Iraq: Christian Peacemaker Report
- IN BAGHDAD SHI'ITE SLUM, ANGER AT OCCUPATION MOUNTS
Suleiman al-Khalidi, Reuters, 2/24/04
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Sewage floods the alleys of Baghdad's largest slum,
power cuts are frequent and jobless youths loiter in the streets --
all signs, say Sadr City's Shi'ite residents, that the U.S.
occupation has failed them.
"What have the Americans done for me? People now say the Americans
are people who give false promises," said plumber Saleh Shweiki, 28,
in the bustling slum district where almost half of the capital's five
million population live.
Sewage ducts from Shweiki's home flow into the street outside, where
barefoot children play among piles of garbage.
Municipality workers say U.S. civil administrators and aid officials
came months ago to inspect the district's decrepit Habibiya sewage
treatment plant, but never returned. They say U.S. soldiers offer
little help rebuilding the district.
"When the American commander comes, he talks. We can talk until the
morning. But when we ask him for asphalt for the street, he cannot
provide it," said Karim al-Taeei, head of finance in the
district. "He only asks for our help in allowing access to military
U.S. officials in charge of overseeing projects in the area say
recent initiatives have ranged from repairs of roads to a $2,000
donation to a deaf school and a $95,000 grant for the U.S. backed
local council to buy cars for its members.
Detained and tortured by the US military
Jim Loney, Electronic Iraq, 19 February 2004
Ahmed is a 52 year-old farmer who lives on the
outskirts of Bagdhad. He was detained and tortured by
US forces at the end of January. Ahmed has 8 children.
His youngest son is 11 years old. He grows vegetables,
wheat, rice and beans, and is a driver for the
Ministry of Irrigation. He asked us not to use his
real name for fear of punishment from the US military.
The following story is an edited version of his
translated remarks. Ahmed met with Christian
Peacemaker Teams and Occupation Watch on February 13,
2004. This is his story.
One day, at the end of January, there was an explosion
about 2km away. I was inside my house when we heard
the voice of the explosion. We went to the mosque as
usual to pray because it was Friday [the Muslim
equivalent of the sabbath]. When we finished the
prayers, we saw helicopters everywhere and we heard
the news that the Americans came to my house and
arrested my nephew who was visiting from another city.
I told everyone in my family we did nothing so they
will release him.
My son lives in the next house. They searched his
house and took his money. When they finished checking
his house they were waiting for us. They arrested my
son and I and asked us if we did this explosion. We
said no. They asked us do you know who did it and we
said no. The soldiers said either tell us you did it,
or tell us who did it.
They handcuffed me and took me to their car by
grabbing the back of my shirt. They stopped their cars
at the place of the explosion. They took me again by
my shirt, showed us the explosion and then started
beating us. They put bags over our heads so we cannot
see who is beating us. They kicked me with their
On the way to the camp, I asked for water and they
beat me on the head with the bottle of water. I fell
down when I was getting out of the car and somebody
lifted me under my arms and threw me to the ground.
They lined us up against a wall. Somebody kicked me,
my head jerked and banged into the wall. I fell down.
They took us at 1:00pm and we reached the camp at
5:30pm. We only had water for four days -- no food.
And for all this time we were outside -- not under a
roof -- and we can see nothing because we are wearing
After I hit the wall with my head and fell down, they
handcuffed me with my hands behind my back lying on my
stomach. [Ahmed shows us his wrists. They are ringed
with pink scar tissue.] They kept me in this position
through the night and into the next day -- almost 24
hours -- and we weren't allowed to move our legs in
that time. We could not sleep during that time because
they would kick us. I don't know for sure, but I think
they did this for a purpose, as a way to torture us
and not give us a chance to sleep.
Look at this. [His wife brings in a white tunic.
Numbers are written in black marker across the front
of the tunic.] This is what they wrote on me, to
During this 24 hours, they brought some dogs. I could
hear them searching and doing things with them. They
didn't bite me, but I could hear the screams of other
people being bitten.
There was a translator and I tried to tell him that we
cannot feel our hands -- it feels like they are cut --
but he said that's the way it is.
