LAST TWO WEEKS OF WAR
CNN Subtly Alters POW Coverage; Seven Stray Missiles Two Unhappy Allies; Murder At 160 K; "Simon-Says" Reporting; "Their Liberation Is Now In The Hands Of God"; POW Coverage Shows Bias In Favor Of Beauty; U.S. Directly And Indirectly Targets Civilians; The Shu'ale Market Bombing: Case Closed; Checkpoint Shooting Galleries; A Besieged Basra; Kurdish Victims Of Liberation; Dissent In The Ranks; Cluster Bombs In Iraq; Pentagon's Version Of "Stop The Press"; Welcome To The Liberation
CNN SUBTLY ALTERS
The second week of the U.S. war against Iraq began with a telling shift of policy in U.S. media coverage of the war. On March 29, CNN reported that two Fedayeen militia members turned themselves in to coalition troops at Umm Qasr. During the report, the CNN correspondent noted that the Iraqis' faces were not being shown because, "they are POWs."
An interesting reversal of policy. Until this point, CNN and other U.S. media outlets consistently showed scenes of Iraqi prisoners, even as they and the Bush administration angrily denounced Iraq for showing U.S. POWs on television. However, the more the issue was covered by the media, the more the obvious contradictions and hypocrisy stood out. It became rather absurd, as the rhetoric against Iraq heated up, and the phrase "war crimes" popped up more frequently, to keep criticizing Iraq while the U.S. paraded Iraqi POWs all over television and the front page of newspapers. The evocation of the term "war crimes" might have particularly troubled the news outlets, since the phrase started being employed against the Iraqi media rather than just the government.
Is CNN tacitly acknowledging that previous broadcasting of Iraqi POWs violated the Geneva Convention? It is doubtful such an admission will be forthcoming. Rather, the standard formula will be applied: stop showing the Iraqis; proclaim clearly that this is because they are POWs; and increase the denunciation of Iraq, while noting the U.S. media's laudable behavior. No mention must be made of previous media coverage. If it is mentioned, it will simply be called a "mistake," or different because the Iraqis were not being "humiliated"; but the practice will nonetheless cease, and eventually will not be referenced again, except regarding Iraq's "deplorable behavior."
Of course, it is quite right to avoid showing POWs on television. The practice is in violation of the Geneva Convention. It is incorrect, though, to assume the restrictions apply only to U.S. enemies, so CNN's decision to stop its own violations of the Convention is certainly the correct policy to follow. The problem is, it will not be viewed with such honesty. Instead, expect to see proclamations of how the U.S. media is treating Iraqi POWs legally, while Iraq continues committing war crimes with U.S. POWs. The question of U.S. media footage of POWs prior to March 2 will not be brought up. Moreover, it is highly likely that after the war, Iraqis will be prosecuted as "war criminals" for showing coalition POWs in the media. Will warrants also be issued for CNN? Don't bet on it. Remember, they aren't showing Iraqi POWs. Just don't remember too far back...
SEVEN STRAY MISSILES,
TWO UNHAPPY ALLIES
The Pentagon announced on March 29 that seven missiles had gone off course, due to mechanical failures, but claimed none detonated. Further, the Pentagon says some of those missiles landed in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. As a result, the U.S. has suspended cruise missile flights over their territories.
The three missiles that struck Iran on March 21 were not mentioned as part of this "dumb squadron" of U.S. bombs. Whether that is due to a true lack of "confirmation" by the Pentagon, or the fact that those strikes were no accident, cannot as yet be determined.
In the event, the Pentagon pointed out the seven missiles represent less than one-percent of all missile flights, apparently considering this an acceptable error-rate. Surely, 99-percent "success" must be deemed adequate. Of course, this depends on how one defines "acceptable," and "success." Perhaps we would get a differing view on the "acceptability" of seven errant missiles, were we to ask the opinions of the people standing under them when they fell. To refer back for just a moment, does Iran look at the missiles that blew up a government building (among other sites) and say, "Yes, but 99-percent of the U.S. missiles hit their targets. This is acceptable"? It is doubtful.
We might further conclude that Saudi Arabia and Turkey haven't quite expressed a view of "acceptance," either, or the Pentagon probably would not be suspending missile over-flights. Likewise, within Iraq itself, the civilians at the Shallal and Shu'ale markets in Baghdad could be expected to deny the "acceptability" of U.S. missiles missing their intended targets and exploding in civilian centers, even if only one-percent do so. After all, one-percent of 1,000 is 10, and that is per day. Even half of a percent is still five-per-day.
What about "success?" As the Pentagon made clear, they feel a 99-percent accuracy rate is a "success." This definition might be objectionable to those who are inclined to consider "collateral damage" (as the Pentagon calls dead civilians) in the equation. If the U.S. wishes to destroy a military site, with a purported goal of "liberating" Iraqis, can the necessary killing of innocent people be ignored? "Necessary" is used here because, as the size and nature of the ordnance used makes obvious, there is absolutely no way to avoid killing civilians when thousands of these weapons are dropped each day in a city filled with millions of innocent people.
Was the missile strike on the al-A'azamiya telephone exchange a "success," despite the fact twelve shops, apartment buildings, and homes were also destroyed (facts reported by the Associated Press)? This bomb hit its target, so it is one of the 99-percent, presumably. How should we interpret this definition of "success" and "accuracy"?
Beyond such questions, we might be inclined to ask whether we should believe the Pentagon's claim of only one-percent failure. After all, to date they still insist the missile strikes that hit the Baghdad markets may have been caused by Iraq, not the U.S. U.S. Brigadier General Vince Brooks (Deputy Director of Operations for Central Command) did admit on March 27 that coalition bombs may have been responsible; but in the following days, and after the second missile strike in a market area, the Pentagon has increasingly moved towards the "Iraq did it" defense. Regarding Iran, the Pentagon never admitted guilt, and eventually just forgot the whole issue. With a record of denial and redirection, it cannot be assumed that the Pentagon's word on "accuracy" and "success" can be taken at face value.
Suppose we do accept the 99-percent figure, however. What must still be considered is that, while that figure sounds impressive, it is relative to the actual number of missiles used. As noted earlier, thousands of airstrikes are hitting Baghdad every day, and over 700 of those have been cruise missiles, and more than 6,000 satellite-guided bombs. The bombings are likely to increase as the battle to take Baghdad approaches, so that one-percent will actually encompass a growing number of errant missiles, most of which are likely to fall within Iraq, on civilians. But what about Iraq's neighbors? The Pentagon admits Turkey and Saudi Arabia were victims of U.S. missiles, and all evidence suggests (in spite of Pentagon denials) that three missiles struck Iran. Therefore, we see that in a total of eight days, three non-combatant nations were hit with U.S. missiles, at least one of them hit by three missiles, with a total of seven failed strikes, or about one each day. If the number of U.S. airstrikes increases, so will the real number of errant hits on Iraq's neighbors, even if only one-percent do so.
This is a bit misleading, since the above example uses the Iranian strikes as if they are included in the seven missiles the Pentagon acknowledges went off-course. The Pentagon does not admit to striking Iran, so those three missiles obviously are not included in the counting of missile failures. More to the point, since there may be reason to suspect that Iran was not hit by mistake, it is also not really fair to count those strikes as "errant."
The question of U.S. missile accuracy will no doubt be a constant source of debate as the war goes on, and as they continue to crash down on the wrong heads. What is sad is that, for all the talk about "accuracy" and "success", it doesn't seem to occur to anyone making these decisions that the only "success" is when these damn things aren't fired at all.
MURDER AT 160 K
The U.S. military does not seem contented with murdering only Iraqi civilians, and have apparently started looking elsewhere for additional targets. They found some, on March 26, at the 160 K roadside rest stop. On this day, three buses filled with Syrian civilians approached an intersection at the rest stop, where gasoline, food, and other travel supplies are sold. Ahead of them was a bridge, and behind them... was a U.S. Apache helicopter. It was 5:30 pm, still daylight, so there can be no doubt the pilots could see their targets and the rest stop area.
Still, a missile was fired and struck the road directly in front of the buses. The buses screeched to a halt, and passengers began jumping out frantically. Again, the helicopter could easily see these were civilians, in civilian vehicles, at a civilian rest stop full of shops. Yet, the Apache pilot fired again, this time blasting the first bus directly, killing 17 civilians and injuring many more.
The other buses crashed into the rear of the first bus, injuring more people. As the casualties were pulled from the buses, the helicopter pilot did not try to help, nor did the pilot call for help for the civilians. The Syrians called for assistance, and several hours later rescue buses arrived to carry them into Baghdad. The injured were transferred to the Al Kindi Hospital. As the civilians left the scene of the attack, they watched the Apache fire more missiles into the wrecked buses, incinerating them.
Such is the nature of this "just war"; such is the nature of the "honorable" U.S. soldier. Much is said here in the U.S. about "supporting the troops," even if one opposes the war. It is obvious, however, that the civilians being murdered by U.S. troops are the ones who need our "support." War protestors make too much effort, it would seem, to stress that opponents of this war are not "protesting against the soldiers." Well, somebody needs to protest against them, because they are killers.
The cases of civilian casualties are mounting, and despite claims that Iraqi troops use innocent people as "human shields," not a single case of civilian casualties has resulted from such activity. The civilians are dying because they are being directly targeted, murdered, by U.S. soldiers. These are war crimes, and anybody with a shred of integrity will admit this. While there may be room for "debate" about several issue or aspects of this war, certain things (such as documented facts, for example) are beyond debate.
We know for a fact Iraqi civilians are being killed by U.S. troops; we know for a fact that these soldiers have on several occasions killed civilians in situations where the identification of the Iraqis as noncombatants could clearly be determined; and we know for a fact that murdering civilians is a war crime. Facts. Disgusting, damnable, murderous facts.
Case after case of civilians being directly fired upon by U.S. forces is mounting. Time after time, the U.S. government denies these incidents, or blames the Iraqi government for the casualties. The media, in every instance, either fails to report the murders, or repeats the government lies and attribution of guilt to Saddam Hussein. There seems to be too much fear of being critical of "our troops" while the war is going on, even among those who oppose this war. However, "our troops" are turning more and more into nothing but killers of the innocent, while the Pentagon and U.S. media continue to remind us of the "murderous nature" of Hussein's government. Well, a "murderous nature" has certainly become evident, but it rests most visibly within a regime far from Baghdad.
"A woman was hanged after she waved at coalition soldiers," Bush said. Iraqis are fighting because they are threatened, say U.S. military commanders. Iraqis who refuse are executed, their families are killed, we are told. An Iraqi civilian's tongue was cut out, and he was left to bleed to death in the center of Baghdad, says another story. These are the tales of terror being broadcast by the U.S. media, backed up with the irrefutable evidence that... well, the President said so. Or military commanders, unnamed in most cases, said so. Somebody said so, and the media is reporting it.
