BAGHDAD -- It was 10:30 on
a sweltering night when 12-year-old Mohammed al-Kubaisi climbed the
concrete steps leading to his family's rooftop. The boy held two blankets
so that he and his twin brother, Moustafa, could curl up together on
the roof for the night, one of their favorite summer habits.
Mohammed had just reached
the top when he turned to watch the military maneuvers on the street
below: American soldiers were patrolling with rifles. One soldier looked
up in the darkness and saw a figure on the roof, watching him.
A single bullet exploded into
Mohammed's mother recalled
dragging her son inside and screaming as she held him, his blood pouring
onto the floor. She said Mohammed was struggling to breathe when a
group of US soldiers slammed through the front door and pushed her
aside as they searched the house.
''There were two patrols walking
from different directions,'' Wafa Abdul Latif, 44, said in her living
room, clutching a large, framed portrait of Mohammed. ''One patrol
group thought the shot had come from inside the house.''
The second group had burst
in after hearing the shot aimed at Mohammed, figuring a weapon had
been fired from the home.
The death of one boy on June
26 is an almost-forgotten story as US forces continue to face deadly
attacks by armed insurgents. But Iraqis say the regularity of deaths
among their own has hardened people's feelings regarding the American
In numerous interviews, Iraqis
said that more than factors like unemployment, fuel shortages, or electricity
blackouts, civilian casualties since the war's end have raised the
level of bitterness against US soldiers and could prolong or widen
''It has increased our hate
against Americans,'' said Ali Hatem, 23, a computer science student
at the University of Baghdad. ''It also increases the violence against
them. In Iraq, we are tribal people. When someone loses their son,
they want revenge.''
Neither Iraqis nor American
forces keep statistics for dead civilians like Mohammed, whose shooting
the US military calls a tragic accident. At least three Iraqis were
killed in western Baghdad's elegant Mansour district on July 27, when
US soldiers from Task Force 20 opened fire on cars that overshot a
military cordon. The drivers apparently had missed the cordon when
they turned into the area from an unblocked side street.
In late April, soldiers from
the 82d Airborne Division shot dead 13 Iraqis when they opened fire
on protesters in the town of Fallujah, about 50 miles west of Baghdad.
Soldiers fired on another demonstration on June 18 at the gates of
the Republican Palace in Baghdad, killing at least two people. In both
those cases, US forces said they believed they were being fired upon
by armed insurgents hidden in the crowd.
US officials have expressed
regret that innocent people have been caught in the crossfire of the
''I'm working very hard to
ensure that with our tactics we aren't alienating the Iraqi people,''
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US forces in Iraq,
said Thursday. When asked whether officers had apologized to the families
of five Iraqis killed during a botched raid in Mansour on July 27,
Sanchez said, ''Apologies are not something that we have as a normal
procedure in the military processes.''
The US military generally
refuses to provide compensation to survivors of Iraqis killed in the
crossfire or through misunderstandings, whether at military checkpoints
or during patrols. Such cases are regarded as occurring during combat
and thus are ineligible for compensation under US military laws enacted
during World War II.
''Our soldiers are conducting
combat operations,'' said Colonel Marc Warren, the senior US military
lawyer in Iraq. ''We are still engaged in combat operations.''
But the military has launched
an internal investigation into Mohammed's death ''because it involved
a 12-year-old boy,'' Warren said yesterday.
Some of those mourning their
relatives say they feel pained that US soldiers have not offered compensation
or apologies. Compensation, usually in the form of money, is an Iraqi
tradition when a killing occurs. Among several Iraqi tribes, a retaliatory
killing is expected.
''No Americans have visited
us to speak about what happened,'' said Moustafa Ahmed, 28, who says
his 24-year-old brother, Uday Ahmed, was shot by a soldier from the
82d Airborne Division. ''And we don't feel we can go speak to them.''
His brother was killed July 9.
Uday had been fixing a neighbor's
car to earn money. He walked a few blocks from his house in the southwest
Baghdad district of Saidiya to an auto repair yard to look for a spare
part. Walking across the yard, he held the car's ignition distributor,
a metal object about the size and shape of a hand grenade.
He was clearly visible from
the roof of the Dorah Police Station that abuts the repair yard. There,
82d Airborne soldiers are posted behind sandbags, rifles at the ready.
From atop the roof, a soldier
spotted Uday Ahmed and fired. Details of what happened came from several
witnesses in the yard who were interviewed Thursday.
''I heard the bang of a rifle
shot and swung around,'' said Ali Hassan, 40, who runs an outdoor falafel
stand about 20 feet from where Uday stood. ''This man was holding a
car part. He doubled over bleeding and then glanced up.
''At that moment, a second
shot came from the roof of the police station,'' he said. ''It hit
him, and he dropped. There was blood everywhere.''
The soldiers posted at the
Dorah Police Station would not comment on Uday Ahmed's death and referred
a reporter to the division's base two blocks away. Commanders there
declined to discuss the case. In the case of 12-year-old Mohammed,
soldiers visited the family to apologize.
''They asked us what compensation
we wanted,'' Latif, his mother, said. ''My husband was incensed. He
said he wanted 10 of their men to die in exchange.''
The couple say the visitors
told them a soldier had been arrested for their son's death. A military
spokesman, Colonel Guy Shields, denied that. Colonel Warren said the
soldier who shot Mohammed was from the 82d Airborne.
Family members insist the
boy's death was not an accident. They say Mohammed could have been
saved that night, if it had not been for the unyielding soldiers at
a checkpoint in the Hay al-Jihad district in south Baghdad. ''I tried
to rush him to the hospital in my car,'' said a neighbor, 17-year-old
Yaser Ala'. ''They stopped us at the checkpoint because it was nearly
Ala' drove back to the house,
where Mohammed bled to death in the car. They left the boy there until
the curfew lifted at dawn, then drove to the hospital to confirm his
Details of Mohammed's death
were cited in a report released July 23 by Amnesty International. The
London-based organization said its researchers in Iraq had determined
that US forces were at times trigger-happy and were ill prepared for
Unable to accept the death
of his identical twin, Moustafa al-Kubaisi recently moved to his aunt's
house, saying he could not bear being at home. In late July, he pooled
his savings of 10,000 dinars, about $8, and bought a bicycle as a tribute
for his dead brother.