The next day, they made us sit cross-legged with our
hands handcuffed behind our backs and we are still
hooded. The soldiers would come and kick us on the
knee cap and you can hear them laughing.
I was so tired, but if I started to fall asleep they
would kick me. When you asked the translator to go to
the toilet the soldiers would shout at you and kick
you. You have to ask 10 to 15 times before they let
When you reach the toilet, they release your hands but
you cannot use them -- they won't bend -- so sometimes
you cannot control yourself.
For all this time there was no food -- only water. It
did not rain, but it was cold. We had to sit this way
all through the night until the next day. This is the
mark it made. [Ahmed shows us a quarter-sized, red
scab on the outside bones of his ankles.] Then they
made us stand for 24 hours. And so it continued this
way for four days.
Sometimes they would take me to another place, always
by the neck, and sometimes they would let me walk into
a wall. They interviewed me three times. Each time
they took me inside a room before someone with a
translator. They lifted the hood from my head. It's
made of the same clothes the Americans use to make
sand bags. They asked me for 3 to 5 minutes if I know
someone who did it and then they took back. They were
just looking for information.
After 4 days, they told me I will go to have lunch.
They took me in front of the wall and beside me was a
dog. A soldier had a biscuit to give the dog and a
piece of meat to give to me but I couldn't eat the
meat because of its smell. So I told him give me the
biscuit and give the meat to the dog, but the soldier
gave the biscuit and the meat to the dog. [In Islamic
culture, dogs are considered shameful.] They put the
bag back on my head and took me back to my place.
On the fifth day, again taking me by the neck and
hitting me into walls, they put me in a car and took
me to Scania Factory, a huge military base they built
in Al Dora [a suburb of Baghdad]. It was not only me,
I think, because I could hear other voices with me.
They searched me, took my cigars and my lighter and my
money, and put it in a bag. They said I would get it
One of the soldiers spoke to me in Arabic. He said he
will help me. He said he will put me with the group
that has already been tortured. They took off the bag
and freed my hands.
They took our group inside a room and closed the door.
There were beds inside this room, and blankets so you
can sleep. I slept inside this room but there was no
food until 9:00 in the night. They brought us the same
food they make for the soldiers which is difficult for
us to eat. Then we spent all of the night until the
next morning. In the morning you can go to the toilet
if you want. We spent three days in this room. There
were 20 people in this room.
After the 3 days, they took 10 of us and stood us
against the wall outside. They said they will release
us. They said when you reach the main road, stop a car
and tell them you have no money and that you will pay
them when you get home. They did not return my ID or
my cigars or my money.
I went to the main road, found a taxi and drove home.
God says you have to tell the truth. For that reason I
am telling you the truth.
Ali, Ahmed's 26 year-old son, told his story next. He
has three children (ages 1, 3 and 4) and is a driver
for the Ministry of Education. Like his father he was
hooded, handcuffed and received no food for four days.
They put us in a dark room and we were sitting
cross-legged on the floor. They took the bag off my
head and an officer who was doing the investigation
asked me with a translator about the explosion -- who
did it, where I was. Then they put the bag over my
head again and took me back [to where my father was].
At the second time, they took my father first and then
they took me. They told me that my father told them
everything so now we want to hear the truth from you.
I replied to them the same -- I don't know anything
about the explosion.
The third time, they put me inside the same room with
the officer and the translator. They took the bag off
my head and put me against the wall. He came really
close to me and told me not to look to the left or to
the right, to look just at him. He said you will
answer my questions. But first he gave me four points
to remember. Because I was nervous I forgot the fourth
point and he beat me with his hand and I fell down. He
asked me the four points again but I forgot the fourth
point again so he kicked me in the groin and I fell
He kept asking me about the explosions. He put his
hand under my chin and lifted me up from the floor.
