Iraqis refuse blood money from US
- Relatives of those killed in September by U.S. contractors are
insulted by the compensation offers. In their justice system, an
apology comes first.
Iraqis refuse blood money
By Borzou Daragahi and Raheem Salman
May 4, 2008
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD He refused to take the Americans' blood money.
Mohammed Hafidh Abdul-Razzaq had been summoned by U.S. Embassy
officials who wanted to make amends for the killing of his 10-year-old
son. The boy died during a shooting involving employees of Blackwater
Worldwide, the U.S. security firm.
Deputy Chief of Mission Patricia A. Butenis told him that she was
sorry for what had happened, Abdul-Razzaq recalled. She gave him a
sealed envelope. It had his name written on it. Abdul-Razzaq pushed it
"I told her I refuse to receive any amount," the auto parts dealer
said. "My father is a tribal sheik, and we're not used to taking any
amount unless the concerned will come and confess and apologize. Then
we will talk about compensation."
In September, Blackwater contractors protecting an embassy mission
killed 17 Iraqis, including Abdul-Razzaq's boy, and injured at least
two dozen in a widely publicized incident in west Baghdad's Nisoor
Square. Blackwater officials have said their workers feared they were
under attack; Iraqi officials and witnesses called it a massacre.
U.S. officials say the investigation of the shooting continues, though
they have been tight-lipped about details. An FBI report is due this
year. In April, the State Department renewed Blackwater's contract for
another year, a move that enraged many Iraqis affected by the killings.
Far from bringing justice and closure, the investigations underline
the frictions between Americans and Iraqis that have plagued the
five-year U.S. presence. The shooting and its aftermath show the deep
disconnect between the American legal process and the traditional
culture of Iraq, between the courtroom and the tribal diwan.
U.S. officials painstakingly examine evidence and laws while
attempting to satisfy victims' claims through cash compensation.
But traditional Arab society values honor and decorum above all. If a
man kills or badly injures someone in an accident, both families
convene a tribal summit. The perpetrator admits responsibility,
commiserates with the victim, pays medical expenses and other
compensation, all over glasses of tea in a tribal tent.
"Our system is so different from theirs," said David Mack, a former
U.S. diplomat who has served in American embassies in Iraq, Jordan,
Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. "An honor
settlement has to be both financial and it has to have the right
symbolism. We would never accept their way of doing things, and they
don't accept ours."
Citing confidentiality requirements, U.S. officials declined to speak
publicly about the Blackwater investigations. Iraqi victims are the
only witnesses to the behind-the-scenes legal process who are willing
to talk. Their accounts of the investigation jibed individually as
well as with the typical narrative of U.S. criminal investigation.
Under U.S. military doctrine, rules of engagement allow U.S. soldiers
and contractors in a combat zone to defend themselves if they fear
they are under attack. The rules tighten and loosen as conditions on
the ground shift. The Nisoor Square incident took place at the end of
what had been one of the worst periods of violence in Iraq.
The Blackwater team says it was justified in firing to protect itself
and the State Department officials it was guarding. Speaking before
Congress, Blackwater owner Erik Prince said the team was doing its
duty in the face of an onslaught, and he described the square as "a
terrorist crime scene."
Prince offended those who say they were simply going about their
Baraa Sadoon Ismail, 29, a father of two, was severely injured in the
gunfire while driving to a relative's house. Doctors told him he
had 60 fragments of bullet lodged in his abdomen. He said he had
undergone surgery to remove three pieces that threatened major organs.
He has met with eight committees of investigators so far, including
twice with the FBI. Teams of three or four people would sit in a room
with him. They would show him an aerial map on a table. They asked how
and when and where the shooting started. Where was this victim? Where
Several times he asked about his car, which was shot up in the
incident. Investigators told him it was still needed for the
investigation. They wanted to know whether he planned to ask for
compensation. He was miffed.
"I want you to feel that Iraqi life is precious," he said he told them.
Physician Haitham Rubaie doesn't want money either. What he wants
above all is justice for his wife, a doctor, and his son, a medical
student, who died.
He rebuffed attempts to have a donation to an orphanage made in his
family's name. No amount of cash, no matter how well-intentioned,
would sweep this under the rug.
"I don't want any help from you," he said he told them. "If you want
to help the orphans, you give them money yourselves."
If North Carolina-based Blackwater wanted to negotiate, it would have
to apologize, publicly and loudly, he said.
"Let them apologize by saying those were innocent people," Rubaie
said. "Then we will be ready for understanding."
Rubaie couldn't believe that with the investigation still going on,
the State Department would renew the Blackwater contract.
"Such decisions abuse us," he said. "I appeal to the American
ambassador: Just as he considers the safety of the American diplomats,
he must also consider the safety of the Iraqi citizen in an equal
Abdul-Razzaq remembered rushing his son to a hospital, and being
told an hour later that he was dead. At a police station two days
later, U.S. investigators apologized while emphasizing that Blackwater
personnel worked for a private company, not the U.S. military, he said.
"I told them that if they didn't fall under [the military's]
protection, I would have killed them with my teeth right here on the
street," he said.
They pulled out an aerial map of Nisoor Square.
Days went by. Nothing happened. A day before the Oct. 12 Eid al-Fitr
holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, Abdul-Razzaq got
a call from an Iraqi official asking him to meet with FBI
investigators. He resisted. He was planning to visit his son's grave.
But the official pressed him: The FBI had come all the way from the
U.S. and would be there only a few days. Abdul-Razzaq relented.
They wanted distances and positions. They asked about his height,
weight, skin and eye color, his job, his customers, his employees and
number of children. They asked about exit wounds, how his son was
injured. The rage welled up.
"It was a massacre," Abdul-Razzaq said of the incident. "It is as if
they came with the sole intent of eradicating all -- women and
children, they had to die."
The investigators requested his car to examine bullet fragments. He
towed it to an entrance of the Green Zone, the U.S.-protected
administrative headquarters of Baghdad, and invited a CNN team to film
A few weeks later, he was summoned to another meeting at the U.S.
Embassy with Butenis. He said she asked whether he wanted to press
charges or receive compensation, how much he wanted and what terms he
demanded for a settlement.
"I told them I didn't expect to be compensated a large sum," he
recalled. "No amount of money would return my son. I told them I would
feel better only if I knew the people responsible for this crime are
brought to trial."
Two months ago, an intermediary on behalf of Blackwater again offered
him money as a goodwill gesture, he said. Again he refused.
Two days later, he said, he met with a Blackwater representative. The
man offered him $20,000, Abdul-Razzaq said, "not as compensation, but
as a gift." Abdul-Razzaq said he refused again.
"If you write out an apology for me and confess your crime," he
recalled saying, "I will give you a similar paper with my signature
promising not to press charges."
He said the official told him such an arrangement was impossible. His
company's lawyers in America would never sign off on such a proposal.
daragahi @ latimes.com
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