Iraqis endure three years of death and destruction – Paying the price of U.S. empire

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Iraqis endure three years of death and destruction
Paying the price of U.S. empire
March 24, 2006

NICOLE COLSON looks at conditions in Iraq three years after the U.S.-led invasion.

THE U.S. military marked the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with an attack on the city of Samarra that was supposed to highlight the “progress” being made in the “new Iraq.” But what the offensive showed was how desperate the U.S. is for good news.

The Pentagon’s “Operation Swarmer”–touted in the media as the “largest air assault operation” since the invasion three years ago–was supposed to round up high-profile Iraqi resistance fighters, including those allegedly responsible for the bombing of a mosque that sparked days of violence in Iraq.

“We believe we achieved tactical surprise,” said Lt. Col. Edward Loomis, spokesperson for the 101st Airborne Division.

But “surprise” over who? “Three days into the offensive against suspected insurgents, there had been no clashes and no casualties among American or Iraqi troops,” reported Britain’s Independent. “Fifteen caches of weapons and explosives were said to have been found, but television footage showed little more than the kind of small arms most rural Iraqis keep to protect their homes. An American spokesman said 83 people had been detained, of whom 17 were later released.”

As news reports now make clear, Operation Swarmer was a propaganda mission designed to show that the U.S. military is making progress against the Iraqi resistance–and that the Iraqi Army is beginning to handle some of the burdens of the occupation.

Yet at the same time that Operation Swarmer was being hyped by the media as a step forward, the brutality of the U.S. occupation was on display.

While conducting a raid at night on the home of a schoolteacher in search of a suspected al-Qaeda member, U.S. forces engaged in a firefight–and called in helicopter gunships that fired on the house.

U.S. forces claim the house then collapsed, killing 11 civilians. But a report filed by Iraqi police says that those inside–including a 6-month-old infant, four children between the ages of 3 and 5 years, and a 75-year-old woman–were executed by U.S. troops.

“The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men,” said the report. “Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals.”

Ibraheem Hirat Khalaf, whose brother Faiz owned the house, said he watched from nearby as U.S. helicopters fired six missiles at the house as they were leaving. According to Lt. Col. Farooq Hussain, a local police commander, autopsies of the bodies at a hospital in Tikrit revealed that “all the victims had bullet shots in the head, and all bodies were handcuffed.”

This is the reality of the U.S. occupation of Iraq–a picture of violence that doesn’t come close to the Bush administration’s p.r. hype.

Three years into the occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration continues to peddle its lies–that the country today is freer and more democratic, progress and calm are just around the corner, and the lives of ordinary Iraqis are getting better.

Bush marked the anniversary of the invasion this week with a two-minute statement to reporters that avoided mentioning the continual violence in Iraq, the deaths of well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and the thousands of U.S. troops killed and maimed. Bush repeatedly referred to the occupation as the “third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in the Washington Post that “[t]urning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.” And Dick Cheney, brushing aside reports of sectarian conflicts stoked by the occupation, told CBS’s Face the Nation that violence in Iraq is due to the actions of terrorists who have “reached a stage of desperation.”

That assertion was flatly contradicted by Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s former interim prime minister who was handpicked for the job by the U.S. Allawi told the BBC, “We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this isn’t civil war, then God knows what civil war is.”

The reality is that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is causing daily deprivation and humiliation for ordinary Iraqis–with the threat of civil war looming in the background.

“It’s a painful anniversary,” Baghdad resident Munthir Rasheed told the Associated Press. “We were expecting that Iraq would get better. But it is completely in reverse. Iraq has passed through three years which are the worst in its history.”

Even the Washington Post’s David Ignatius–an apologist for the occupation who last week claimed in a column that the U.S. military was finally getting it right in Iraq–admits that the country “is still a mess.” “Traveling over Baghdad by Black Hawk helicopter,” Ignatius wrote, “you can see piles of fetid trash on nearly every block and pools of raw sewage glinting in the sun. Car bombs and roadside explosions are still a daily feature of life, and the death toll remains horrific, especially for Iraqi civilians.”

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats are both calling for a withdrawal–or, more accurately, “redeployment”–of some U.S. troops. But this won’t necessarily slow the bloodshed in Iraq.

On the contrary, a phased withdrawal on Washington’s terms goes hand in hand with a plan to escalate air attacks–and according to a Knight Ridder report, Iraqis are already suffering the consequences of stepped-up bombing runs.

“Residents worry that their homes will be bombed at any time,” said Hussein Ali Jaafar, who owns a stationery shop in the town of Balad, north of Baghdad, targeted by bombs or missiles at least 27 times between October 2005 and February 2006.

According to Knight Ridder, over the past five months, U.S, forces have increased daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches by more than 50 percent–with the U.S. dropping bombs on 22 Iraqi cities from October to February.

“The residents now…hate the American occupiers who demolished their houses with bombs and killed their families,” Osama Jadaan al Dulaimi, a tribal leader in the western town of Karabilah, told Knight Ridder. “[N]ow the people of Karabilah want to join the resistance against the Americans for what they did.”

Bombing from the air rather than having troops on the ground won’t end the horror of occupation that’s being inflicted each day on Iraqis. The U.S. needs to get out of Iraq–completely and immediately.

Marines investigate war crimes

A DOZEN Marines are under investigation for war crimes stemming from a November incident in which 15 Iraqi civilians–among them, four women and five children–and eight so-called “insurgents” were killed.

Following a November 19 bomb attack in which a Marine was killed on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in Haditha, Marines reportedly opened fire. The casualties came during the five-hour gun battle that followed.

A day after the attack, a Marine press released announced that “15 Iraqi civilians were killed…from the blast of a roadside bomb,” and that eight insurgents were killed in the gun fight that followed.

Since then, it has come to light that the civilian deaths resulted as Marines pursued “insurgents” from house to house–with civilians inside apparently caught in the crossfire.

But justice will be hard to come by for the families of Iraqis killed by U.S. forces. The only reason the military has been forced to investigate is because a reporter raised allegations of the Marines’ wrongdoing. And even if the Marines are found to have “accidentally” killed civilians, they will likely not be punished.

After all, this isn’t the first time that U.S. forces have been accused of killing unarmed civilians in Iraq, as a Knight Ridder report recently underscored. “During the siege of the insurgent stronghold of Falluja in November 2004, a television cameraman recorded a Marine shooting and killing an unarmed Iraqi who’d been wounded during the fierce fighting,” reads the account. “The Marine was later cleared of any wrongdoing.”


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