Al-Qaim II Snipers’ Indiscriminate Killings: Testimonies of Civilian Casualties
While we were writing this report , Dr .H Al-Aaloossy , the director of Al-Qaim General Hospital sent a call for help (June 20,2005) to the international community asking for lifting the military siege imposed by the American and British troops on Al-Qaim and the neighboring areas, and to let the ambulances evacuate the wounded. He also called upon these troops to stop the blood bath, and to let water, electricity, and medical help reach the civilians. He said that tens of families are buried under the rubbles and no medical help can reach them. He confirmed that the majority of the casualties were civilians, women and children
The stories we heard in Al-Qaim General Hospital (see part I) give part of the picture. Al-Qaim is becoming a town of death. Before the current attack, the American snipers were the major problem. Almost all the casualties we heard of, or saw were shot by snipers who occupy houses after arresting the whole family in one room, or simply evacuate it.
But the main and the most dangerous place is the customs building. Al-Qaim is a border town, and the customs building looks on the main street. It is occupied by the American troops who shot civilians in that street where the market place and the clinics compound are. Many shop owners, civilians, women and children were killed by these snipers’ bullets.
Shokor was the only son of a poor widow, and a brother of two young sisters. He has just turned 20 and was newly married. His wife Sarah, 16, is one month pregnant. He was a worker in a shoes shop for $50 a month. His father was killed in the Iraqi-Iranian war in the eighties. He had to leave school at the fifth grade to help his mother supporting the family. The family actually lived on charities and small businesses, selling candies, cleaning…etc.
On May 21, 2005, at 5 in the afternoon he went to the market. He was shot by snipers in his chest and died immediately; the shot was in the heart.
Subhi, Shokor’s uncle and father in law explains what happened: “at 5.45 six bullets were shot from the customs building, five people were injured and Shokor was killed. He was walking, eating nuts with his friends, not armed.”
-Who shot them?”
-” The American. They occupied the whole area: the court, the Bank, the fuel station, the shops…every thing. Any one walks on that way is shot”
-”This is the question: why? He is not a mojahid, not a fundamentalist, his mother prevents him, he is her only son, she is crazy about his safety. But this happens daily, to every one not only Shokor, just now a young man is shot, he is in the hospital (Referring to Qusai we mentioned in part I), we want to know why the American are killing people who do not threaten them. They (the American) are controlling and surrounding the whole area, so why killing civilians, and old women…The shop owners can not open, if they do, they must not put their heads out …
-how long this has been going on?
-”since they occupied the fuel station less than two months ago. Since then they destroyed the agriculture building, the bank, the court, and the shops near the court. It seems that they were attacked from a place behind the station. They exploded the building
-the buildings were not air bombed?
– No, they were exploded from inside. Our problem is that there is no media to cover these crimes. If you cross the river, go to Rabot village, you can see the three families which were killed yesterday at 3 am. Where is the media! One missile in Rabot village made a hole of 20 meters in the ground. Houses are flattened to the ground. Go to Karabla village, and see the houses and the families who were bombed. If they are after terrorists, why they bomb houses. This is our problem. They want to destroy us. If they are after Zarqawi, as they say, why do not they catch him? They are one thousands every where, apart from the National Guards. Al-Qaim would not take five minutes to be surrounded and controlled. Why they killed the Anbar governor!. They know that he was kidnapped and they know where he was kept near Rawa, why did they bomb the area and kill him?”
The military campaign on Al-Qaim is going on for two months now. The people say that the American troops had a very bad hit, that they gave many casualties, that is why a new wave of attacks was expected, which came true soon.( On June 17 the second attack began, the American news say that 9 big bombs were dropped on the town, that tens were killed on that day. On June 20 Dr.Hamdi , the director of Al-Qaim General hospital, sent a message through media calling upon the American and British troops to stop the blood bath and he called upon the international and humanitarian organizations to do what ever they can to help the civilians who are buried under the rubbles, to let ambulances move, especially in Karabla village, 5 kilometers east of Al-Qaim. He confirmed again that the majority of the dead and wounded were civilians). The campaign means that they besiege the town, bomb it, occupy many houses and buildings, and kill any moving thing. Daham, a citizen from Al-Qaim said that “they occupied no less than 100 houses for 2-3 days each and then retreat, and use the roofs to shot near by houses. They arrest people collectively. There are hundreds of them in Al-Qaim. When they raid a house and find some gusts they arrest them. This is again another big problem, because this town is actually a center of a very large area, people come from far villages to see doctors or finish business; they stay in their relatives’ houses. When many men meet in a house, it is raided and they are arrested for suspicion of being terrorists. After the attack on the neighboring villages many families seek refuge in Al-Qaim, again they are suspected. In Shokor’s house there were 4 families”.
