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The Things That Keep Us Here

Caoimhe Butterly | 31.08.2003 13:07 | Anti-militarism | Globalisation | Repression

A searing report on US Soldier war crimes from Caoimhe...

August 19,2003


by Caoimhe Butterly in Baghdad

Anwar Adel Khardom points to her heavily pregnant,shrapnel-sprayed stomach
as she fluctuates between composure and frantic, inconsolable grief-”what
sort of life will this child be born into?” Her thirteen year old daughter
Hadil, frail arms bruised and scarred with shrapnel,head bandaged with white
gauze,remains wide-eyed and observant,fanning her mother with a woven fan as
the heat of an oppressive,airless day reaches it’s midday climax.The room is
crowded with relatives and friends who drink the bitter coffee and cry and
keen in memory of Anwar’s husband,Adel,her 18-year old son Haider,17-year
old daughter Ola,and 8-year old daughter Mervat-all shot dead by
U.S.soldiers seven days before.”How could they,why did they do it-they must
of known we were a family-how could they kill my babies?”,Anwar asks
continually as she holds a picture of her beautiful,smiling
children-immortalised on the black banners hung on the outside walls of her
family home,each of their names with shaheed(martyr)scripted next to
it,proclaiming the family’s tragedy to the hushed street outside.
The car that carried Anwar’s family into a line of fire that pumped more
than twenty bullets through the windshield and chassis into the warm living
flesh,vital organs and skulls of her husband and children remains
outside.The seats and headrests were ripped apart by bullets and remain
covered in faded,darkened bloodstains.Hadil’s blood-stained handprints on
the outside of the car are the same colour,left there as she groped her way
out of the car that held dead Ola and Haider and dying Adel and
Mervat,trying to follow her mother as Anwar ran towards the house they had
just come from,screaming for help.
No help came,at 9:30 p.m. on August 7 in Hyatt al Tunis,a residential
neighborhood in Baghdad.U.S. soldiers continued to shoot so erratically at
anyone attempting to help the wounded,that they proceeded to injure at least
five other civilians and two of their own soldiers, as other troops
stationed in a military base stationed at the end of the street joined in.
Ground troops from the First Brigade,First Armoured Division proceeded to
fire round after round into the darkened street ,shattering the quiet of a
summer night and destroying the remnants of tolerance held by that,and many
other communities,towards an occupational presence whose benign veneer grows
thinner by the day.
When the up to twenty minutes of constant shooting stopped,three civilians
were dead and more wounded.Saef A.,a 21-year old university student,who
drove in a car with two friends down the same road into the path of U.S.
occupational forces(who were in the process of raiding and searching a local
store,and ,having been subjected to the standard continual diet of
mis-information and racism,suitably terrified enough to view all Iraqis as
potential or actual enemies)was shot repeatedly and then-as his two
friends,both wounded,leapt out of the car,witnesses report seeing a soldier
approaching the car,point a gun with a grenade-launcher attached at the
still-living Saef,and shoot,causing the car,and Saef’s body to be engulfed
in flames.
Adel Abdul Kareem and his 8-year old daughter,Mervat were taken from the
scene,still living,by a U.S. military ambulance,at ten p.m.They were not
delivered to nearby Medical City Hospital until 11 p.m.,shortly after which
they both died from their injuries and heavy blood loss.Ali Hussein Ali,18
years old and Abbas Shamarwi,19 years,the wounded occupants of Saef’s car
were-according to witnesses-beaten by U.S. soldiers,hand-cuffed,had hoods
put over their heads,taken into military custody and detained for two days
at a nearby military base.They were then disappeared for over a week.Abbas
is now been held in administrative detention at the Airport prison,Ali’s
whereabouts are still unknown.Anwar’s remaining daughter Hadil,was grabbed
by a female soldier as she stumbled away from the car.She was shaken
violently by the soldier,who then-Hadil testifies-pulled Hadil’s gold
earrings from her ears and pocketed them,before Hadil ran away back to her
grandmother’s house,alone,bleeding from her own wounds and covered with the
blood of her dead brother and sisters.
The August 7 killing of six civilians is not an isolated event – excessive
use of force by Occupation forces,breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention,
live ammunition being used as a form of crowd control, and civilians killed
at checkpoints has become a regularity, as those responsible are not brought
to justice, and a growing sense of unaccountability reigns. What
distinguishes the shooting on the 7th, is more the horrific nature of all of
the deaths and the terrible loss that they have left Anwar and Hadil, in
particular, struggling to deal with. Distinctive,too,is the blatancy in
which a high-level cover-up is being orchestrated.The causes of death on the
death certificates of all of those killed have been left blank.The Forensics
doctors of two hospitals are rumoured to have come under pressure from the doctors are not available for comment.Neither are officials
from the Occupational Administration.The only people in the U.S, army who
have commented on the incident have lied.We interviewed Captain John
Mostellar,commanding officer of the military base where the soldiers
responsible for perpetuating the killings are thought to be
stationed.Dismissive of the incident,Mostellar claimed that an internal
investigation had taken place,which would not be made public.His seniors are
denying knowledge of the investigation.We were directed by Mostellar to
visit official army spokespeople at the airport prison,and promised that
official co-ordination would take place to ensure the meeting took
place.Upon arrival we were not allowed past the front gate.One eye-witness
at the scene claims that Mostellar,whom he had met the week before at the
military base,was present while the raid on the shop took place and present
during the subsequent killings.Iraqi police officers stationed at the First
Brigade’s base,who had contact with Ali and Abbas while they were detained
believe that they were disappeared because they witnessed too much.”They
don’t want the true story known-the soldiers are to blame for the
deaths”stated one policeman.
The families of those killed have decided,with support and endorsement from
Voices In the Wilderness,Occupation Watch and Belfast-based law firm Madden
and Finucane,to launch a call and campaign demanding justice.Tomorrow Anwar
and Hadil,Abu Saef and others along with representatives from the groups
participating in the campaign,will hold a press conference to demand an
independent,international,transparent,public investigation into the
killings,and others like them.The families are apprehensive,though
determined.So are we.As volunteers with Voices,as solidarity activists on
the ground we have become increasingly more critical of the hostile and
violent nature of this occupation,which can only elicit a response of
growing hostility and violence.Our response to the escalating violence is to
support the growing civil society currents of grassroots organizing and
non-violent resistance,and we too are being subtly targeted and intimidated.
In our accompianment of communities at risk,through months of endless
meetings,discussion,debate with human rights groups,trade
unions,students,religious groups,Marxists,artists,the
unemployed,neighbours,friends and foes,we are trying to make the connections
and forge essential links of support between social justice groups outside
and a growing movement within Iraq, to break the isolation and heighten the
security of the growing voices of dissent here.This support is being viewed
as a threat by those in whose interests it serves to promote prolonged
chaos,instability and violence.We have been participating daily with the
Union of the Unemployed in Iraq for the past nineteen days in
colourful,creative,powerful sit-ins outside Bremmer’s H.Q. and actions such
as marches and teach-ins.The union is demanding jobs or,in their absence
emergency social security benefits of 100 dollars a month per family.U.S.
soldiers have arrested,detained,brutalized and intimidated over 70 of the
union members,including the Union’s leadership,calling them thieves and
demanding the immediate suspension of the protest.A participant in the
sit-ins,the founder of the Iraqi Womens’Freedom Organisation,Yanar Mohammud
is continually verbally abused by soldiers for her presence.Yanar,an
incredibly brave,articulate returned exile has spearheaded a campaign to
challenge the legitimacy of honour killings and to highlight the soaring
increase,post-war,of abduction and rape.She shares office space,in a
squatted bank,with theWorkers’ Communist Party,who broadcast daily community
pirate radio.In negotiations with a subordinate of Bremmer’s,high-ranking
U.S.officials tried to convince her and other Union representatives that we
are Israeli spies and provocateurs who “do not really care about the welfare
of Iraqis.” When this failed to convince another official claimed that we
were undercover journalists trying to provoke “violence” and “disorderly
behaviour”in order to gain an exclusive story.Following the unsuccessful
attempts at smearing us,as we continued to participate in the sit-ins,-which
we believe received more media coverage and were kept a little bit safer
with internationals present-we were threatened with arrest and
deportation.One soldier stuck a gun to a friend’s chest,threatening
“accidents do happen in this part of the world.”
We are slowly,gradually walking beside men and women who are speaking truth
to power and we are being made aware of the risks.The threat of an occupying
presence of total impunity as well as a backdrop of
escalating,senseless,unpredictable violent crime is forcing us to examine
our own fears and vulnerability.A member of our household was shot in the
back of the head,probably mistaken for a soldier,another volunteer attacked
and robbed.I was nearly abducted at gun-point,but managed to escape.Another
friend ,a journalist,was killed last night.We hear of gang rapes and
horrible violations every day.Our sleep,as is that of five million other
people is punctuated by the sounds of unexplained gunfire and explosions.The
fear in Baghdad is corrosive and tangible-one can literally breath it in -as
a society struggles through a period of extreme terror and uncertainty.I
am,perhaps for the first time in my life,deeply afraid.There is seldom
refuge for vulnerable human flesh here,now.I have confronted death so many
times now,of friends,of those around me,in Zimbabwe,in Latin America,in
Jenin,that I do not fear it.I am afraid,however of a senseless death, a
stray or intended bullet.I want desperately-as do most human beings-to
live,to love,to continue to struggle,to resist the policies and practices
that deny so many people the right to live with dignity.