While he was doing this to me he said if you vomit you
must swallow it -- don't spit it out. Then he hit me
with his hand and I fell and he kicked me with his
shoes. Then he said if you refuse to answer my
questions I will take pictures of your wife and your
mother and your sister naked and I will put them on
the satellite as a sex film. The last time he beat me
I collapsed and I couldn't remember anything after
The next day they used something like a needle on my
neck and my back. I couldn't tell what it was because
I was hooded, but it felt like they were poking me
with a nail.
When we were released after four days, they took us to
the outside gate. We were 11 persons and they left all
of us with our hands handcuffed behind our backs. We
had to go to someone with a shop nearby and ask for a
knife to cut our handcuffs.
When they released me, they took 400,000 dinars (about
$280 US) and my ID.
Jim Loney is a member of the Christian Peacemaker
Teams, a Chicago-based violence reduction program
sponsored by Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker, Presbyterian
and Baptist church organizations. Occupation Watch is
a joint project of an international coalition of peace
and justice groups including Bridge to Baghdad, Code
Pink and Global Exchange. Both organizations are
currently monitoring American human rights violations
GUNNED DOWN WITH ABANDON
Robert Fisk, New Nation, 2/2/04
Gunned down with abandon
By Robert Fisk
Feb 22, 2004: (The New Nation) Running the gauntlet of small arms
fire and rocket-propelled grenades after check-in at Baghdad
airportBaghdad, Iraq --I was in the police station in the town of
Fallujah when I realised the extent of the schizophrenia. Captain
Christopher Cirino of the 82nd Airborne was trying to explain to me
the nature of the attacks so regularly carried out against American
forces in the Sunni Muslim Iraqi town. His men were billeted in a
former presidential rest home down the road--"Dreamland", the
Americans call it--but this was not the extent of his soldiers'
disorientation. "The men we are being attacked by," he said, "are
Syrian-trained terrorists and local freedom fighters." Come
again? "Freedom fighters." But that's what Captain Cirino called them-
-and rightly so.
Here's the reason. All American soldiers are supposed to believe--
indeed have to believe, along with their President and his Defence
Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld--that Osama bin Laden's "al-Qa'ida"
guerrillas, pouring over Iraq's borders from Syria, Iran, Saudi
Arabia (note how those close allies and neighbours of Iraq, Kuwait
and Turkey are always left out of the equation), are assaulting
United States forces as part of the "war on terror". Special forces
soldiers are now being told by their officers that the "war on
terror" has been transferred from America to Iraq, as if in some
miraculous way, 11 September 2001 is now Iraq 2003. Note too how the
Americans always leave the Iraqis out of the culpability bracket--
unless they can be described as "Baath party remnants", "diehards"
or "deadenders" by the US proconsul, Paul Bremer.
Captain Cirino's problem, of course, is that he knows part of the
truth. Ordinary Iraqis--many of them long-term enemies of Saddam
Hussein--are attacking the American occupation army 35 times a day in
the Baghdad area alone. And Captain Cirino works in Fallujah's local
police station, where America's newly hired Iraqi policemen are the
brothers and uncles and--no doubt--fathers of some of those now
waging guerrilla war against American soldiers in Fallujah. Some of
them, I suspect, are indeed themselves the "terrorists". So if he
calls the bad guys "terrorists", the local cops--his first line of
defence--would be very angry indeed.
No wonder morale is low. No wonder the American soldiers I meet on
the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities don't mince their words
about their own government. US troops have been given orders not to
bad-mouth their President or Secretary of Defence in front of Iraqis
or reporters (who have about the same status in the eyes of the
occupation authorities). But when I suggested to a group of US
military police near Abu Ghurayb they would be voting Republican at
the next election, they fell about laughing. "We shouldn't be here
and we should never have been sent here," one of them told me with
astonishing candour. "And maybe you can tell me: why were we sent
Little wonder, then, that Stars and Stripes, the American military's
own newspaper, reported this month that one third of the soldiers in
Iraq suffered from low morale. And is it any wonder, that being the
case, that US forces in Iraq are shooting down the innocent, kicking
and brutalising prisoners, trashing homes and--eyewitness testimony
is coming from hundreds of Iraqis--stealing money from houses they
are raiding? No, this is not Vietnam--where the Americans sometimes
lost 3,000 men in a month--nor is the US army in Iraq turning into a
rabble. Not yet. And they remain light years away from the butchery
of Saddam's henchmen. But human-rights monitors, civilian occupation
officials and journalists--not to mention Iraqis themselves--are
increasingly appalled at the behaviour of the American military
Iraqis who fail to see US military checkpoints, who overtake convoys
under attack--or who merely pass the scene of an American raid--are
being gunned down with abandon. US official "inquiries" into these
killings routinely result in either silence or claims that the
soldiers "obeyed their rules of engagement"--rules that the Americans
will not disclose to the public.
