with Alaa Hassan
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government has decided to launch its own investigation into the killing of 24 people by U.S. Marines in the western town Haditha last November.
The raid came to light after a local Iraqi videotaped the killings. The tape told a story dramatically different from the bland assertion by the U.S. military in November last year that some people died in a roadside bomb blast.
Reports of the massacre were carried recently by Time magazine. The killing has since then snowballed into a major controversy.
"The crime and misery of Haditha is a terrible crime where women and children were eliminated," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters. Maliki also said his government would set up a joint task force with the U.S. Military to examine how foreign armies in Iraq carry out raids.
Violence against civilians is "common among many of the multinational forces," the new Iraqi Prime Minister said. Many troops had "no respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch."
That the occupation forces do this is well known. "We describe this kind of incident as ‘normal’ because it has happened over and over, not because it is normal or because the Iraqi people accept it," Iraqi lawyer Nezar al-Samarai told IPS.
"It’s happened a lot and there has been no reaction from the U.S. government to stop it. So people will say it’s normal."
Nezar al-Samarai knows from experience what he is talking about.
In 2004 U.S. soldiers detained two of his nephews, ran their car over with a tank and threw them off a bridge to their deaths. The killing was reported by IPS then.
Al-Samarai argued the case in court, winning 2,500 dollars in compensation for each dead nephew. One of the American soldiers was sentenced to 45 days in prison.
Nezar al-Samarai has had his own run-ins with the U.S. Military He was severely beaten by troops while driving his family to the hospital in 2004. On May 5 of this year, he says he was tied up and beaten up in his own home during a raid by American forces.
During that raid, U.S. Soldiers also attacked a neighboring home for the disabled. "The military killed three and injured another two," he said. "That was not because they did anything, of course. They were disabled. The other two are still in hospital, and we do not know what will happen to them."
From the early days of the occupation to the present, the pattern continues, whatever the political situation in Iraq.
Among the many such cases IPS has reported over the last three years was that of 62- year-old Sheikh Abu Yasin al-Zawi who was arrested after Friday prayers along with his son after calling Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin in 2004 state terrorism.
"They arrived at the mosque at 5pm and surrounded the whole area with hummers and tanks and they said, ‘you said bad things about the coalition at Friday prayers and your son said bad things too’," al-Zawi told IPS then.
He was not taken to Abu Grahib prison, but he and his son were taken to a U.S. Military base near his mosque.
"They kept me in a very small cell without any type of bed or blanket," he told IPS. "The soldier didn’t allow me to wash for prayer and they put a hood over my face. And they didn’t bring us food and even when I wanted to go to the toilet it was very complicated because the soldier would come with his gun and point it at me while I was in the toilet."
He was let off, one of the lucky few. But everyone knows of innocent people humiliated and killed by the occupation forces. The Haditha revelations now anger people, but do not surprise them.
At the White House, President George Bush’s spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that the massacre reports are being investigated.
"There are two tracks," Snow said. "What happened with reporting the incident, and what happened, and the Marines are taking this very seriously and they’re proceeding aggressively."
Few questions are being asked about other such killings, even in Haditha. Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumadai, is accusing the Marines of killing his cousin during a house to house raid in Haditha last June.
The Pentagon says they have investigated the matter and that there was no unlawful killing.
It is difficult to independently verify such reports, because most human rights groups have left the country citing security concerns.
"For some time we’ve been very much constrained and limited in our movements in Iraq," Nada Doumani, spokesperson for the International Red Cross-Iraq, which is now based in Amman, told IPS. "Unfortunately we cannot be present everywhere and therefore we cannot comment on events in all areas of Iraq."
Still, the number of disturbing allegations is staggering.
The BBC broadcast footage Thursday that it said came from an incident in March in which U.S. Soldiers were accused of executing 11 Iraqis, including four children, near the town of Ishaqi north of the capital.
The Americans say they were hunting an al-Qaeda suspect, but an Iraqi police report says American soldiers rounded up and executed an entire family in a house which they then demolished.
(Inter Press Service)