Iraq - A Series of Unfortunate Events


I visited Baghdad as a reporter a few years before the US invasion. There were posters and statues of the ousted President Saddam Hussein everywhere. But not one checkpoint. 

Those lucky enough, or maybe unfortunate enough to report from the occupied Iraqi capital after March 2003, must have noticed how things have changed. It seems as if for every torn poster or knocked-down statue, there should be a checkpoint erected and manned by frightened or angry US troops ready to open fire without warning. 

And they often do, killing entire families on the spot under various pretexts: "The car was speeding", "the driver wouldn't respond to various signals," "the passengers acted suspiciously," and so forth. 

A Newsweek photo gallery, recently posted at MSNBC.com and titled "Suddenly Orphaned", brings to life one of the tragically frequent "incidents" experienced by Iraqi civilians at the hands of occupation troops. A "speeding" car was acting "suspiciously" in the Iraqi town of Tal Afar. The driver was "ordered" to stop, yet "failed" to do so, despite clear "hand signals", and "warning shots". 

The well trained soldiers "had no other choice" but to open fire, killing a mother and father of six. Soldiers quickly "assessed" the situation, dragging six little blood-spattered kids out of the car, forced them to their knees before the US troops, whose feet, were also splattered with the Iraqi civilian blood. 

The tragedy was anything but rare. It just happened that photographer Chris Hondros was there to witness it and to relay it to us. The Newsweek photo gallery however, assured us that the wounded children were carried compassionately to a nearby hospital and that the "army had immediately ordered an investigation," which became the end in itself. 

Of course, we have every right to question the army's account in every reported "incident." After all, the war itself was the accumulation of a remarkable edifice of lies, devised by a group of unabashed politicians, army brass and media pundits. They've all warned us from the start, that "psychological warfare" was about to unwind - a way of justifying - in advance - the web of deceit that would soon follow. 

But while the clique of administration officials running the show from Washington is cunning and resourceful in its ongoing parade of lies, the ill-devised and clich-like justifications for their many blunders show that military men are yet to master the craft. 

How can they possibly expect us to believe that the killings of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians at the hands of the US military were a series of unfortunate events? That the shoot-to-kill policy still being used against independent and unembedded journalists was an inadvertent outcome of beleaguered troops mistaking a journalist's binoculars for antiaircraft guns and the outsized Palestine Hotel - where journalists were based in the early days of war - for an Iraqi Army installation? (Why does the word Don Quixote who fought windmills mistaking them for oppressive giants come to mind?) 

The US Army has absolved its troops - save a few who callously photographed themselves torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib - from any wrongdoing. The message was: Do with Iraqis what you must; just don't leave any indicting evidence behind. 

Iraq's series of unfortunate events, especially at US military-manned checkpoints continue unabated. One such episode that recently got its fair share of media coverage was the killing of an Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari on May 4. Calipari gave his life to save the recently freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena. 

Sgrena was taken hostage by a group of Iraqi militants who demanded an immediate withdrawal of the 3000 strong Italian troops from their country. While the demand itself is legitimate, the method used to achieve it was callous and cowardly, threatening the life of one very courageous anti-occupation journalist who worked for the Italian daily, Il Manifesto. 

Sgrena and others, who chose to narrate the war from the mouths of Iraqi civilians, were a thorn on the side of the US administration. She interviewed women prisoners released from Abu Ghraib and visited Fallujah, the defiant city of 300,000 completely destroyed by the US Army. The details she conveyed were harrowing, to say the least. 

When the 56-year-old journalist was released, her close encounter with death was anything but over. Agent Calipari hurriedly escorted her to the Baghdad airport, only to be "ambushed" along the way by US troops who showered their car with 300-400 bullets, according to news reports. The results were deadly. Calipari was instantly killed as he dove on top of Sgrena to shield her. Sgrena was also wounded. 

According to Pier Scolari, Sgrena's companion: "The Americans and Italians knew about (her) coming. They were 700 meters (yards) from the airport, which means that they had passed all checkpoints. Giuliana had information, and the US military didn't want her to survive." 

Segrena, who insisted that the car was not speeding, that there were no checkpoints, no hand signals, not even warning shots, supported Scolari's statement. "I remember only fire," she wrote from Rome's Celio military hospital. "At that point a rain of fire and bullets came at us, forever silencing the happy voices from a few minutes earlier." 

But the relationship between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and George W. Bush is just too "special" to be compromised by another "unfortunate" event and the life of some unknown "although courageous " officer. 

The US military responded once again, claiming that they "had immediately ordered an investigation." The US administration also offered its customary response, dismissing the allegations of intentional murder as conspiratorial nonsense. 

The US mainstream media reported on the story, failing not to unreservedly mention that Sgrena was a "self-identified communist" working for a communist newspaper. The subtly implied notion was that Giuliana Sgrena is an ideological nutcase and was not to be trusted. 

Strangest of all was the Italian government's response, offered by Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri. He told ANSA, Italy's news agency: "The military mission must carry on because it consolidates democracy and liberty in Iraq." Considering that the majority of Italians oppose the war, Gasparri apparently values democracy in Iraq over democracy in his own Italy. 

In the end, one can only offer condolences and a simple thank you to Il Manifesto, to Sgrena and the Italian people, who are still chanting for "peace" despite their government's brutal drive for war. As for Calipari - designated a "martyr", and rightfully so by his people - audacity has a price, and he paid it willingly. 

For the tens of thousands of Iraqi victims, justice shall be delivered one day. But for this sorrowful case, justice will likely slip away, as it has in many others. "Collateral damage" - as America's wars have profusely taught us - is a reality of war, and in war, nothing is guaranteed, human rights, human dignity and certainly not human decency.

 

Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist. A regular columnist in many English and Arabic publications, he is editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and program producer at Aljazeera Satellite Television.

He is also the editor of the anthology: "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion."

To buy "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion" CLICK HERE


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  9 Comments   Comment

  1. Amin21 from USA

    While this article would have you believe that US soldier are trigger happy terrorists, nothing could be farther from the truth. Unlike the kafir head chopping murderous munafiq insurgency the US soldiers are quite moral and upstanding. They do their best in the situation they are in, which is a very difficult one.

    They don't sit at home on their couches in cushy jobs and complain about people in situations they don't understand...

    I love how many ba'athist types like to redefine terrorism as any thing other that purposeful murder of clearly innocent noncombatants for political gain.

    key word is purposeful.

    In Islam someone who kills and innocent accidently is not held to the same standard as someone who kills purposely. Clearly if someone kills innocents accidently thinking mistakenly that they are not innocents before doing it, than they are not held to the same justice or the same level of wrong as the evil man who just wants to spill some blood...

    and their muth of "state sponsored terrorism" which they are incapable of defining.

    in closing the article and its fans need to think for themselves what they would do if they were in a convoy, and had hundreds of cars pulling over, and just one in the whole day bearing down on them on the medium or that stays in the middle of the road... they need to ask what they would do in this situation in Iraq when it is a daily occurance and standard tactic several times a day to try to use just such a vehicle to attack with a massive munafiq suicide bombs (suicide bombs are munafiq because they don't give the attacker even the chance of life, a Muslim who is martyred puts his life in Allah's hands... but a suicide bomber commits the sin of suicide and human sacrifice two things Allah detests)

  2. Amin21 from USA

    An Sha Allah

    none of you never have to know what it is like to have worry about some brash idiot speeding down on you and knowing that there is a 50/50 chance that whoever is in the car... (whom you can not see) has it so laid down with explosives that it will either kill or maim everyone within 50 ft of it should it go off...

    these are accidents...

    and the Iraqis know the real situation.

    When we (US forces) go down the road...

    the people get on the side as if for an ambulance...

    but also with the real knowledge that if they don't, and if they don't follow our hand signals...

    Then we will mistake them for car bombs...

    Those who do not follow these rules that they know well... are brash and stubborn... and they know they are endangering themselves when they do these things...

    This is a war...

    and it is actually much more civil...

    and kind to civilians than any war of its scale in all history....