Just how much faith should we have in the accuracy of these stories? Some of them, such as the repeated claims that Iraqi troops are hiding in hospitals and using human shields (a phrase conveniently co-opted from the peace movement and given a sinister spin), seem at least backed-up by the accounts of multiple witnesses, most of them admittedly U.S. or U.K. soldiers. Nevertheless, there is some frame of reference—a corporal at Basra said it March 27, on CBS, or a Marine at Nasiriyah said it on March 28, to The Washington Post. This doesn't make it true, just more credible than "Bush says so."
The media reports these accusations without mentioning they are unsubstantiated or unconfirmed, terms that always follow any proclamation of Iraqi civilian deaths and injuries. In those instances, the phrase "it is claimed" or "Iraq claims" preceded the reported deaths, and it "has not been confirmed" by the U.S. military, nor is it ever likely to be confirmed. Bush, on the other hand, is quoted without a "Bush claims," or a follow-up "Iraq has not confirmed this." So many accusations are being passed on by the media without any proof, yet reported as undeniable fact, that the public likely believes there is no question about the reliability of the information. While it is true that demonization of the enemy, and false accusations of atrocities, are standard fare during war, this is not 1941. The media now has the ability to verify information, to seek evidence of the purported atrocities, so it is not necessary to "take the government's word for it." Some argue that wartime calls for subservience of the media to "the cause". This is such an absurd claim, it warrants no response, except to point out we are a democracy, not a nationalist military-state.
With embedded reporters, a huge international media establishment, satellite images, internet, and endless other means of mass-communication, the media can inform us better than ever before, with little to limit their capacity to get to the truth. To the extent they fail, it is largely by design. In most cases, the facts are out there, but the U.S. media is uninterested in inconvenient facts, self-censorship considered a virtue. As long as this remains true, "Bush says" will continue to be the final word in accuracy.
"THEIR LIBERATION IS NOW
IN THE HANDS OF GOD"
John Roberts, the CBS reporter embedded with U.S. Marines in Iraq, reported on the March 28 death of civilians after their car was shot with anti-tank shells by Marines north of Nasiriya. Prior to the incident, Roberts noted a minivan nearby, riddled with bullet holes, and said it was "unclear" whether the van—right by the U.S. Marine lines—was stuck by Iraqi or coalition troops. The sheepishness of the Marines standing by the van was a clue as to who was responsible, as was the subsequent incident.
The area north of Nasiriya is a constant pain for the U.S. military, with Iraqi attacks on coalition forces occurring every day. The Marines interviewed by Roberts said they were jumpy from the constant attacks, and as one young soldier put it, "If we see a vehicle... behaving in a threatening way... we protect ourselves." This comment came after the Marines blasted the car full of civilians, killing at least three of them. Then, while this same Marine stood beside the grieving family members left alive, he said, "Saddam sends civilians down this road."
Once again, we are reminded that whenever civilians are killed or injured, it is Hussein's fault. Even when Marines open fire on a civilian car that is "behaving in a threatening way" (by virtue of it being on the road near the Marines) still the guilt lies with Saddam, not the U.S. troops.
As CNN reported March 30, U.S. troops at checkpoints now have authority to "shoot on sight" any vehicle that does not stop on command. Three taxicab drivers where killed March 29 for approaching checkpoints, none of them having weapons or explosives. This is all in response to an attack March 29 in which four U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb in a taxicab.
There is a clear pattern, one that existed before the March 29 attack. U.S. soldiers, nervous because Iraq is putting up a fight and actually inflicting casualties on coalition forces, are increasingly likely to forget the whole "liberation" part of their mission and just shoot when they feel "threatened." As the young Marine interviewed by John Roberts put it, they are protecting themselves, even if that means shooting civilians just in case they are hostile. By attempting to limit U.S. casualties, the military is willing to allow civilian deaths. While nobody is suggesting soldiers not protect themselves when actually in danger, the fact is the U.S. invaded Iraq, and as an invading occupation force they should not be allowed to kill anyone they want just to avoid risks. If the U.S. wants to wage illegal warfare and forcibly "liberate" Iraqi civilians, those same civilians should not be expected to bear the burden of protecting military forces. The idea is obscene. The U.S. should accept the risks and casualties that come with war, not ask innocent people to die just so President Bush's poll ratings don't drop.
For all the talk of Iraqi war crimes, it is incredible that CBS has footage of U.S. troops killing civilians who did nothing but try to flee Baghdad. The Marines were not fired on, they were in no danger, and if they suspected the car was possibly a threat, they should have taken cover. The suggestion that the U.S. military has a right to blow up or shoot anyone and anything it gets scared of, on camera and by their own admission, is a claim worthy of Nazi Germany. A war crime occurred and was broadcast on CBS news, then broadcast again on a March 29 episode of the news program 48 hours. This is not speculation; it is not an "unconfirmed report." We saw it, CBS reporters saw it, and the Marines admitted it. Where are the cries of "war crimes" now?
Some people will express sympathy for those Marines, saying it was an unintentional strike, a "terrible tragedy," and surely this is true. It was a tragedy, for the Iraqis. Are we to excuse soldiers who open fire on civilians, just because they were scared? When was this new standard for forgiving war crimes put in place? Does it apply to Iraq's military behavior as well? The answers can be imagined.
One can feel sorry for the fear those Marines feel, but this should not reduce our sorrow for those civilians killed by the Marines. It should not reduce our disgust with military procedures that make such war crimes more likely. It should not make us ignore the incident, or forgive it.
As the President and Pentagon continue to insist Iraqis are being "liberated," John Roberts' grim words about the civilian deaths come to mind. As he stood looking at the graves of those farmers, he said, "For these farmers, their liberation is now in the hands of God." We must hope they fare better than when it was in the hands of the U.S. Marine Corps.
POW COVERAGE SHOWS BIAS
IN FAVOR OF BEAUTY
It is troubling to watch the recent U.S. media coverage of American POWs. There is a long-standing bias in news reporting that has recently seemed more pronounced, due to several events. On a March 29 episode of CBS's news program 48 Hours, an entire segment was devoted to the plight of U.S. Army Private Jessica Lynch, taken prisoner in Iraq along with many others in her supply column. We learned that Jessica is 19 years old, a pretty, slim blonde from Palestine, West Virginia. She joined the Army to save money for college. She wrote a letter back home, asking an elementary school class to be her pen pals while she served in Iraq. Her family and friends were interviewed, and CBS made it clear how "tragic" it is for such a popular, pretty girl to now be a POW.
Consider also the plight of Amy Smart, the 15-year-old white, blonde, pretty girl who was kidnapped from her home in Utah. 48 Hours devoted two separate episodes to the story, one of them after the girl was found. Consider the story of JonBenet Ramsey, the little girl (white, blond, pretty) who was found murdered in the basement of her home. That story dominated headlines and news reports for months, and still gets an occasional headline.
Now think back to the story of a young black girl who was abducted, or murdered. Remember the non-blonde, unattractive kids who got kidnapped last year? Probably not, since they didn't get any news coverage. To warrant sympathy and media reports, one must apparently be pretty, white, and (preferably) blonde. Worse still, the media always points out how "tragic" it is for "pretty" people to suffer, as if the loss of another attractive person is so much more troubling for society.
Referring back to the CBS coverage of the POWs, this tendency to highlight the suffering of lovely blondes was only accentuated by the inclusion of a few words about Shoshana Johnson, another female POW taken along with Jessica Lynch. "A few words" is to be taken literally. A clip of the footage of Johnson being interrogated was quickly shown, her name was mentioned, and a sentence was said about her "fear" being clearly visible. The end, now back to Jessica. Where is Johnson from? We don't know. How old is she? No idea. Did CBS, did anyone, say "what a tragedy", did they say she was "pretty" or "popular"? Not a word, not a syllable. What about Lori Ann Piestewa, the Hopi Indian woman who is MIA? She didn't even merit a single sentence.
When Amy Smart was abducted, did the media use the public interest in the story to help focus attention on the other thousands of children missing? Did news commentators say, "By the way, if you haven't seen the pretty white girl, maybe you've seen one of these less-attractive or less-white children"? Sure, some words about child abduction in general were said, but no faces graced the television screens or newspapers except the white-and-blonde ones.
None of this is to suggest the girls in question do not merit mention. It is indeed tragic for anyone to be abducted, murdered, or held prisoner. The point is not to downplay these girls' suffering, it is to show how the media obsesses over the stories when attractive white people are involved, and shows little or no interest in the "tragedies" that don't involve blonde white girls. It is not more tragic when beautiful females are victims, but it is certainly tragic that the media treats it that way.
U.S. DIRECTLY AND INDIRECTLY TARGETS CIVILIANS
The evidence is mounting that U.S. military strikes in Iraq target civilians, either by directly attacking them, or by attacking sites where the U.S. knows civilians will almost certainly be indirectly injured or killed. Anyone who is remotely familiar with past U.S. military operations will hardly find this news surprising. However, in a war in which "liberation" and "pin-point" targeting are catch-phrases, and where the enemy is daily accused of placing civilians in harms way, the U.S. behavior takes on added significance.
To speak of specific instances of direct targeting of civilians, there are several examples. On March 26, U.S. B-52 pilots used cluster bombs (a banned weapon) in a bombing raid on an Iraqi farm. Four of the 25 family members were killed, all of their six houses were destroyed, and their animals were also killed. The survivors were being treated at Al Kindi Hospital, with some in critical condition.
The U.S. consistently denies the use of cluster bombs, as well as napalm (also banned); but the denials are ridiculous in light of journalists' photographs of these weapons being loaded onto U.S. aircraft, admissions by pilots that they are using napalm and cluster bombs, and reports by news crews at the scene of the attacks which quote U.S. officers in charge as confirming the use of these weapons. This is not to mention the evidence offered by eyewitness testimony from the victims of such bombings, and the blatant signs left by these weapons (such as the multiple pock-mark holes left on roads and vehicles by cluster-bombs, the scorching and smells left by napalm, the remains of unexploded cluster bombs, etc.).
Yet another example is the killing of Syrian civilians by U.S. forces. Three buses filled with Syrians traveling through Iraq were attacked at the 160 K Station. U.S. Apache helicopters blew up a bridge in front of the buses, and when the vehicles stopped, the helicopters proceeded to bomb them. The Syrians were climbing out of the buses, so the Apache crews could see they were unarmed civilians. While the Syrians sat awaiting help, the helicopters decided to attack again, bombing the buses a second time. According to survivors, 16 civilians died and another 19 were injured in the attack.
The U.S. confirms the attack, and issued an icy apology for the loss of life, the same day the Pentagon accused Syria of aiding Iraq, and Rumsfeld threatened that Syria "will be held responsible" by the U.S. Perhaps the murder of innocent civilians was one way the U.S. intends to hold Syria "responsible." To date, Syria has not threatened that the U.S. will be held responsible for targeting and murdering Syrian civilians.
On March 28, U.S. Marines north of Nasiriyah opened fire on a car full of Iraqi farmers, hitting it with anti-tank shells despite the fact the Marines were not under fire. Three civilians died. The Marines admitted they were not under direct threat, but attempted to justify the killings by saying they had been under constant attack from Iraqi "irregular militias in civilian clothing", so they would "protect" themselves first, and ask questions later. This was all filmed by CBS reporters (John Roberts and his crew). One young Marine even suggested the civilian deaths were actually the fault of... that's right, Saddam Hussein, who "sends civilians down this road," according to the soldier, as if that were the real crime, not the murder of innocent farmers.