The rot comes from the top. Even during the Anglo-American invasion
of Iraq, US forces declined to take responsibility for the innocents
they killed. "We do not do body counts," General Tommy Franks
announced. So there was no apology for the 16 civilians killed at
Mansur when the "Allies"--note how we Brits get caught up in this
misleading title--bombed a residential suburb in the vain hope of
killing Saddam. When US special forces raided a house in the very
same area four months later--hunting for the very same Iraqi leader--
they killed six civilians, including a 14-year-old boy and a middle-
aged woman, and only announced, four days later, that they would hold
an "inquiry". Not an investigation, you understand, nothing that
would suggest there was anything wrong in gunning down six Iraqi
civilians; and in due course the "inquiry" was forgotten--as it was
no doubt meant to be--and nothing has been heard of it again.
Again, during the invasion, the Americans dropped hundreds of cluster
bombs on villages outside the town of Hillah. They left behind a
butcher's shop of chopped-up corpses. Film of babies cut in half
during the raid was not even transmitted by the Reuters crew in
Baghdad. The Pentagon then said there were "no indications" cluster
bombs had been dropped at Hillah--even though Sky TV found some
unexploded and brought them back to Baghdad.
I first came across this absence of remorse--or rather absence of
responsibility--in a slum suburb of Baghdad called Hayy al-Gailani.
Two men had run a new American checkpoint--a roll of barbed wire
tossed across a road before dawn one morning in July--and US troops
had opened fire at the car. Indeed, they fired so many bullets that
the vehicle burst into flames. And while the dead or dying men were
burned inside, the Americans who had set up the checkpoint simply
boarded their armoured vehicles and left the scene. They never even
bothered to visit the hospital mortuary to find out the identities of
the men they killed--an obvious step if they believed they had
killed "terrorists"--and inform their relatives. Scenes like this are
being repeated across Iraq daily.
Which is why Human Rights Watch and Amnesty and other humanitarian
organisations are protesting ever more vigorously about the failure
of the US army even to count the numbers of Iraqi dead, let alone
account for their own role in killing civilians. "It is a tragedy
that US soldiers have killed so many civilians in Baghdad," Human
Rights Watch's Joe Stork said. "But it is really incredible that the
US military does not even count these deaths." Human Rights Watch has
counted 94 Iraqi civilians killed by Americans in the capital. The
organisation also criticised American forces for humiliating
prisoners, not least by their habit of placing their feet on the
heads of prisoners. Some American soldiers are now being trained in
Jordan--by Jordanians--in the "respect" that should be accorded to
Iraqi civilians and about the culture of Islam. About time.
But on the ground in Iraq, Americans have a licence to kill. Not a
single soldier has been disciplined for shooting civilians--even when
the fatality involves an Iraqi working for the occupation
authorities. No action has been taken, for instance, over the soldier
who fired a single shot through the window of an Italian diplomat's
car, killing his translator, in northern Iraq. Nor against the
soldiers of the 82nd Airborne who gunned down 14 Sunni Muslim
protesters in Fallujah in April. (Captain Cirino was not involved.)
Nor against the troops who shot dead 11 more protesters in Mosul.
Sometimes, the evidence of low morale mounts over a long period. In
one Iraqi city, for example, the "Coalition Provisional Authority"--
which is what the occupation authorities call themselves--have
instructed local money changers not to give dollars for Iraqi dinars
to occupation soldiers: too many Iraqi dinars had been stolen by
troops during house raids. Repeatedly, in Baghdad, Hillah, Tikrit,
Mosul and Fallujah Iraqis have told me that they were robbed by
American troops during raids and at checkpoints. Unless there is a
monumental conspiracy on a nationwide scale by Iraqis, some of these
reports must bear the stamp of truth.
