" Universal Community of Friends - Bitterness grows in Iraq over deaths of civilians
Bitterness grows in Iraq over deaths of civilians

By Vivienne Walt, Globe Correspondent, 8/4/2003

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 the air.

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 occupation.

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 armed resistance.

''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 ongoing conflict.

''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 curfew time.''

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 death.

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 policing Iraq.

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.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/4/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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