U.S. airstrikes on Basra at the outset of the war directly targeted infrastructure. The city's water treatment and electrical facilities were destroyed by U.S. bomb and missile strikes, according to the initial reports from John Roberts of CBS. Roberts was with military units that struck Basra, and the U.S. commanders on-site cleared his reports. During this report, incidentally, Roberts also reported that U.S. airstrikes in Safwan used napalm, and his report was confirmed by a U.S. colonel at the scene of the attack, reported by the Herald.
The destruction of the water treatment facilities is especially bad, and civilians (especially children) are reportedly suffering from diseases due to drinking unsanitary water, confirmed by RAF medical staff in Basra in comments to print and television journalists. While no deaths attributed to lack of water of electricity have been reported so far, civilians are suffering from the effects of the bombings.
Beyond these examples, there is the larger civilian toll caused by the massive U.S. air assault directed at Baghdad. Well over 1,000 missiles and bombs ranging in size from 2,000 to 4,700 pounds are being dropped on the city every single day. If only 2,000-pound weapons are used, this would total 20,000 pounds of explosives per day; an average would actually be closer to 30-35,000 pounds, however. No rational person could expect to drop such massive bombs on a highly populated city without causing serious civilian casualties. Indeed, there are almost daily reports of bombs and missiles exploding in civilian areas, although the Pentagon "cannot confirm" such reports are true.
Some of these reports, however, cannot be disputed. For example, the U.S. bombing of the al-A'azamiya telephone exchange destroyed that building, but it also demolished twelve shops, as well as apartments and homes. This is confirmed by Associated Press reports.
Such damage is actually typical of the ordnance being dropped by U.S. pilots. The 2,000-pound Mark-84 JDAM bomb was the primary weapon used on Baghdad in the first week of warfare (along with the cruise missiles). This bomb sends 1,000 pounds of white-hot steel fragments about three-quarters of a mile from the impact zone, at 6,000 feet per second. Pieces of the nose cone and other heavy fragments will fly about a mile and a half, and 10,000 pounds of dirt and debris is hurled at supersonic speeds from the blast zone. A fireball is produced, with temperatures of 8,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
How can such weapons be used without inflicting large-scale civilian casualties? Of course, they can't. The Shallal market was struck on March 26, and the Shu'ale on March 28, with a total of 65 or more killed and many more injured. John Burns of The New York Times visited the scene, saying he personally counted 10 to 15 dead children alone on March 28, and in a March 29 interview with Dan Rather on CBS's 48 Hours he says he saw at least 30 to 34 coffins. U.S. Brigadier General Vince Brooks (Deputy Director of Operations for Central Command in Qatar) admitted that coalition bombs may have been responsible for the deaths from the March 26 strike, but the Pentagon still asserts Iraqi anti-aircraft fire or surface-to-surface missiles might have done the damage.
By March 30, huge fires were raging all over Baghdad, as the U.S. increased the frequency and scale of air assaults on the city. The U.S. knows civilians will be injured and killed; these attacks are carried out with full knowledge that innocent people are within the explosive range of the missiles and bombs. While this may not constitute "directly" targeting civilians, civilians are known to be "indirectly" in the line of fire. In fact, however, the Pentagon announced on March 27 "As military targets emerge, even in civilian areas, they will be hit." Attacks on March 29 and 30, in particular, were said to be targeting anti-aircraft sites on civilian rooftops or within civilian population centers. Here, we have the Pentagon stating publicly that civilian areas will be bombed. Prefacing the comments with "military targets" doesn't negate the recognition that U.S. pilots are aware these targets are sitting on top of or within civilian areas.
On March 30 came the official Pentagon announcement that, in response to a terrorist bombing that killed four Marines, U.S. troops at checkpoints have orders to shoot to kill anyone in a vehicle who does not immediately stop or turn around when ordered to. Of course, this policy was a bit "johnny-come-lately", since the previous day, March 29, Jim Axelrod of CBS reported three taxicab drivers were shot and killed by U.S. soldiers (none of the Iraqis were armed). In light of the Marine attack near Nasiriyah that killed the farmers, and the three taxicab drivers shot, it might appear to a cynic that the "new" Pentagon policy is actually just an attempt to legitimize a practice already in place—namely, the killing of civilians in the name of reducing risks to U.S. troops.
The U.S. record of killing civilians by either directly or indirectly targeting them is quite clear, and quite extensive for a war that is barely over a week old. Yet we hear nobody suggesting these actions or official policies are "war crimes," a charge leveled against Iraq because, among other things, some of their troops aren't wearing uniforms. Comparing such "heinous" acts to the "unfortunate" U.S. bombings and shootings of civilians, one might become confused about what exactly constitutes a "crime" during war.
Then again, this is a dangerous question, especially if it leads us to wonder whether any military act is legal if it occurs during an illegal invasion.
THE SHU'ALE MARKET BOMBING: CASE CLOSED
The "mystery" is over. Facts have emerged regarding one of the most infamous cases of civilian casualties in the U.S. war against Iraq, and these facts leave no doubt about what occurred in a small, poor neighborhood in Baghdad where so many Iraqis lost their lives to "liberation."
On March 28, a U.S. missile manufactured at a Raytheon plant in McKinney, Texas, exploded in the Shu'ale market in Baghdad, killing over 60 civilians. Fragments of the missile, inspected by reporter Robert Fisk of the Independent, contained the identification numbers necessary to track the missile's origins, and this was done by Cahal Milmo (another reporter for the Independent). The ID numbers on the missile were 30003-704ASB7492, followed by MFR 96214 09. The first numbers, 3003, refers to the Naval Air Systems Command, which procures weapons for the U.S. Navy. MFR 96214 is the identification number for the Raytheon plant that manufactured the weapon.
Raytheon manufactures HARM missiles and Paveway laser-guided bombs, as well as Patriot and Tomahawk missiles. Because so many civilians were injured in the attack by fragments of aluminum, it is most likely that a HARM missile was used in the market attack. Further, the Pentagon now confirms that an EA-6B Prowler jet fired one or more HARM missiles over Baghdad on March 28, although the official Pentagon line is still that the cause of the market attack is "undetermined" and most likely from a stray Iraqi anti-aircraft missile, denials the U.S. media are quite happy to repeat while they ignore the new evidence.
We now know the truth about the origins of the bomb that struck the Shu'ale market. If we know, then the Pentagon knows, as do the U.S. media. In a supposedly free society, we should not have spend endless hours in pursuit of elusive truths denied us by our own government and media, who act in collusion to mislead the public.
With the facts at hand, the case is easily closed on the Shu'ale bombing, as with so many countless other bombings and killings in this war. What remains to be seen, however, is how much more evidence will be needed before the public realizes that, regarding the quality and nature of our government and media, the case was also closed, a long time ago.
CHECKPOINT SHOOTING GALLERIES
"You just fucking killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!" These were the angry words of U.S. Army Captain Ronny Johnson, at a checkpoint outside Najaf on March 31, according to Washington Post reporter William Branigin. An embedded reporter with the 3rd Infantry Division, Branigin witnessed the killing of 10 Iraqi civilians (women and children) by U.S. Army forces, when the Iraqis' four-wheel-drive vehicle approached a checkpoint on Highway 9 near Karbala.
Captain Johnson ordered troops to fire a warning shot as the vehicle approached, and when nobody responded he ordered a 7.62 machine-gun round fired into the vehicle's radiator. Again, his platoon simply did not respond. He finally yelled into the radio, "Stop him, Red 1, stop him!" At this, 25mm cannons roared from one or more Bradleys, right into the passenger sections of the vehicle. After surveying the scene through his binoculars, Captain Johnson screamed his fateful sentence at the platoon leader.
Reading any other mainstream newspaper, or watching any of the television news broadcasts, we would learn none of this. Instead, we would hear that a vehicle approached the checkpoint, failed to head warning shots (some of which were fired into its radiator), and then soldiers opened fire, killing seven people. Further, we would learn that, as with every dastardly deed in this war, the real fault lies with Saddam Hussein. No, he wasn't driving, but as a U.S. soldier at the scene told CNN, "Incidents like this are the fault of the regime." His sentiment was echoed by Navy Captain Frank Thorp, spokesperson for U.S. CENTCOM, who likewise blamed "the regime," also saying that the 3rd Infantry Division troops had acted correctly in firing on the vehicle.
CNN appeared to agree, saying that the military's Rules of Engagement allow such shootings, adding that it's "a judgment call... we don't know what may have happened... there are many unknowns." In case anyone wonders what the Rules of Engagement are in situation like this, the fact is the rules have become quite liberalized since a suicide bombing at a checkpoint killed four Marines. The new rules, according to Lieutenant Colonel Scott E. Rutter, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, are, "Five seconds. They have five seconds to turn around and get out of here. If they're there in five seconds, they're dead."
Apparently, it has not occurred to anyone that perhaps placing "Stop" signs before the checkpoints, or signs reading "Turn Back—Army Checkpoint Ahead", or maybe blocking the road with sandbags, would be a little safer than counting to five and murdering people. Why not block roads with empty cars, which could be moved easily to open the road when necessary?
On April 1, the day after the Najaf shootings, U.S. Marines in the southern town of Shatra killed a civilian and seriously injured another as the Iraqis' truck drove towards a military checkpoint, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.
In another incident like the one at Najaf, U.S. Marines south of Baghdad also opened fire on vehicles at a checkpoint on April 5, killing seven or more civilians (including three children). An embedded ABC News journalist with the Marine unit reported that a car sped through the checkpoint and was fired on by the U.S. troops, followed by a truck driving through the roadblock that was fired upon. Behind the truck were the two civilian cars, and the Marines opened fire on them as well.
John Roberts of CBS was with U.S. Marines on April 8, when the soldiers opened fire on a minivan. Footage showed the van riddled with bullet holes, leaving two dead, one gut-shot, and yet another injured.
More civilians were killed on April 10, in Baghdad, when Marines at a checkpoint opened fire on their vehicle, leaving three Iraqis dead. The car approached the Marines during the night, then gunfire erupted from a tree-line near the Marines. The U.S. soldiers not only returned fire, they also shot at the vehicle. When the incident was over, there was speculation that it may have been a case of friendly fire from nearby U.S. forces. After showing footage of the incident, CNN anchors said, "Wow, what a great story," followed by the comment that, "everything turned out okay." It's good they said this, otherwise viewers might interpret civilian deaths as a sign things turned out badly.
On April 10, CBS's Dan Rather was with the Army 3rd Infantry Division on a road west of Baghdad. Footage showed them open fire on an approaching vehicle because, as he put it, "who was in it... we do not know," but they "weren't taking any chances." April 11 brought word of more civilians killed at a checkpoint in Najaf, two of whom were Iraqi children. This was justified by General Myers and Secretary Rumsfeld during their press briefing that day, because the vehicle "failed to obey warnings to stop." Past experience might lead us to question if we are hearing the truth about "warnings;" but even if it were true, would it justify the death of innocent people, of children?
