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Iraqi Civilians Increasingly Killed by Accidental U.S. Gunfire

Firas al-Atraqchi | 19.01.2004 06:55 | Anti-militarism | Anti-racism | Repression | World

Innocent Iraqi civilians are being shot at, bombed, and killed at a quickening pace in recent weeks, but not by Saddam or "terrorist" forces. U.S. soldiers, increasingly nervous and afraid of imminent attack, have systematically followed a "shoot first, investigate later" policy.

Last week, three men and a nine-year-old child were killed when their car was fired on by a heavy-caliber machine gun in Tikrit. U.S. forces immediately denied any involvement and instead insisted it was the work of Iraqi insurgents who targeted the car. When another passenger who survived the assault fingered the Americans, U.S. command still denied any involvement. The Iraqi police chief, General Mazhar Taha al-Ganaim, told Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera that he was "100 percent" sure it was U.S. forces that committed the crime.

Yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 1/22 battalion, admitted to reporters that it was likely U.S. fire killed the car's passengers. The heavy-caliber machine gun was a dead giveaway, he explained.

U.S. soldiers are known to mount heavy-caliber 50mm machine guns atop Humvees.

Monday's roadside bombing of two U.S. Humvees, which killed one U.S. soldier and wounded two others, also saw the shooting deaths of an Iraqi man and a 10-year-old child who were driving behind the U.S. patrol. Witnesses said that U.S. troops opened fire on the car after the roadside bomb went off. Wijdan Abdel Wahab, whose two sisters, two nephews and a niece were in the car, told the Associated Press that the car's passengers had been visiting an asthmatic aunt at a nearby hospital. She claimed the Humvee that was not hit "started shooting indiscriminately." U.S. forces have not yet commented on the incident.

"Why haven't those people who say they care about Iraq on the Governing Council investigated these crimes," said Sha'id Abbas from Amman, Jordan. Abbas lost two cousins in what he calls separate U.S. trigger-happy incidents in Baghdad last July. "Saddam is gone, but now we have a new worse Saddam," Abbas said. "Our old Saddam was a tooth fairy compared to this."

On August 8th, five Iraqis, including three children, were killed, and two others wounded when U.S. forces fired at a car approaching a checkpoint north of Baghdad. The mother of the children told Arab media services that U.S. forces fired into the car for no reason.

On July 9th, U.S. soldiers atop the Durah police station in Baghdad fired on an Iraqi civilian fixing a car at a repair shop. Soldiers mistook the car's ignition distributor for a grenade.

Human rights organizations have blamed U.S. forces, as the occupying power, for the high number of civilian deaths. In most cases, Iraqi eyewitnesses have told this writer that soldiers just scream at confused Iraqi drivers in English. The Iraqis, who know of the deaths at checkpoints, panic and often do something wrong in their bid to avoid being shot or beaten.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote a published letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld highlighting that U.S. troops may be committing war crimes by demolishing homes and detaining close relatives of people sought for questioning.

"U.S. forces also reportedly detained close relatives of a person that the U.S. was attempting to apprehend," Roth wrote. "In these cases [where] the individuals detained were themselves not suspected of responsibility for any wrongdoing...amounts to hostage taking, which is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions: in other words, a war crime. [Destroying civilian infrastructure as a reprisal or deterrent] amounts to collective punishment, which is prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Conventions."

Firas al-Atraqchi
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  1. refusal to learn from history — wrongdoer