It is a policy of intimidation and humiliation. The people are not safe in their houses, in the street, in their cars, in the hospital…They do not argue about arresting or killing fighters, because it is the fighter’s choice to fight. The argument is only about the civilians. A girl of 11, Sahar Diyab, was injured and taken by the American, supposedly to be treated. She was never found. Her family is looking for 3 months everywhere. In Rabot village, men of 3 families were arrested, 12 or 13 of them.
Rabot is a village of about one thousands, now no more than few tens remain because of the bombing and raids. It is located between the Euphrates and the mountains, the American say that the mojahideen hide in it, also in Karabla.
Trying to document the destruction…
We tried to get some photos of the demolished public buildings, when a white car drove beside us
– what are you doing? a young man who was driving asked
– getting some shots of the street
-stop the car!!
-just stop the car, I tell you…he was very serious. we stopped
-give me the camera
-no, why should I?
-then you have to come with me, follow me!!
-no, we are not. Where do you want to take us? Who are you?
-just follow me or give me the camera
-Does any one in Al-Qaim know you?
-of course, many
-then take me to one of them.
We did, and after our friend form Al-Qaim confirmed to the young man that he knew us very well, and that we were good, he apologized
-you have to understand that we lost too many people here, we can not tolerate strangers taking pictures, and what were you doing there anyway?
-we wanted some pictures of the court and the bank
-Do not. You were too near to the customs building, and do me a favor: leave Al-Qaim as soon as possible!!
We could not. We had to meet a family whose mother was killed by snipers. She was visiting the private clinic of Dr. Ali Al-Ani around 6pm on May 20, 2005, accompanied by her son, her daughter in law, and her grand son. The car was shot very heavily, the mother, Wadha Jasim Hassan, 53, was killed the three others were injured. The car was burnt.
Rain of Ambers
An eye witness of the crime described what happened “We were waiting for our turn in the clinic. Few minutes after the family left, we heard the shooting. We tried to go out to see what was going on but the shooting was too heavy, like a rain of ambers. I saw Abu Omar (the son) and his mother in the front seat. Waddhah, 2, was in the back seat, the daughter was still in the clinic, she tried to go out, and she got a bullet in her head. Abu Omar was injured and he was bleeding .He opened the door next to his mother and pushed her out, she was bleeding. He threw him self out of the car and was shouting at Waddhah. The shooting continued on Abu Omar and the mother, both were on the ground outside the car. Dr Ali and two of us tried to reach him, but it was impossible. Abu Omar crawled until he was about a meter from the clinic; we managed to pull him inside. His mother was still lying beside the car, bleeding. The kid began to run towards us, he was shot and fell to the ground. The car began to leak; we shouted at the mother to crawl, she tried. She actually crawled for few meters, but the shooting continued on her until she was dead. The car began to burn “.
-Was there fighting? Was it random shooting? Why the family car was targeted?
– We do not know. There was nothing, no fighting; otherwise we could not go there. Another car, KIA Sportage, was also shot and burnt. There were two children in, one 6 the other 14; he was injured too in the thigh.
The death certificate of the mother says that the cause of death was a “piercing shot in the abdomen and the stomach. The spleen, the small intestine, and the diaphragm were torn”
Abu Omar got two bad shots in his left shoulder and right thigh. He was still in the hospital in Baghdad. His wife had shrapnel in her head, she needs a sensitive operation. The child lost two of his left hand fingers, and was injured in his intestine. He had an operation and his condition is stable now.
Zarqawi had Dinner at Aftan’s
During our visits to the casualties, asking them why they were targeted, we heard the same joke: Zarqawi was there, and a reply came quickly, “No, Zarqawi was having dinner with Aftan”. We were very curios to know who this Aftan was until a young man volunteered to show us the house. It was no more than a heap of rubbles.
Aftan was an old ill man. On May 26, 2005 at 2 am, his house, which is located on the way to the customs building, was raided by huge forces with airplanes and armored vehicles. Many troops invaded the house, arrested Aftan and his four sons, searched the house, and broke everything. After they left, they blasted the house to the degree that not a single wall was still there. The 5 men are still in jail, the women are staying with relatives.………
The problem is that after they finished with Aftan’s house, they raided the next neighbors asking what they knew about Aftan. Again they searched the house, found nothing interesting except a locked safe. The owner of the house, who had the key, was sleeping in his second wife house in the same street. They did not wait for the key and blasted the safe. They found nothing in it except 25.000 ID ($17) and the family personal documents. They took them and arrested the only boy in the house, Hussein, who was diabetic. Two days later he was released.
“They asked me what did I know about our neighbors, and I told them. I was beaten; I did not get my medicine, eyes and hands … cuffed no food, hot water, bad treatment…two days later I collapsed.
I was vomiting and fainted. They threw me on the way to the paved road. They told me to run and began shooting at me. I ran as fast as I could until I fell near the car road. A pick up took me some time later, I found myself in Rawa hospital”.