With fears of suicide bombings high, and the threshold for shooting at cars so low, we can expect to see more such killings of innocent Iraqis. Even when the war ends, the fear of more suicide attacks will remain, so the "five second" rule will likely stay in place. Civilian casualties due to direct fire have become increasingly frequent in this war, and may well increase as tensions grow between the "liberators" and their victims.
A BESIEGED BASRA
Basra has been a city under siege. Likewise, facts about what is really happening in the southern Iraqi town have also been surrounded and attacked as mercilessly as the citizens of Basra. There were reports on March 22 that water and electrical facilities in Basra had been cut off. On March 25 came reports of an uprising against the Ba'ath party. March 28 brought reports of Iraqi forces firing artillery at civilians attempting to flee the city.
When no uprising succeeded in stopping Iraqi forces from maintaining their hold on the city, we heard reports that the Fedayeen and Ba'ath party fighters were forcing people to remain in Basra and resist, that these "death squads" (as Bush administration and Pentagon officials demand the forces be called) killed anyone who didn't fight, or threatened to murder their families. We were told the Iraqi fighters used civilians as "human shields," that they were using schools and hospitals for shelter.
Military officials claim U.K. forces are showing great restraint, to avoid civilian casualties. The British troops, they claim, are only striking at the "death squads" terrorizing the Basra residents. These residents, we are told, will welcome British and U.S. forces as liberators once the city is placed under coalition control. On April 6, U.K. forces appeared to make their move on Basra, and by April 8 they claimed the last pockets of resistance were being "mopped up." The Pentagon and U.S. media assured us that the Iraqis in Basra happily greeted coalition forces, and that all would soon be well in the city.
Now, let's look beyond the propaganda. On March 22, water and electrical facilities in Basra were indeed shut off. However, claims that Hussein's government "turned off" the spigots are totally false. Both CNN and CBS reported on March 22 that U.S. bombing around Basra had struck the Wafa al-Qaed water treatment plant, and knocked out high-tension electric cables, cutting power to the city. CBS went so far as to point out that its reports were approved by U.S. military commanders at the scene. The CBS report came from embedded journalist John Roberts, a reporter whose name will come up again.
By the end of the day, however, reports about the U.S. bombings disappeared from the mainstream media, replaced by assertions that "the Iraqi regime" was responsible, casually mentioning that no U.S. bombs had fallen near Basra. In fact, on March 21, John Roberts of CBS reported that the U.S. 3rd Calvary Division approaching Basra used napalm and artillery to strike Iraqi sites near Safwan (the same place and the same day that oil wells erupted in flames), just miles from Basra. A U.S. Colonel confirmed the use of napalm to a reporter for the Herald, but this was later denied by a Navy Lieutenant Colonel in Washington (who surely is more informed about the battle than the soldiers who actually fought). On March 25, Roberts also filed a report noting that U.S. soldiers guarding the Kuwaiti-Iraq border would allow no food or water supplies to move towards Basra, so relief agencies were not even moving supplies towards the border. He went on to say that it would not be "days, but weeks" before any food or water was allowed to proceed to the city.
What do we know of the results of U.S. destruction of the water and electrical facilities? International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson Antonella Notari says people are drinking water with sewage in it, and engineers from ICRC say only 50-percent of the Basra citizens have water from the back-up generators, which they describe as merely a "stopgap measure." Iraqis can be seen filling up containers with water from the polluted Shatt-al-Arab River, in an al-Jazeera tape filmed in Baghdad. The WHO is concerned that diarrhea and cholera, measles, and respiratory infections may break out among the population. UNICEF says up to 100,000 children under five years old are at "immediate risk" of disease from lack of clean water.
Lack of electrical power means hospitals, already overrun by large numbers of casualties and the main one (Basra General Hospital) struck by British fire, are at even more dire straights to deal with their patients. Blood, for example, cannot be stored without freezers, incubators cannot function. Also, foodstuff cannot be kept cold and meat cannot be frozen.
The "uprising" of March 25 proved to be a bit disappointing, to the extent that it never occurred. Footage from Basra on March 27 and 28, filmed by al-Jazeera, showed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers in the city, in the middle of the streets, and contained interviews with Iraqi citizens. No uprising was evident at all, and the Ba'ath party seemed quite in control of the city.
Further, Abu Islam, spokesperson for the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told reporters, "No, there is no uprising. Some disturbances took place last night... but it was not widespread... [t]he people chanted slogans against Saddam." An al-Jazeera reporter in Basra reported, "There are no indications in the city that the people rose up against the regime, and a state of calm prevails in the city." As we learned in the following days, no uprising emerged.
The media reported on March 28 that civilians fleeing Basra were fired on by Iraqi artillery, but the footage of the events and some of the reported facts seemed to prove otherwise. CBS images showed a line of civilians approaching U.K. troops along a long road leading out of Basra. Artillery fire is heard, but none is ever seen striking the road or anywhere near the civilians. Moreover, the British are shown firing artillery "to protect the civilians," but this is while the citizens are still far off from them, and it occurs as the Iraqis are leaving Basra. Iraqi artillery fire only appears loud and threatening as the civilians approach the U.K. troops. After conferring with the British, the civilians turn and head back into the city, and still not a single scene of artillery striking them is shown.
This sequence of events appears to show that the British were firing artillery as soon as Iraqis left the city; that no artillery was near these civilians until they were closer to the U.K. forces; and thus that the Iraqi troops were directing their fire at the British position, not the civilians. Since the artillery fire out of the city was heaviest near and beyond the British position (straddling the road), the citizens seemed to decide it was too unsafe to proceed and went back into Basra. Again, at no time were any Iraqis seen in danger from artillery directed out of the city.
Now consider the claim itself: Iraqi civilians tried to leave, were attacked by soldiers in the town, so they left the "liberating" British troops (whom they had reached) and returned to a city full of "death squads" who had just tried to kill them. How believable, how sensible, does this sound? Instead, think about this version of events: the British and Iraqi troops are exchanging artillery fire, civilians decided to flee the besieged city, but upon reaching the British position they realize the artillery fire blocks their progress. Thus, they return to the city rather than remain with the British, where the artillery fire is coming down as well. Perhaps, since the civilians are shown speaking with the British troops briefly, the U.K. soldiers convinced them it was unsafe to continue down the road and that they would be safer back in their homes.
At any rate, no Iraqis were found who could confirm the "Iraqi artillery fire" threatened or injured them, and none of the CBS or CNN footage showed artillery fire near the civilians. It is actually a bit sinister that both news networks showed their clips out of order, attempting to confirm the official version of events. By watching carefully and noting where the Iraqis are when each side is firing artillery, however, the true story becomes clear.
As for the continuous tales of "human shields," "death squads," and stories that Iraqi troops used schools and hospitals as shelter, only a few points need to be made. First, not a single Iraqi civilian casualty has been reported due to use of "human shields," and no footage has been seen of such behavior by Iraqi troops. If the term "human shields" is meant to apply to the fact that Iraqi forces were based in the city where civilians are located, it must be pointed out that any defense of any city would be the same; does anyone accuse the Polish of using "human shields" because they tried to defend Warsaw? Of course not, because when we look at such behavior in this context, we realize how ridiculous the claim is. To defend a city, troops must be in it, just as one must enter a city to invade it.
The phrase "death squads" is equally absurd, since the only confirmations of any civilian casualties in this war are from U.S. and British bombings and shootings. If we are to apply the phrase at all, we should at least be honest enough to use it in situations where we know it actually applies, yet nobody is calling the U.S. Army or Marine Corps "death squads"—well, perhaps the Iraqis they are murdering call them this, but certainly not the U.S. media. Where are the scenes of Iraqi "death squads" in this war? Where are the images of the civilians they are murdering? Nowhere, not one single image of one single Iraqi civilian killed by the Fedayeen or Iraqi Army.
Is this to imply the Ba'athists and Fedayeen forces are not killing innocent civilians at all? Well, maybe they are. Considering the nature of the forces and what we know of the Iraqi government's past, it would not be hard to believe. However, the point is that no evidence exists that they have done so. If they are to be accused, at least some evidence should be shown. Reports from the Pentagon or President Bush do not count as "proof," although they and the media seem to think it is the best proof there is.
Regarding the issue of Iraqi troops using schools and hospitals as bases, let's remember something. While CBS reported that Iraqi forces in Basra were using "schoolchildren" to shield their troops, the actual incident they referred to involved a school building used to stage attacks on British forces—and both CBS and CNN informed us days before that school had been cancelled when the war started. So, there were no children in that deserted school, only soldiers. It appears some hospitals did become "bases," although footage from these hospitals seems to show that most of the Iraqi troops there were injured, which is why they were in the hospital in the first place. Obviously, as the war raged and soldiers were injured, they had to be treated in hospitals in the city. Not a shred of evidence was put forth (not even claims from the British troops) to back up the assertions that Iraqis launched attacks from the hospital.
Besides, if Iraqis did simply use hospitals to hide in, to avoid British attacks, it is hardly as "evil" or any more a war crime than the British bombing of hospitals. Basra General Hospital's orthopedic ward struck by British artillery, killing six people, according to a Boston Globe reporter in the city on April 8.
As far as the claims that British troops are showing "restraint" and "avoiding civilian casualties" in Basra, a few facts say all that needs to be said.
Scenes from a hospital, in the al-Jazeera report, showed horrific scenes of civilians injured and killed by the bombings and shelling of Basra. A little girl, her intestines hanging from the side of her stomach, is wheeled into an operating room, where a doctor pours water over her innards before applying a bandage and preparing for surgery. Worst of all, the child is awake and stares at her own intestines.
More dead children are also shown. Another little girl nearly decapitated. Another missing her ear and brain. A child with both feet gone. Screams are heard through the hospital. Robert Fisk of the Independent, who viewed the al-Jazeera tape in Baghdad, called the footage "raw, painful, devastating."
Besides the al-Jazeera tape, other evidence of U.K. and U.S. "restraint" is available. The director of Basra General Hospital, Dr. Mussalim Mahdi al-Hassan, says 1,200 or more civilians have died since March 25. Dr. Hassan, who has not left Basra General for two weeks, told Thanassis Cambanis of the Boston Globe, "There has been no water here for two days." Further, Hassan told the reporter looters stole the engine for the morgue refrigerator, and the bodies were rotting. When he asked U.K. troops to protect the hospital, they refused, prompting him to ask Cambanis, "What are they doing?"
The ICRC has repeatedly said that hospitals are packed with civilians injured or dead from British and U.S. bombing and shelling, and Basra General had at least 500 injured civilians on April 8. On the al-Jazeera tape, the Sheraton Hotel in Basra is shown to have been hit by shelling. Craters from incoming British and U.S. ordnance can be seen all over, and huge explosions were reported over portions of Basra by CNN on several days during the siege, but especially during the British attack to take over the city. Everywhere there are injured Iraqis, rubble from damaged and destroyed buildings. This is the face of "restraint."
British troops moved in to seize Basra on April 6, and the level of bombardment increased dramatically. By April 8, Britain was claiming to be in control of most of the city, with only "sporadic pockets of resistance" remaining. While most major media outlets claimed the Iraqis were greeting U.K. soldiers as "liberators," in fact this was putting a rather positive spin on things. Many reports of anger and resentment among Basra residents started filtering out. Doctors in particular seemed angry over the destruction proceeding "liberation."
When widespread looting broke out all over the city, the British were blamed for the lack of law and order. High school chemistry teacher Faheed Ahmed said, "... [w]e don't appreciate the foreign army coming into our country and letting people destroy our public resources," as looters stripped Basra University of computers, furniture, and books. On April 9, PBS's Jim Lehrer News Hour showed scenes of Basra residence that Terence Smith referred to as "desperate for water," and Doctor Abbas Ijam was shown saying hospitals are overcrowded and overrun with casualties, noting with frustration, "without electricity and water, nothing can function."
Mohammed Baqir al-Halim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, stated: "Iraqis will resist if they [U.S. and British forces] seek to occupy or colonize our country." Shia Muslims are still bitter over what they feel was a desertion of their cause in 1991, when residents in Basra rose up against Saddam Hussein's rule at the urging of then-President Bush. Rather than supporting the Shias, however, the U.S. allowed Hussein's forces to crush the rebellion. This, coupled with the massive civilian toll of this war on Basra's residents, as well as fears that the U.S. and Britain might try to occupy Iraq, all serve to make the Iraqi population distrustful of coalition forces in Basra (as well as elsewhere in the country).
Hassan Akool, a Basra resident, told the Boston Globe, "The coalition says it wants to protect the Iraqi people, but nobody cares." He added, "The Iraqi people are unhappy now... [i]f the things the coalition promised do not happen, we will be very disappointed." Khalil Yusuf Abdurrahman, referring to Fedayeen fighters in Basra, told the Boston Globe,"[They] did a good job, but if God is willing, all Iraqis will fight to defend their country." Citizens of Basra, the Globe reported, said it was "unconscionable" for U.K. troops to allow looting in the city. Indeed, many news outlets (including CNN, CBS, PBS, and the BBC) have begun to refer to conditions in Basra as "anarchy."
Such are the real facts about the siege of Basra—truths and images conspicuously absent from most mainstream media, just like almost all other truths in this war.
KURDISH VICTIMS OF LIBERATION
Of all the oppressed groups in Iraq, perhaps the Kurds received the most coverage before the war, as the Bush administration and U.S. press spoke of high-minded ideals of liberation and freedom for Iraqi citizens. How, then, have the Kurds fared in this war against Iraq? Not as well as might be expected.
First came the threats from Turkey that troops were preparing to invade northern Iraq, ostensibly to "stabilize" the area and prevent Kurds from declaring an autonomous state or seizing the oil fields in Kirkuk. The U.S. seemingly alleviated the situation and kept the Turkish forces out, but only by promising Kurds would be kept under control and a Kurdish state prevented.
Then, on March 23, came the first U.S. strikes on Kurdish citizens. At 12:30 am, a U.S. laser-guided missile exploded in a dormitory in the northern town of Khormal, killing between 30 and 45 people and injuring many others. Khormal is home to the Islamic group Komala, and the town is next to the mountain town of Halabja, where another Islamic group, Ansar al-Islam, has their headquarters. On the weekend of March 21-23, the U.S. launched a massive air strike on Ansar al-Islam, with over 70 missiles exploding in the northern region. However, four of those missiles landed in Khormal, and Kurdish officials claim 150 or more people were killed over that weekend in northern Iraq.
Komala is not linked to Ansar al-Islam, and it has remained questionable whether the strike on Khormal was accidental or intentional. U.S. forces have been working with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and PUK regional Prime Minister Barham Salih said, "Obviously civilian casualties are a major concern to us... [b]ut we have told these guys to stay away from Ansar. They have nobody to blame but themselves." He says Komala failed to distinguish itself enough from Ansar, so the attack was "the price" they paid. Another PUK official was more blunt in comments that appeared in the Globe and Mail. Speaking supposedly off-the-record, this official said, "There is no distinction between the Islamic parties. The best thing is to eliminate them."
Whereas the members of Khormal have previously been opponents of the Iraqi government, the anger over the U.S. attack has created much bitterness. The nephew of one Kurdish victim told The Guardian's Luke Harding, "We don't understand. Why did America do this?" He went on to add, "This makes us love Saddam Hussein rather than America." Yet another resident of Khormal told Harding, "The U.S. has committed an injustice." Sheikh Mohsim, the Komala leader, said, "We deplore this decision to attack us since we have been against the [Saddam Hussein] regime, not America." As the nephew mentioned earlier said, when asked whom he preferred now, "We prefer Saddam."
Then came more Kurdish deaths. On April 7, American F-15s accidentally bombed a convoy of Kurdish and U.S. forces, killing as many as 17 people. BBC reporter John Simpson, who was not only a witness to the attack but a victim (he suffered ruptured ear drums and shrapnel wounds, and his translator was killed), described the attack as a "disaster", saying, "This is like a scene from hell." The incident was presumably an accident, but it is just one more example of Kurdish suffering at the hands of the U.S.
Those familiar with Iraqi history will recall that the gassing of Kurds, which the current Bush administration condemns so loudly, was overlooked by the Reagan/Bush administration, and the Army War College actually placed blame for the gassing on Iran (a claim that, while enjoying renewed attention from war opponents prior to the ongoing invasion, was unfounded and merely an attempt by the Reagan administration to justify its support for Saddam Hussein). When former President Bush began the move towards war with Iraq in the late 1980's, the gassings were suddenly attributed to Hussein. After the Gulf War, the plight of Kurds was used as justification to impose the "No Fly Zones" over Iraq. Despite this "concern" for their safety, the fact is when the Kurds attempted to rebel (at the prodding of President Bush) they were ruthlessly crushed by Hussein's forces, because the U.S. decided to let the Iraqi military use its helicopters to attack and repress the Kurds.
With the apparent fall of the Ba'athists in Iraq on April 9, did the door open for full Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq? Don't bet on it. The morning of April 10 brought news that the U.S. had agreed to let Turkey send in "observers," to insure the Kurds are kept on a short leash. Further, the U.S. that same morning gave a guarantee to Turkey that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk would not be turned over to Kurdish control, something the PUK has voiced as one of their goals.
Kurds have long suffered due to U.S. policy in the Middle East. These latest examples are, unfortunately, just more of the same. Based on the understanding between the U.S. and Turkey regarding Kurdish autonomy, it is a history we can expect to see repeated in both Iraq and Turkey for a long time to come.
DISSENT IN THE RANKS
Strong voices are being raised in protest against U.S. actions in Iraq that do not emanate from the anti-war movement. These new complaints come from perhaps an unlikely source: Britain. True, the public in that nation has been largely against this war from the start, but the sentiment is spreading.
Between March 29 and April, four reports came out containing significant information about changing attitudes in Britain. First, on March 29, the BBC issued a directive to its journalists that, due to the quantity of false reports issuing from the Pentagon, all military sources must be attributed clearly. The Guardian reported that news chiefs at the BBC are increasingly concerned about repeated cases of their reports turning out to be untrue, including reports on March 23 that U.K. forces had secured the port of Umm Qasr (fighting continues long after the British military said it was taken), a March 25 report of uprisings in Basra (no rebellion took place), and March 26 reports of over 100 tanks leaving Basra (only 3 actually left). Other stories, such as claims that a chemical weapons factory was found in An Najaf, and reports of Iraqi responsibility for missile attacks in Baghdad, also proved to be false. The Guardian quoted a senior BBC source as saying, "We're getting more truth out of Baghdad than the Pentagon at the moment."
Besides the BBC, the U.K. military has also been a source of negative sentiments directed at the U.S. handling of the war. On March 31, two separate reports indicating this dissent appeared in the Guardian. Three British soldiers were ordered home because of their objection to civilian deaths at the hands of American soldiers. The U.K. troops, from the 16 Air Assault Brigade in southern Iraq, are subject to court martial and have sought legal advice.
Also on March 31, the Guardian reported statements from British troops who were mistakenly bombed by U.S. pilots. Two were injured and one killed when their convoy was attacked by an American A-10 Thunderbolt. The report quoted Lance Corporal of Horse Steven Gerrard, commander of the lead U.K. vehicle, recovering in bed aboard the RFA Argus in the Persian Gulf, as saying, "I can command my vehicle... [w]hat I have not been trained to do is look over my shoulder to see whether an American is shooting at me." He went on to state that a Union Jack (British Flag) is clearly visible on the back of the reconnaissance Scimitars (the military vehicle the British engineers were riding in), a symbol one-and-a-half foot wide. "For him to fire his weapons I believe he had to look through his magnified optics. How he could not see that Union Jack I don't know."
Other statements by the U.K. troops called the actions of the U.S. pilot "incompetence and negligence," and some even wanted to see the pilot prosecuted for manslaughter. When the A-10 circled around and attacked, firing not once but twice, the first two Scimitars erupted in flames (these vehicles were filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, grenades, and diesel fuel), according to the Guardian. LCoH Gerrard is also quoted as claiming, "[A] boy of about 12 years old... was no more than 20 meters away when the Yank opened up." He added, "He had absolutely no regard for human life. I believe he was a cowboy."
Other British troops agreed. Noting that all the vehicles were marked as "Coalition", Trooper Chris Finney said, "I don't know why he shot a second time, he was that close." The Guardian also quoted Trooper Joe Woodgate, who stated, "It was the most irresponsible thing in the world. They didn't know what was going on."
Damning as all of this is, the criticisms don't stop there. In yet another report from the Guardian, on April 1, senior British officers are quoted as being highly critical of the methods used by U.S. forces to deal with civilians. In particular, the paper says these officers were "appalled" by reports of U.S. Marines' killing of Iraqis near Nassiriya at the end of March. One source was quoted as saying, "You can see why the Iraqis are not welcoming us with open arms." General Sir Mike Jackson, at a press conference in London March 28, said, "We are not interested in gratuitous violence." A British officer told the Guardian U.S. soldiers are "reluctant" to get out of armored military vehicles. When Americans are walking around, he said, they are wearing full armor and gear. The British, by comparison, are more likely to remove helmets and body armor, and tend to walk around amongst the Iraqis.
Other British military sources called U.S. tactics "more brutal," and the Guardian says U.K. senior sources are making a point of highlighting "trigger happy" U.S. soldiers. Towards the end of the story, Lord Guthrie (former chief of defense staff) is quoted as saying, "The Americans talk about the warrior ethic and... that peacekeeping is for wimps."
The final example of a new attitude emerging in Britain came on April 5, in an al-Jazeera report by Ruben Bannerjee. The story quotes David Blunkett, British Home Secretary, in a radio interview as saying weapons of mass destruction may not be found in Iraq, noting, "We will obviously have a very interesting debate if there are no biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons or facilities to produce them found anywhere in Iraq once Iraq is free."
General Richard Myers echoed the admission that such weapons might not exist in Iraq that same day at a press briefing carried by CNN. Myers told the reporters, "It appears out initial intelligence was wrong," about WMD sites in Iraq. He was responding to questions about whether the detailed intelligence data the U.S. claims to have (supposedly proving Iraq has WMD) has led to the discovery of weapons at those sites.
While British Home Secretary Blunkett's comments aren't exactly as strong as others emanating from the Brits lately, the fact that he said an "interesting debate" would occur, whereas General Myers refused to acknowledge that WMD might not be found or that this would undermine the legitimacy of the war, is still significant.
At the current pace, one might speculate that in a few more weeks, Tony Blair will be the only person in Britain who still supports the U.S. actions in Iraq. It must be remembered, however, that despite these recriminations from the U.K., the fact remains that British forces are stationed in and around Basra and Umm Qasr, and both areas have suffered either large-scale civilian casualties, lack of adequate relief aid, or both. The U.K. troops are hardly innocent when it comes to atrocities in this war. In fact, it may enhance the point that the degree of U.S. brutality must be significant to draw such strong opposition from British forces.
Still, there do appear to be many more cases of dissent in the British ranks, and the fact that so many examples have become public recently certainly works against the Bush administration and Pentagon's claims that they are "liberators."
It is unfortunate that none of this is getting much attention in the U.S. media. Unfortunate, but not surprising. Nor is it surprising that, in the end, none of this criticism from the U.K. is having any effect on how the U.S. perpetrates the war. We are left to hope that it will at least make Britain think twice before following the U.S. into other illegal invasions, which are almost certainly just on the horizon.
CLUSTER BOMBS IN IRAQ
The use of cluster munitions by U.S. forces in Iraq has been confirmed by eyewitness accounts from journalists and civilians, as well as footage of cluster bombs being used. The Pentagon has finally admitted the use of these weapons, but still denies cluster bombs are responsible for massive civilian casualties in Iraq, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Cluster bombs are filled with smaller explosive sub-munitions, which are released from the primary container over a target area, where they spread out and explode. Cluster munitions can be used in bombs, missiles, or artillery shells. Some cluster weapons, like some Sensor-Fused Weapons, may contain as few as 10 sub-munitions (each of which, in turn, contains four smaller warheads that are released), while other Sensor-Fused Weapons may have over 200 sub-munitions.
The M26 warhead contains 644 sub-munitions, called M77 (also known as "dual-purpose grenades"). M483A1 and M864 artillery shells contain 88 and 72 sub-munitions (dual-purpose grenades), respectively. The areas cluster bombs cover can be quite large, with the M26 scattering bomblets over an area of between 120,000 to 240,000 square meters.
Besides the obvious damage such weapons can do when they are used, there is another danger that is perhaps more deadly. Cluster munitions have a high failure rate, so many of the sub-munitions do not detonate. Instead, they land on the ground, where they stay scattered until someone (usually a civilian) steps on them or attempts to pick them up. The sub-munitions in the M26 warhead have a failure rate of 16-percent, according to the Department of Defense report to Congress in February 2000.
The M483A1 and M864 sub-munitions have a failure rate of 14-percent. According to Colin King, a British bomb disposal officer who served in the Gulf War, and author of Jane's Explosive Ordnance Disposal guide, cluster munitions have an overall failure rate of between 10 and 15-percent.
Video footage of fighting in Iraq shows the Army 3rd Infantry Division using Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), artillery systems that use only cluster munitions. They fire the M26 warhead. In other footage, The 1st Battalion of the 39th Field Artillery Regiment has 18 or more MLRS. In other footage, the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion is supported by Marine artillery units, who fired 155mm projectiles identified as either M483A1 or M864 artillery shells. A reporter embedded with the Marines said that hundreds of grenades were being fired at Iraqi forces. These tapes have been viewed by Human Rights Watch, and the use of cluster munitions confirmed.
On March 28, a helicopter attack by Army 101st Airborne Division was supported by 18 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) fired against Iraqi air defense units. ATACMS carry 300 or 950 M74 sub-munitions. The Washington Post reported this the following day.
The most graphic example of cluster bombs wreaking havoc on Iraqi civilians, however, occurred March 29 through April 1 in what Pepe Escobar of The Asian Times described as "uninterrupted, furious American bombing." The target: Hilla, a city south of Baghdad. The victims: every single one a civilian.
Hilla, once called Babylon, is surrounded by small villages. The whole area was attacked, in air assaults that lasted several days. Hilla's hospital received hundreds of casualties. Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirms at least 460 wounded and several dozen dead, all of them "farmers, women and children." Journalists counted at least 60 or more dead.
Robert Fisk of the Independent says there are 61 dead, and he notes that these are "only those who were brought to the hospital" either already dead or injured. Nobody knows yet how many more are buried in rubble, or who had no one to bring their bodies in, or who were injured but did not go to the hospital and died later. Fisk also reports that on April 1, the U.S. attacks struck the village of Hindiyeh, where the man who went to gather the dead told the hospital "the only living thing he found in the area was a hen." 11 Iraqis, three of who were children, died.
The wounds of Iraqis in Hilla are severe, as the cluster bombs sent fragments of metal tearing into their flesh. Camera crews from the AP and Reuters recorded scenes of children torn apart, babies split completely in half, arms and legs cut off, bodies shredded, blood everywhere. The camera crews reported that there were two trucks piled with bodies parked at the hospital. Robert Fisk speaks of seeing children with deep lacerations on their heads and bodies, and women covered in wounds. Mr. Huguenin-Benjamin said, "We saw that a truck was delivering dozens of totally dismembered dead bodies of women and children. It was an awful sight." He also noted, "[E]verybody had very serious wounds... small toddlers of two or three years of age who had lost their legs, their arms." The Guardian says footage from the hospital shows huge pools of blood on the floor.
The Pentagon claims no cluster munitions were used on Hilla. There is much indisputable evidence that proves the denials are nothing but lies. A correspondent for Agence France Presse, Nayla Razzouk, reports seeing cluster ordnance debris with the tiny parachutes still attached (cluster bombs tend to have these, to slow the decent of the bombs for the release of sub-munitions over a wide area). Dr. Nazem el-Adali confirmed the Iraqis were victims of cluster bombs.
Robert Fisk also reports "the remains of tiny bomblet littered the ground beside the scorch marks." He goes on to say that Sky Television's crew in Baghdad, which visited the village of Nadr in the Hilla area, actually brought back "a set of bomblet shrapnel... the wicked metal balls that are intended to puncture the human body still locked into their frame... "
The victims themselves describe seeing the sub-munitions falling from the sky, the bomblets blasting through doors and windows. Several Iraqis said the munitions did not go off until someone stepped on them or tried to pick them up. Mohamed Moussa informed Fisk that "we still have some in our home, unexploded."
The scene in Hilla was repeated on April 4, when civilians in the western sections of Baghdad were reportedly arriving at hospitals with injuries from cluster munitions. In Furad, in the Doura district of Baghdad, reports in the Independent claim over 80 Iraqis died in the attacks. Wounded civilians reported seeing the cluster bombs falling "like small stones."
All of this evidence, coupled with Pentagon admissions that cluster weapons are being used in Iraq, seems to prove what happened in Hilla, and what probably happened in Baghdad.
The use of such weapons, or any weapons for that matter, against civilians is not only unconscionable, it is a war crime. Of course, with so many already under its belt, why should the U.S. stop now?
PENTAGON'S VERSION OF
"STOP THE PRESS"
The U.S. invasion of Iraq took an ominous turn on April 8 (or, more precisely, yet another ominous turn). In three separate incidents, the American military attacked journalists in Baghdad, killing three of them and injuring many others. Worse still, at least two of the attacks appear to have been deliberate, and the third highly suspect.
At just after 7:35 in the morning, al-Jazeera's chief correspondent in Baghdad stood on the roof of the news station's headquarters in that city, reporting on a battle nearby. The reporter, Tariq Ayoub, was with cameraman Zouhair al-Iraqi and another colleague, Maher Abdullah. They saw a U.S. jet diving towards the building, so low they "actually heard the rocket being launched," said Mr. Abdullah. Actually, two missiles hit the building. At least one of the missiles struck the building's electrical generator and exploded, killing reporter Ayoub and wounding the cameraman.
A few background bits of information make it clear this attack was intentional, despite the empty assertions by Pentagon and Bush administration officials that they would never target journalists. First is the fact that in the invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001, the al-Jazeera office in the capital city of Kabul was blasted by a U.S. cruise missile, and the U.S. never even tried to explain the incident. The second inconvenient fact is that, in February of this year al-Jazeera made sure the Pentagon had the coordinates for the Baghdad office. They were given guarantees it would not be attacked. Even more importantly, the very day before the attack, Nabil Khouri of the U.S. State Department actually went to the al-Jazeera building and reiterated the guarantee that al-Jazeera would not be attacked.
Reinforcing the appearance that the attack was deliberate, minutes later a second attack occurred, less than a mile away, at the headquarters of the news station Abu Dhabi TV, leaving up to 30 journalists trapped under debris after an artillery strike. Like al-Jazeera, Abu Dhabi TV provided the coordinates of its building to the Pentagon. Both networks have been criticized for their coverage of the war, for showing footage of civilian casualties and broadcasting images of U.S. POWs.
The attacks did not stop there, however. About four hours later, before noon, journalists at the Palestine hotel were at work broadcasting images from Baghdad. Some stood outside on balconies, in clear view of U.S. forces. Many of them were filming American tanks in the area, including cameraman Taras Protsyuk from the Ukraine working for Reuters, and a France 3 news crew. A U.S. M1A1 tank was on the Jamhuriya Bridge nearby, and the French crew was filming it. Sky Television correspondent David Chater, on his way out to a balcony, saw the tank as well. The Independent's Robert Fisk was outside the hotel, driving down a road that ran between the Palestine Hotel and the Jamhuriya bridge, where the M1A1 sat.
Suddenly, Mr. Chater saw the tank barrel moving, pointing at the hotel. The France 3 crew filmed as the tank fired, catching the image of the burst of fire from the barrel. Mr. Fisk heard the blast from the tank. The shell crashed into the 15th floor, where the Ukrainian Mr. Protsyuk, David Chater, Reuters staff member Paul Pasquale and reporter Samia Nakhoul, and at least one more journalist were at that moment. On the 16th floor, Jose Couso of Telecinco (Tele 5) was also severely injured, as was a Fuji TV cameraman. Charter says that after the shell hit, there was much chaos and panic, "French journalists screaming, 'Get a doctor, get a doctor.'" He said everyone started putting on flak jackets.
Taras Protsyuk died soon after the attack, and Jose Couso died 30 minutes after one of his legs was amputated. Several other reporters were wounded.
The videotapes and photographs of the event show clearly that the M1A1 tank fired the shot that struck the hotel. Of great importance is the fact that on none of these films is there any sound of gunfire prior to the tank's shot, and Robert Fisk insists that as he passed between the hotel and the bridge, there was no incoming fire at the U.S. tanks. CBS's Lara Logan reported that there was no Iraq fire from the hotel or even close to the hotel. All of the journalists in the Palestine Hotel say the same thing: no shots came from the hotel, and many reporters and cameramen were clearly visible at and around the hotel at the time. This is completely proven by the film taken during the attack, as already noted above.
The tanks were with the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, under command of General Buford Blout. General Blout stated that rocket and sniper fire emanated from the Palestine Hotel's lobby, so his tanks had fired and the enemy fire stopped. Again, this is totally false, as both eyewitness accounts and multiple images of the attack prove. Besides, if the "hostile fire" came from the lobby, why did the M1A1 blast the 15th floor of the hotel? Further, many journalists have asserted that the news crews at the hotel went to great lengths to insure no Iraqi fighters used the building as a staging area for attacks.
The Palestine Hotel has been the headquarters for journalists throughout the war, and the U.S. military was well aware of this fact, just as it was aware of the coordinates for the al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV buildings. These three attacks, so precise and obviously unprovoked, at locations known beyond any doubt to be news buildings, within a span of four hours, coming just days after Iraqi television was purposefully taken out by U.S. bombings, seems to be a clear pattern designed to send a clear signal.
The message was enhanced in statements by U.S. officials after the attacks. Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lapan said, "We have warned news organizations that being in Baghdad would be very unsafe once military action began." Reuters reporter Merissa Marr, in an April 9 story about the attacks, noted that a spokesperson for the Spanish Defense Ministry said the U.S. had "warned journalists that the Baghdad hotel attacked 'could become a military target.'"
Why on earth would the Palestine Hotel become a "military target?" What could such a warning possibly be based on, since the hotel, even at the time the warning was issued and afterwards, was never in any way the site of Iraqi military forces? But wait, there is more.
Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, another Pentagon spokesperson, stated that "non-embedded" journalists work at their own risk, and added the U.S. military has no responsibility to protect journalists operating "independently" in Iraq. "Non-embedded" and "operating independently" are phrases popping up with much frequency in Pentagon statements regarding danger to reporters. It's not a coincidence.
At this point, it would be almost redundant to point out that, in fact, the U.S. military does have a responsibility to protect the safety of journalists, since reporters are civilians and thus protected by international law. As we all know by now, "international law" has become a somewhat laughable phrase at this point, much like the term "war crimes" (read: U.S. military policy).
A relevant fact to remember is that another non-embedded journalist, Terry Lloyd from ITN, was killed near Basra when U.S. troops opened fire on his news crew. Moments before the shooting started, several Iraqi soldiers attempted to surrender to the ITN crew, and once the U.S. forces opened fire, Lloyd and the rest of the crew tried to run away from the Iraqis. However, the Americans kept directing shots at them, murdering Lloyd. And on April 7, the Independent reported that a Reuters photographer was shot at by U.S. Marines in front of the Rashid Hotel as he passed a scene where the troops were shooting civilians and motorists as well as Iraqi militiamen in the area. The journalist escaped with bullet holes in his vehicle, but luckily not in him.
When the U.S. bombed the Iraqi Information Ministry headquarters on March 29-30, this received less attention from the mainstream U.S. media, despite the fact that the Ministry building was the headquarters for foreign news media. However, these new attacks, particularly the attack on the Palestine Hotel, have provoked a surprising outcry from media outlets worldwide, including mainstream U.S. media sources. So many have issued harsh, angry statements condemning the attacks that it would be easier to list the news organizations and stations that did not respond strongly.
The most troubling aspect of this response is that the media, who usually act largely as propaganda mouth-pieces for governments, but who nevertheless tend to know more than they ever tell their audiences, seem to be either publicly or privately expressing the same main concern: that the U.S. military is intentionally targeting journalists now.
Of course, one does not have to be in possession of "unknown facts" to reach this conclusion. With regard to the al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV bombings, it is ludicrous to deny the buildings were specifically targeted. The evidence is simply too overwhelming. At the Palestine Hotel, the only reason to even consider the attack may not have deliberately targeted journalists is that so many mainstream U.S. media outlets were present, and so many of them were actually filming the events. Take note, however, that by April 10, CNN was no longer even mentioning the attacks, and CBS news that day also made no mention of the story.
One minor critique of the attitude of the mainstream press is noteworthy here. They are to be commended for their united front against the U.S. strikes against journalists, and for their strongly worded condemnation of the targeting of reporters who are (as the Committee to Protect Journalists and others quickly pointed out) civilians, thus not legal targets of military fire. Unfortunately, such admirable stands would be more meaningful, if the mainstream media took the same view of the hundreds or thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties in this war. Unfortunately, mainstream press reports have tended to either ignore these incidents, or simply report the Pentagon's version of events.
This is largely a U.S. media and, in the U.K., BBC problem. Indeed, there are certainly many journalists in Iraq devoted to reporting the horrific truths about the murders and other war crimes committed by U.S. and U.K. troops, and exposing the mountains of lies and propaganda spread in this war. The Guardian and the Independent, al-Jazeera, and several others have distinguished themselves with vivid reporting of the destruction wrought by the U.S. invasion. Sadly, too few people are hearing or seeing these reports. If CNN could be replaced by any one of the above sources of news for just one day, perhaps the warmongers in Washington and London would quickly be out of jobs.
Of course, that is probably the precise reason for the military attacks on journalists in Iraq. The U.S. and U.K. governments cannot afford to have a public that is well informed, and they have shown they are willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve their domination of the truth, even if that means extending the war to those reporting on it.
WELCOME TO THE LIBERATION
Here is the face of liberation, American-style. This is the truth behind CNN's running commercial for the U.S. military and President Bush's reelection campaign. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has accomplished only one thing, and that is the widespread destruction of Iraqi society and the murder of huge numbers of civilians. No weapons of mass destruction. No liberation, only occupation (in spite of the constant lies told every day by the U.S. government about "turning over power to the Iraqi people"). Following are some facts about what happened to the oft-mentioned "Iraqi people."
Stories of the cluster bombing of Hilla are recounted above, as are tales of the checkpoint murders and the conditions in Basra, the Shu'ale missile strike and the attack on Syrian buses, the multiple attacks on Kurds and bombings of the press buildings. This would all be more than enough horror for a three-week war; however, there are still many other examples of the destruction and death spread across Iraq. Far too many.
Mark Phillips of CBS reporting from Basra treated us to scenes of a civilian building that was bombed on March 31 in Basra. There was extensive damage, and images of bloodied civilians. "There was nothing military here... why was it hit?" cried out an angry Iraqi man in a crowd that gathered around the bomb site. Footage at the hospital showed rooms packed with injured civilians, with no bed space left as new casualties came in. This was all the result of massive U.K. strikes with artillery and tanks, as the British used their expertise at benign crowd control to win more hearts and minds.
The Mansur residential neighborhood of Baghdad was targeted by U.S. airstrikes on March 28, to coincide with the traditional Muslim prayer hour on Fridays. Three buildings were demolished in the assault. The next day, airstrikes in Najif killed dozens of people and wounded over 100. Among the dead were two surgeons and an ambulance driver, all three killed when a missile struck their emergency vehicle.
Cathy Breen is a member of the Iraqi Peace Team. Her report on April 1 described her visit to al-Amiin, a heavily populated residential area south of Iraq, where three civilians (the oldest 18 years old, the youngest only seven) died after a bomb struck the neighborhood on March 31. Many other Iraqis were wounded, including a five-year-old with severe abdominal injuries. The type of explosion and damage she describes seems to suggest cluster munitions, although this may not be the case. Breen says seven homes were hit after the bomb "exploded in the air and scattered," leaving "pockmarks" on walls of surrounding homes and metal fragments all over the area. She also photographed pieces of the bomb, one of which had the inscription JX2N8902, MADE IN USA, 8642.
UNICEF issued a statement on April 2, warning that small, unexploded U.S. BLU 97 bomblets are the exact same yellow color as the food packets being handed out by U.S. and U.K. forces in Iraq. These bomblets spread out over large areas, and large numbers of them do not detonate. Instead, they lie on the ground until an Iraqi (usually a child) mistakes them for the food packets and tries to pick them up. The bombs then explode, killing or severely maiming the civilians.
On April 3, Samia Nakhoul of Reuters (incidentally, one of the reporters on the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel when U.S. forces attacked journalists there) filed a report from a Baghdad hospital after an air attack hit Radwaniyeh, close to the airport, on April 2. Six adults and 12 children were hit in the attack. The report begins with a description of an eight-year-old girl whose face and body are covered in lacerations from shrapnel, one of her eyes missing. She cried out for her mother, who was in critical condition with one of the girl's brothers. Her other brother, four-years-old, was killed. Two sisters and the father were at another hospital, severely injured.
Nakhoul's report notes that, according to Doctor Ahmed Abdel Amir, children make up such a large percentage (over half) of Iraq's population, they likewise constitute a large number of casualties. A seven-year-old boy hit in the abdomen by shrapnel from a missile that struck near his home, a six-year-old with his guts visible because a missile exploded close to his house (two others were killed). These children scream in pain, tremble and grasp their mothers when the sounds of explosions echo outside. They don't eat, they don't sleep, they simply cry and fear.
There was the report in the New York Times, by Tyler Hicks and John Burns, on April 3. They detailed scenes at a hospital filled with civilians (mostly from Nadir, a village near Hilla) injured and murdered by the U.S. cluster bomb attacks on that region. A little boy, alone, scared, his arm amputated below the elbow. A young gas salesman, his leg a bloody stump, his car hit by a U.S. tank shell. Cluster munitions hit a bus, and one man's arm was amputated at the hospital, deep lacerations on his legs. His mother died instantly in the attack. 18 people on the bus died, another 16 were wounded.
The reporters toured the area, saying small unexploded ordnance "lay scattered in profusion." Doctor Saad al-Fallouji told the New York Times that on the single day of April 1, 33 dead and 180 wounded came to the hospital, all of them civilians. "All of them were from Nadir village, women and children and men of all ages," he said, continuing, "Many of the bodies were completely torn apart." The reporters described "a procession of coffins, and... torn bodies that crowded the shelves of the large refrigerator... the wounded filling every ward," a hospital description all-too-familiar in this war.
On their way into Hilla, the New York Times said, reporters witnessed smoke rising from the "completely flattened" remains of a park used for the yearly international trade fair in Baghdad. The reporters were told the attack killed nine women in a maternity clinic in the park.
Also on April 3, the Iraq Red Crescent (IRCS) released a statement saying their maternity hospital in the al-Mansour district of Baghdad had been damaged by a U.S./U.K. attack on nearby buildings. The report said that three civilians were killed, another 27 injured, in the April 2 bombing. The bombs or missiles struck a building next to the maternity hospital, but the strength of the explosion caused the hospital's roof to collapse and the windows to shatter.
Lara Logan, also of CBS, traveled from Jordan towards Baghdad on April 4. Her report focused on the destruction from U.S. bombs. She noted a bus, clearly "civilian," burned and shattered, surrounded by bomb craters. Bridges were demolished, collapsed, charred automobiles visible as the news crew passed. The same day, Dan Rather grimly stated that "most estimates" put the number of Iraqi casualties "in at least the low thousands."
Reports came in the entire week of hospitals being overrun with massive numbers of civilian casualties, prompting CBS's Dan Rather to note on April 7, "Baghdad hospitals quit counting the dead and wounded... [due to] so many casualties." The report went on to say that one hospital had received over 175 Iraqis dead or injured by noon. Lara Logan on the same day reported from a Baghdad neighborhood she described as "completely obliterated" by U.S. bombing, in what was later described by the Pentagon as an attempt to hit Saddam Hussein or other high-level Iraqi officials. Standing in front of an incredibly large pile of rubble, Logan spoke of the casualties from the attack, and the scene cut away to images of wounded children in a hospital. When the camera returned to Lara Logan, she turned and pointed at the rubble behind her. "Four families lived here," she said. On PBS, the Jim Lehrer News Hour that night also noted, "Hospitals are so overwhelmed... they can't keep track" of the numbers of casualties.
At Baghdad's Kindi Hospital on April 8, reporter Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post described civilian casualties inundating the medical staff. Iraqis were carried on stretchers "soaked in blood" in "an emergency room suffused with the stench of blood, dirt and disinfectant." "I'm a civilian," groaned one man, "My car was attacked. They attacked my car." From the village of Fahana, at the edge of Baghdad, came a young man who recalled, "There was a missile that landed in front of my house." His foot had just been amputated.
A woman and her nephew were brought in after their family car was fired on by tanks and armored personnel carriers on a bridge, both of them suffering burns. "They were firing at any car, any person... It was like a public execution in the street," said the woman's son. After trying to get medical help at a neighborhood clinic, they tried a hospital near the Rashid Barracks. It was "overwhelmed with military casualties," so they ended up at Kindi. Body bags were in the street outside the hospital's morgue. The Washington Post described a chaotic situation, where doctors seemed out of everything they needed, where medical staff worked without rest, and where the injured and dead just kept coming in waves.
Terence Smith, reporting from Basra for CBS on April 9, described people as "desperate for water" while images of frantic people lined up to fill whatever containers they had. At the city's largest hospital, Dr. Abbas Ijam told Smith, "Without electricity and water, nothing can function." The hospital was "overrun" with casualties.
In another CBS report, an emotional Iraqi man held up a tiny jacket lying in blood on a Baghdad street, where U.S. airstrikes left an unknown number of dead and wounded April 9. Family after family appeared on camera, wailing in grief. One Iraqi household lost four members in the attack. The gray-haired man holding the little girl's jacket spoke with a mixture of sorrow and fury: "Look. Iraqi child."
That evening, on PBS's Jim Lehrer News Hour, Amanda Williamson of the International Committee of the Red Cross said the ICRC suspended operations in Baghdad, as conditions had become too dangerous and overwhelming, and an ICRC staff member was feared dead. Doctors Without Borders withdrew from the city completely the same day, after two of their members disappeared. Baghdad hospitals were in a "critical situation," Williamson said, "overflowing" with patients who came in such large numbers, hospitals quit counting. One hospital received 100 patients per hour on April 9. She also noted cases of dysentery and diarrhea were arriving at hospitals, due to the lack of clean water in the city.
Ronald Huguenin-Benjamin, spokesperson for International Committee of the Red Cross, told CNN on April 9 that, "Casualties have been seen on the roads, on some bridges, and there was no possibility of evacuating them," because two ICRC vehicles, both clearly marked as such, came under fire. Huguenin-Benjamin said further that ambulances are coming under fire in many parts of Baghdad "due to heavy crossfire" from U.S. troops fighting Iraqis. "The problem is not the lack of medicine in the hospitals. The problem is the lack of respect for ambulances," he said.
April 11 brought some of the most vivid images CBS has shown during the war, regarding the toll on civilians. Dan Rather said the "burned-out hulks" of vehicles were "all over the city," referring to Baghdad. Scenes of shattered buses, cars, burned trucks, sometimes with bodies in them, and huge craters and rubble were shown as Rather spoke.
In footage from the city's hospitals, horrible pictures played on the screen of adults and children with terrible wounds, many without beds due to the overcrowded conditions. Reporter Lee Cowan's voice-over described the "stench of death" that spread through the hospital, noting that there was no anesthetic, no electricity, no water. Cowen said that there were at least 100 casualties brought in April 11, but the hospital staff consists of only one doctor, one surgeon, and two residents.
Suzanne Goldenberg, of the Guardian, reported from Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad, describing scenes from hell. "U.S. soldiers... continued yesterday [April 11] to open fire on civilian cars... unexploded ordinance [is] strewn about the city," she said. The home of one family from the Beyaa neighborhood was bombed by U.S. planes April 7, and a man searched the morgue for his brother's body. A U.S. tank shell exploded outside the hospital, "A young man, naked to the waist, ran in screaming, waving his bloodied hands in the air."
Doctor Mohammed al-Hashimi told Goldenberg, "Many cars came... when they came, the American forces shot them. Two cars near the hospital were hit, as well as an ambulance just up the road. Doctor al-Hashimi continued, "There were injured people in those cars... We were in our coats... We took a gurney to transfer the injured patients. They saw them, and they still shot them." A wounded family pulled up to the hospital in a sedan. A nine-month old girl was killed, her mother and two cousins injured, when the infant "crawled over to a small dark oval - a cluster bomblet - which detonated," said the Guardian reporter.
As the days go by, worse cases of looting and arson are occurring in the "liberated" nation of Iraq. U.S. troops "police" the city streets not by preventing looting or offering protection to hospitals and shop-owners; instead, soldiers simply defend their positions.
On April 11, for example, Robert Fisk reported in the Independent describing one U.S. Marine sniper who fired on an Iraqi vehicle, injuring three civilians (one of them a little girl), and then killed another civilian just because the man walked outside to see what was happening. This same Marine, minutes later, opened fire on another civilian car, killing the driver and injuring two passengers, right in front of a news crew from Channel 4 Television. Fisk's report also notes that the bodies of dead civilians "lay rotting in their still-smoldering cars" in Daura, after being killed by U.S. soldiers during fighting.
Relief agencies, especially the ICRCS, have issued repeated statements about the deteriorating conditions in Baghdad and Basra in particular, saying it will be impossible to get food, water, and medical supplies to these areas unless order can be restored. Weapons depots have been raided by Iraqi citizens, AK-47s, rocket launchers, and other military weapons are being carted off by huge crowds. Hospitals have been looted so often that some have had to completely shut down.
The U.S. does plan to provide policing for Iraq, but Iraqis should not rejoice at the news. DynCorp has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract for the job, according to reports from Reuters on April 11, and the Observer on April 13. The Reuters report quotes Richard Boucher of the U.S. State Department as saying DynCorp will provide 150 persons for the policing in Iraq. DynCorp provided a similar police force in Bosnia, where these personnel were responsible for involvement in the sex slave trade of children and videotaping women being raped, according to testimony to the Congressional International Relations and Human Rights Subcommittee.
DynCorp is also responsible for using herbicides in Columbia (for the eradication of cocaine crops) that destroyed legitimate crops and sickened or killed many civilians. DynCorp's other work in Columbia involved supplying armed forces for destroying cocaine crops and for search-and-rescue missions, the latter of which operated without restrictions on human-rights abuses otherwise governing governmental forces. Lawsuits against the company accused it of violating international laws such as the Torture Victims Protection Act, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. With such forces now on their way to police Iraq, one might speculate that Iraqis will eventually look back on their "lawless" days of looting and anarchy with nostalgia.
And what of those scenes of "jubilation" (the most over-used word in the media lately) in Baghdad, of Iraqi civilians pulling down that statue of Saddam Hussein? It was certainly good theatre, but hardly an honest picture of what really happened that day. It might be pointed out, if anyone is interested in the facts behind that instant-replay of the "fall of communism" images from the late 1980's (indeed, the comparisons are so frequent in the media, it is surpassed only by the maddening use of the "J-word" mentioned above).
Does it matter that many of those "Iraqi citizens" shown crowded around as the statue came down were, in fact, part of a group consisting of Ahmed Chalabi and his aides. Chalabi is an Iraqi exile who returned to Iraq as part of the new leadership chosen by the U.S. The area around the statue had already been cordoned-off by U.S. tanks, and U.S. troops hooked the ropes to a U.S. vehicle to pull the statue down. Incidentally, directly across the street from the statue was... the Palestine Hotel! Hundreds of journalists use the hotel as their base of operations, so the event was guaranteed to get wide coverage. However, footage and reporting were careful to keep much information and images out of the pictures, lest it appear more a U.S.-Iraqi exile staged event than a spontaneous expression by "liberated" Iraqi civilians.
Here, then, is President Bush's "liberation." These are the true descriptions of how this war is being fought "for the Iraqi people." Our flag has been soaked in the blood of innocent civilians, and it is almost impossible to speak the word "war" without adding the word "crimes."
Consider a few words from our "brave soldiers" in Iraq, as quoted by New York Newsday on April 7: "If a little kid actively opposes my way of life, I'd call him a raghead, too," says Lance Corporal Chris Akins, of Louisville, Kentucky. How about this one: "I say we just—nuke this place and make it a parking lot," Lance Corporal Ryan Eman, of Michigan, raged. Another wonderful term of endearment favored by U.S. soldiers are "camel jockeys", and Lance Corporal Jay Dreyer, of Minnesota, says he occasionally uses the word "nigger" to refer to Iraqis. The report in Newsday says these kinds of things are frequently being said by U.S. troops in Iraq.
The empty denials and propaganda of the Pentagon are worthy of Adolf Hitler. "[T]his is the type of resistance that leads to civilian casualties... [it is] designed to draw coalition fire to cause civilian deaths," they say on CNN (April 8). It is "the regime's" fault. Saddam Hussein's forces "killed more innocent men, women, and children... than any collateral damage caused by coalition forces," spoke Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on April 1, going on to add that "execution death-squads roaming the country" are killing civilians every day.
He is right, "death-squads" are roaming Iraq, murdering civilians every day. "Terror squads" are committing heinous war crimes throughout the country. And they wear the uniform of United States soldiers. And they march on the orders of Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, and perhaps most of all, Oil.
Welcome to the liberation.
The first of my postings from this series, entitled "News Articles From the First 10 Days of War", contained two editing errors. First, Timothy McVeigh's last name was misspelled as "McVey." Second, the March 28 U.S. missile strike in Baghdad, which hit the Shu'ale market, was incorrectly said to have struck the Shallal market (hit on March 26). I regret the errors. The similarity in the names, and the multiple spellings for each used by different news sources, led to the original confusion on my part. More information, which came out after I submitted that set of articles, is included in different articles contained in this second posting, and here the markets are correctly identified.
These are the second set of articles I have written during this war. Most of these articles were written literally as the events were reported, during hours each day when I listened to simultaneous coverage by CNN and CBS, and scoured news sources in the print media. As a result of such a frantic pace, there may be errors I am unaware of, so I would like to apologize for them in advance. However, I believe any mistakes will be fairly minor, and would not change the substance of the arguments and points set forth. Because of the errors in my first posting, I have taken great pains to insure such mistakes were not repeated in this set.
With hope for a better future,
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