Then there was the case of the Bengal tiger. A group of US troops
entered the Baghdad zoo one evening for a party of sandwiches and
beer. During the party, one of the soldiers decided to pet the tiger
who--being a Bengal tiger--sank his teeth into the soldier. The
Americans then shot the tiger dead. The Americans promised
an "inquiry"--of which nothing has been heard since. Ironically, the
one incident where US forces faced disciplinary action followed an
incident in which a US helicopter crew took a black religious flag
from a communications tower in Sadr City in Baghdad. The violence
that followed cost the life of an Iraqi civilian.
Suicides among US troops in Iraq have risen in recent months--up to
three times the usual rate among American servicemen. At least 23
soldiers are believed to have taken their lives since the Anglo-
American invasion and others have been wounded in attempting suicide.
As usual, the US army only revealed this statistic following constant
questioning. The daily attacks on Americans outside Baghdad--up to 50
in a night--go, like the civilian Iraqi dead, unrecorded. Travelling
back from Fallujah to Baghdad after dark last month, I saw mortar
explosions and tracer fire around 13 American bases--not a word of
which was later revealed by the occupation authorities. At Baghdad
airport last month, five mortar shells fell near the runway as a
Jordanian airliner was boarding passengers for Amman. I saw this
attack with my own eyes. That same afternoon, General Ricardo
Sanchez, the senior US officer in Iraq, claimed he knew nothing about
the attack, which--unless his junior officers are slovenly--he must
have been well aware of.
But can we expect anything else of an army that can wilfully mislead
soldiers into writing "letters" to their home town papers in the US
about improvements in Iraqi daily life.
"The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely
restored, and we are a large part of why it has happened," Sergeant
Christopher Shelton of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment bragged
in a letter from Kirkuk to the Snohomish County Tribune. "The
majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms." Only
it hasn't. And Sergeant Shelton didn't write the letter. Nor did
Sergeant Shawn Grueser of West Virginia. Nor did Private Nick
Deaconson. Nor eight other soldiers who supposedly wrote identical
letters to their local papers. The "letters" were distributed among
soldiers, who were asked to sign if they agreed with its contents.
But is this, perhaps, not part of the fantasy world inspired by the
right-wing ideologues in Washington who sought this war--even though
most of them have never served their country in uniform. They dreamed
up the "weapons of mass destruction" and the adulation of American
troops who would "liberate" the Iraqi people. Unable to provide fact
to fiction, they now merely acknowledge that the soldiers they have
sent into the biggest rat's nest in the Middle East have "a lot of
work to do", that they are--this was not revealed before or during
the invasion--"fighting the front line in the war on terror".
What influence, one might ask, have the Christian fundamentalists had
on the American army in Iraq? For even if we ignore the Rev Franklin
Graham, who has described Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion"
before he went to lecture Pentagon officials--what is one to make of
the officer responsible for tracking down Osama bin Laden, Lieutenant-
General William "Jerry" Boykin, who told an audience in Oregon that
Islamists hate the US "because we're a Christian nation, because our
foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian and the enemy is a guy
called Satan". Recently promoted to deputy under-secretary of defence
for intelligence, Boykin went on to say of the war against Mohammed
Farrah Aidid in Somalia--in which he participated--that "I knew my
God was bigger than his--I knew that my God was a real God and his
was an idol".
Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said of these extraordinary
remarks that "it doesn't look like any rules were broken". We are now
told that an "inquiry" into Boykin's comments is underway--
an "inquiry" about as thorough, no doubt, as those held into the
killing of civilians in Baghdad.
Weaned on this kind of nonsense, however, is it any surprise that
American troops in Iraq understand neither their war nor the people
whose country they are occupying? Terrorists or freedom fighters?
What's the difference?
Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the
© Copyright 2003 by The New Nation
WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW