Iraqi civilians caught in crossfire of US operations
BAGHDAD (AFP) - At the checkpoint, the Americans found a handgun, ordered the 56-year-old man out of his car and proceeded to bash his head with a rifle butt.
Rahim Nasser Mohammed points to his right temple, the side of his mouth and lifts his shirt, to show the spots where the soldier cudgeled him again and again nearly a month ago.
His story -- that of a government employee pulled over in his car by the US army -- seems one in a thousand as reports mount of beatings and sometimes deaths of Iraqi civilians at the hands of US soldiers.
On Sunday, five Iraqis were killed during a raid on a home in Baghdad's wealthy Mansur district, witnesses said, as troops searched the house of a relative of Saddam Hussein for the strongman himself.
The same day, a demonstration over a nighttime patrol near a holy shrine in the southern Shiite holy city of Karbala, turned ugly, ending with marines firing in the air and a protestor dead.
"It's an embarrassment for us. A lot of this has to do with the war being over, and there being not a lot for us to do and soldiers getting killed and then their friends taking it out on regular civilians," said a US military police officer investigating instances of excessive force.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, vented anger over the army's failure to make a real example of those soldiers doling out their own "Dirty Harry" style of vigilante justice or operating in brutish fashion.
"They should do certain things like sting operations and arrest those soldiers like common criminals. A lot of them should be relieved and reassigned ... That's not happening," he said.
"I've seen at least 20 cases," he added, referring to incidents where soldiers have beaten or robbed civilians at checkpoints.
In a first sign the Pentagon was starting to deal with the problem, it announced Saturday four US soldiers were under investigation for beating Iraqi prisoners of war.
Asked if there were any other cases under investigation, a senior coalition military official said Sunday he was not aware of any other such disciplinary inquiries.
But Mohammed's story is a cause for alarm, with his account backed by US military officers and Iraqi police during interviews with AFP.
"They beat him pretty bad. They beat him, tied him up and beat him again," said a US officer on condition of anonymity.
On July 3, Mohammed, an electricity department employee, was stopped by two army vehicles and his government car searched at 9:30 pm.
The soldier found a small handgun, which Mohammed said he carried to protect the car and himself, but immediately the soldier started to beat him.
"He cuffed my hands behind my back and taped my mouth and started to beat my face, hands and stomach using his rifle," Mohammed said, faint bruises still visible on his face.
The rifle was butted into his stomach repeatedly even as Mohammed tried to warn him he had just received an operation for a hernia, with the scars fresh on his belly.
Mohammed was then shoved into the police car.
"He put me down on the floor and kicked me with his feet and put the rifle to my head, as if he was about to shoot," Mohammed recalled.
"Then he took me to the police station, where he started to hit me with the gun in front of the police station."
A senior coalition official, working with Iraq's interior ministry, told AFP it did not surprise him there would be some cases of soldiers beating Iraqis in post-war Baghdad.
"I know when you take young soldiers when they're not police officers and are expected to act like ones, there are going to be problems," he said.