The killing goes on-the assaults are numerous. It is not only the bullets
and boots and racism of the occupation but the continual reminders that U.S.
foreign policy will not respect the sanctity of Iraqi life, human rights,
sovereignty and genuine self-determination anymore now than they have in the
past. The assault of poverty and unemployment – the over 60% of Iraqis
currently unemployed, the vital monthly rations being half of what families
received before the war. The assault of a complete lack of security and
material well-being. A day without electricity constitutes a state of
emergency in the U.S. Families sweltering for almost five months in 120
degree temperatures, confined to spend long airless, breathless, nights in
the confines of their homes – kept there by curfews and fear – does not. The
assault on freedom of speech and expression – the seeming lack of awareness
within the Occupational Administration that Iraqis do not need newspapers to
incite them to violence – that witnessing, daily, the increasing brutality
of this occupation is provocation enough . The assault on the living
memories of Iraqis – that the victims of an in incredibly brutal
dictatorship are not given the time or space to process, to examine what
allows a or any Saddam to consolidate power.No time to examine, to record
their narratives – nor time to heal, before being plunged – collectively –
into another chapter of uncertainty and insecurity.

As counter-balance to the continuing assault on Iraq, civil society and
activism currents are emerging and evolving and gaining cohesion and
sophistication. This is what keeps me here.I fluctuate between fear and a
crystal clarity that there is no other place I should be now.That witnessing
and accompanying, and supporting the emergence of a non-violent resistance
movement here is vital. That love, compassion, commitment and rage – for
Anwar and every other brother and sister like her – will keep me here.
That a front-line is never an easy but sometimes necessary place to inhabit.

Caoimhe Butterly is an Irish human rights activist in Baghdad with Voices In
the Wilderness.For more information about the Relatives and Friends for
Justice Campaign,or about the Union of the Unemployed’s continued sit-in
protest,please contact her or Ewa Jasiewicz on :(mobile)001-914-360-2686

Caoimhe Butterly
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