine these incidents in small compartments but looks to see if this is part of a large systemic problem," Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said on Fox News Sunday.
(Inter Press Service)