    If you think it isn't...

    then learn to read...

    and learn to be comparative...

    this pretending to side with the pacifist camp for the benefit of criticizing the US isn't going to cut it...

    We are Muslims.

    We do not believe and sitting and watching while injustice is done

    like cowardly pacifists do...

    So why do we pretend that we agree with them when it comes to the US...

    it is being a hypocrite to do so.

  3. H.A. from Yathrib

    Bush and his cronies are WAR CRIMINALS...no butts or ifs...they should be taken to Hague ...

  4. mohamed zubair ali from IND

    yes the spoiling the whole country and our fellow brothers in name of war against terrorism .. its a vicious terroragainst the whole ,muumines..

  5. Ahmed from UK

    Irv, we all know you dont give a rats behind about Saddam's victims, to you they are just a talking point. Tell me dear fellow, why did you support Saddam throughout his worst years when he committed those atrocities ?

    The US has killed far more Iraqis in the last 14 years than Saddam ever did, so I guess death at the hands of Americans is ok. As for your "servicemen" in Iraq, they are invaders, torturers, liars, thugs and gangsters. ...

  6. Hudd from Canada

    Irv, bully for you! You are the man! People like you keep alive the deplorable reality of an American idiot! Advocates for the quixotic plans for "peace" in the Middle East projected by the US government in their politics is derisive to any logical attemt of understanding the nature of this contemporary tenure. But you and people like you, whole-heartedly follow blindly your blind guides straight to the intellectual vacuum. By all means, your thoughts are intimating your livid xenophobia and your exquisitely madcap patriotism. Yeah, typical of a red-neck sort of guy and as we all know it's very difficult next to impossible to reason with one. Thus my answer is not exactly directed to you. It would be futile from my side to even dream to that you would catch a whiff of my drift. However, I can't let your statements go without thowing in my hat, they are too imbecilic not to notice! You said, "I suppose you think the mass graves of hundreds of thousands of Saddam's victims are preferable." Preferable to what, Irv, to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed by Americans? Well, what do you think, Irv? When Sadam did it, it was a domestic matter, when US does it, it's a foreign matter, savvy? What would you tolerate easier, Oklahomah bombing by McVeigh or by bin Ladin? Next,"I also suppose you think that American servicemen should not protect themselves from car bombs." Oh, yeah, protect themselves in the USA, get out of Iraq and you don't need to worry about road-side bombings. Good thought, Irv, it describes yourself and your kind,"Disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, illogical, and hypocritical article!" Oh, this is a good one,"Can you name another military force in the world,bla,bla,bla,you cannot, because there isn't one." God! You are ignorant! Let me refresh your failing memory, The massacre of the Native Americans, The Black slavery, The Nuking of the Japanese, the chemical genocides in the Indochina, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc., the killings in Meso-Americas.

  7. Irv from USA

    I suppose you think the mass graves of hundreds of thousands of Saddam's victims are preferable. I also suppose you think that American servicemen should not protect themselves from car bombs. Disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, illogical, and hypocritical article!

    Can you name another military force in the world - no, make that in the entire history of the world - that has carried out the admittedly unfortunate and grisly duties and business of war in a more compassionate and humane way than has the armed forces of the United States of America? Or can you name another country in the history of the world that has never kept a single square kilometer of territory it has conquered in the history of all its wars, but has always returned all of it to the people of the conquered nation? No, you cannot, because there isn't one.

    Complain all you want about the validity of the war in Iraq, about the concept of the Bush doctrine, about the lack of WMDs, but to castigate the character, integrity and motives of the US servicemen and women serving in Iraq is preposterous. I suppose you think Saddam's Republican Guard were more humane. And so are the murderous terrorist car bombers, right? ..

  8. yasmine from usa

    The world said no war on Iraq,but the administration and some allies took the matter in their hands. US soldiers should be ashame of their acts. Are they liberiting the Iraqis or killing them?

    God have mercy on those who kills innocent people.

    God is with those who do good deeds.

  9. Zakaria Abdul Kadir from Singapore

    They are doing this with the consent of fellow

    muslims in the Arab countries bordering Iraq.