Army buys peace with compensation payments
- Army buys peace with compensation payments
COLIN FREEMAN IN FALLUJAH
The Scotsman, International
IN THE violence that erupted outside his house three months ago,
Muthanna Saleh lost three things: his leg, his brother, and his
grudging tolerance of US forces in his home town of Fallujah.
On that day in mid-April, American troops shot dead 17 Iraqis and
wounded dozens of others as they protested at the soldiers refusal to
vacate a nearby school. Muthanna was wounded, and his brother Walled
killed as they attempted to drag some of the injured into his garden.
Nothing, he insists, will ever compensate him fully for that dreadful
But a surprise apology recently from the US army, together with
$1,500 for his dead brother, and $500 for his lost leg, has certainly
soothed his feelings somewhat. In a bid to stem the wave of revenge
attacks that the school protest sparked, American forces in Fallujah
have taken the unusual step of paying "blood money" to the families
of those killed or injured. US compensation culture has joined forces
with ancient Arab tribal custom, in the hope that putting a price on
past wrongs can finally buy peace.
"All the money in the world cannot bring my brother back or my leg,"
said Muthanna, 41, taxi driver who now hobbles around on
crutches. "But this is something - we did not expect it after the
Americans were so vicious before."
The tactic is somewhat contentious, given the insistence by the US
troops that they only opened fire during the school protest after
being shot at first. But in the town that has come to symbolise the
tensions between occupiers and occupied, it represents the first
meeting of minds in months.
Since the payouts began the number of attacks on their troops has
dropped for the first time.
Lieutenant Chris Haggard, of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, who
is supervising the scheme, said: "There is an American law called the
Foreign Claims Act, which covers damage caused by accidents or
negligence involving US military forces abroad. Foreign nationals may
receive compensation under this law if their claims are proven valid.
"Some of the locals interpret it as the ancient Muslim custom of the
price of blood, although we don't quite see it like that. But if it
helps us, and shows them goodwill, then so be it."
The payments are one of several novel approaches that the US has
taken recently to ease tensions in Fallujah, where more than a dozen
US soldiers have been killed in attacks since the war officially
ended. Soldiers doing house searches now knock politely first. Nearly
$2 million has been dished out on civic projects. And the overall
troop presence has been drastically reduced in favour of a 75-man
local militia run by mayor Taha Bedawi, who enjoys US approval.
He originally suggested the compensation scheme, and, thanks partly
to his standing, it was taken seriously rather than rejected out of
"It is our tradition that if somebody is killed by someone from
another tribe then that tribe must kill the killer, or pay some money
as compensation," he said.
"We explained that to the Americans that was our custom, and they
understood. Now things are starting to get better."
The scheme is administered by Lt Haggard from a small room in the
mayoral building, one of the few places where US troops are still
regularly seen in Fallujah nowadays. Each morning a small queue forms
outside, some claiming compensation for property damage, others
claiming injuries from accidents involving US vehicles.
Each one requires supporting witness statements and is assessed by a
US military lawyer in Baghdad. The sum of money, however, is a lot
less than that paid out between tribes for a death - normally at
The comparison is not lost on Muthanna, whose other brother Osama was
also injured in the shootings. "I see this as a gift, not
compensation," he said. "Everything we have received we have already
spent on funeral costs and paying for operations for ourselves: if we
had gone to government hospitals then we would just have died.
"Between us we used to care for 23 children and relatives - how will
we do that now? We should get the same amount of money as families of
US soldiers get when they die."
Then again, real peace gestures seldom leave either side completely
happy. At the 3rd Cavalry base at Habaniya, just outside town, eight
soldiers have died in attacks locally. "We are here to help these
people, but I don't agree with paying them compensation in these
situations," said Staff Sgt Antone Reese. "Those soldiers in the
protest were protecting their own lives.
"It's part of the burden that our country carries out here," said
Specialist Brian Lawless. "Other armies just wouldn't care."
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