Reported atrocities in Haditha are but the tip of a dark iceberg, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti
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An Iraqi officer raises his gun in the air as police provide security for thousands of supporters of radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, as they demonstrate in the Shula district of Baghdad
With violence spinning out of control in Iraq, parliament has failed yet again to name the interior and defence ministers. News of sectarian killings and the slaughter of civilians by US troops have become a routine occurrence.
An Iraqi human rights activist, requesting anonymity or fear of reprisals by the militia or restrictions on her mobility by US troops, said Westerners and Americans do not believe the Arab and Iraqi press when they report crimes committed by US forces against Iraqi civilians. Had such reports been taken seriously, she said, perhaps the number of casualties from "friendly fire" would have dropped already. She said she had documented dozens of crimes similar to the slaughter in Haditha and was but waiting for the day when a conscientious American or Western reporter publishes them.
Zeinab Ali, relative to three brothers killed by Americans while their mother watched said she had called US media networks present in Iraq to tell them about the crime her family's suffered, but no one was interested. One producer working for an American news network told her that the incident was not exciting enough; that many similar things happen every day.
Lawyer Omar Al-Azzawi says that Bremer is to blame for the media blackout. The former US civil administrator passed a law preventing Iraqi authorities from pressing charges against civilian and military personnel of countries of the coalition. Legal immunity has encouraged foreign forces -- especially the Americans -- to regard Iraqi lives as dispensable. The US has given itself the right to try anyone suspected of involvement in or planning "terrorist" operations against America and of bringing such individual to trial in American courts. And yet the US is not handing over any American accused of committing acts of terror against others, Al-Azzawi said. "I am using the word 'terrorist' advisedly, for the definition of a terrorist by the consensus of many countries is someone who kills civilians intentionally."
Al-Azzawi calls on the UN to press the White House to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court -- the court with the clearest criminal jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In Al-Ashaqi, near Samaraa, dozens of armoured vehicles and hundreds of soldiers besieged a house last March. The troops killed 11 "terrorists", including a four-month-old infant. A statement by the US military claimed that several terrorists and four civilians were killed.
Mohamed Al-Majmaye, a neighbour of the victims, told me with tears in his eyes what he saw that day.
"At 1.30pm on Tuesday 13 March, the US occupation forces backed with a helicopter attacked the home of Fayez Harrat, a teacher. After taking control of the house and the adjacent houses and tying up and beating the inhabitants, troops shot Fayez's entire family, killing him and his wife, three of his children, his sister and her three children, his father, and a woman relative. The children were aged between four months and six years. After killing the family, the troops rigged the house with explosives and blew it up, after which the house was shelled by planes. Even the family pets were killed."
Um Mahmoud, Fayez's sister, was sobbing as she confirmed to me the story. "They killed my mother, who was 60, and my brother Fayez, who was 27, and his wife Somaya, who was 25. They also killed three children: Hura, who was four, Aisha, who was two, and Hossam, who was four months. And they killed my sister Fayza, who taught at the same school. Now her two children, Osama, who's six, and Asmaa, who's five, are orphans, for the occupation army killed her husband last summer. They also killed Aziz Khalil, 30, and Khatiba, 23, who were engaged and planned to get married in two days time."
Um Mohamed said the children were placed inside a closet and then shot by machineguns, their heads blown clean off. The rest of the family was then executed in nearby rooms.
On 10 April, in a town 70 kilometres north of Baghdad, occupation forces landed and broke into the house of Nahrein, a 22-year-old woman, and killed her. The news was reported on Al-Rabita Al-Iraqiya website. I went to the town and spoke to Nahrein's sister in law.
"Nahrein came from Baghdad to live with us after she married my brother Ahmed Al-Jarmut following a love story between them. She was an exceptional woman, young as she was. Her parents were Shias and yet they blessed her marriage to a Sunni. She gave birth to Aisha, three, and Haydar, who is only 40 days old. She was always proud to belong to a family that represents the true Iraq, with no sectarianism or fear. Nahrein was with her husband when troops shot them both. Her husband was wounded in the same incident. Occupation forces threw grenades to break the doors and went with police dogs, firing inside the house. They searched everyone, including women. Planes had not stopped shelling the vicinity for three hours. Then a soldier went into the couple's bedroom and fired 30 rounds, then called for medical care, saying that he didn't know he was shooting at a woman. Afterwards, we learnt that she was killed. My brother Ahmed was taken into custody, allegedly to receive treatment. We started crying and the US trooper left and came back with 20 soldiers, some of them holding cameras. They took pictures of Nahrein after placing a Kalashnikov on her chest. Then they started hitting my brothers and firing at them without reason, then claiming that they were armed. After that they started offering them medical care, and then arrested them."
Basra continued to be a war zone. Even after a visit to the city by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, the city remains under a state of siege. US forces have brought in 1,500 soldiers from Kuwait in preparation for an attack on Al-Ramadi, and some people say that Diali is next. Forensic experts say hospitals have been receiving no less than 50 bodies a day.
And yet one hears General Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, saying American actions in Iraq cannot be compared to the atrocities of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and the insurgents. Now there's an interesting point. Is a contest underway over who's going to kill more civilians?