“I wish he was killed fighting them”
When Lo’ai, 30, finished his study in the engineering college and could not find job, he worked as a taxi driver on Al-Qaim-Baghdad highway. On Nov 27, 2004, he was driving on the way between Falloja-Ramadi taking his mother in law to the cancer hospital in Baghdad and two other passengers. The car was shot by the American troops, every body was killed and the car was set on fire, as usual, to hide the evidence.
Lo’ai was the only supporter of a very big family. Apart from his wife and three children, the oldest of whom is 8, he was looking after 15 of brothers, sisters, mother and a handicapped father (a retired employee in agriculture) and a mentally retarded brother.
The father was crying bitterly “I know my son, he was very intelligent and committed. If the road was closed, he would have known and stopped. They assassinated him” But the mother was proud “I consider him a martyr, he is my honor. I am only sorry that he was not killed holding his gun fighting them”
They apologized and suggested help!
Bahjat … was taking his sons’ bride, her mother and sister to a lunch invitation in Al-Qaim at 12 am on March 26, 2005. There was an American check point. He stopped. Few minutes later the shooting began. The bride, whose wedding was few days ago, who was sitting in the front seat beside her father in law, got a bullet in her head and died immediately. Bahjat, who was driving got a bullet in his eye. After the attack an American officer came to the family, apologized for the (mistake) and offered help treating the old man’s eye.
Bahjat refused his offer and rejected his apology. He had already three operations in his eye and was getting well.
Salah Shaban Askar, a blind man in his fifties, and his son Omar, 14, were going back home from the mosque after evening prayer on Sept23,2004 when they were shot in the head and chest 200 meters away from their house. There was no shooting, no fighting, actually there was a crowd leaving the mosque. No one was allowed to approach them, according to a civil defence officer (A.J.) who tried to attend and evacuate them. He was shot at.
The next two days, the American troops visited the family during the funeral. They apologized for the (mistake) and told the family to present a claim and ask for compensation. They also arrested some people who were attending the funeral. The family did present a file in two languages explaining everything and asking for compensation, with all the police, the hospital, and witnesses testimonies and documents. They waited for months, there was no reply. Then a friend brought them their file saying that he found it in the Civil Defense garbage.
Salah who lost his eye in 1991 war, left 6 young daughters, one of them is Mongolian. The family is living on charities now, the widow is trying to get her husband’s pension but it is difficult to leave Al-Qaim because of the whole situation and because the transportations are too costly”
“The problem is that there is no authority to go to and ask help” says Qahtan A. Askar, Salah’s nephew and son in law. “The court, the police station, the committee, even the mosque…all is destroyed”. In the mosque there is a relief fund. The family presented the file to get some help. The mosque was raided, destroyed, and the fund was stolen.
Mustapha was lucky
Mustapha, 12, lives in the railway station. On April28, 2005 he was going to see his friend when he got shot by an American sniper. The shot tore his back and abdomen. But he was lucky; the shot was very close to his back bone but did not injure it, neither his intestine nor stomach. He had an operation immediately and is getting well.
Alaa’ survived by a miracle
Not a single centimeter of Alaa’ Khalid’s body was free of shrapnel. She is 3 years old; her family did not believe that she could survive. Alaa’ is one of a family of 14. The men, two brothers, work as carpenters in Rawa (one hour to the east of Al-Qaim). On May 3, 2005 they returned home to find everybody, the entire family, killed or injured. A grenade was dropped on the house. There were 4 women and 10 children. Alaa’s mother, Zeinab, lost her eye. Two other women’s legs were broken. 5 of the children were killed and buried in that day. Alaa’ was thought to be dead too, she was no more than a paste flesh and blood, but she survived. She had shrapnel in her eyes, and need an immediate operation that can not be done in Iraq. She had many holes in her intestine. Now she does not look well, she is suffering the pains of too many shrapnel in her skin and different parts of her body. She can not eat properly, and neither can she walk. Her legs are getting weaker.
Suad is not getting any pension
Suad Abbass Kadhum, 40, the widow of Hamid Abdul Majeed the train station employee who was killed in the market on Dec 28, 2004. He left 5 children; the oldest of them is 16, an intermediate school student.
Hamid had a herbs shop too. He was inside his shop when shooting began in the market. Hamid was curios, he went out to see what was going on. He was shot. He was not taken to the hospital until a long time later, when his friends in the market could move out. The medical death certificate says that he died of bleeding in the neck, chest and abdomen.
Suad’s problem now is how to get his pension, because his salary is cut after his death. She is doing the only thing she could do, sewing. Her family and her husband’s family are not in a better financial condition. It is also too dangerous for her to move outside Al-Qaim to work on getting a pension.
Dhafir: the wounded as Suspect
Dhafir, 25, student in the technical institute, was shot once by a sniper on August 20, 2004 in Si’da village. He was leaving home in the evening with two of his cousins. He was left for an hour bleeding, and then people of the area took him to the hospital. The doctor said that the nerve was cut; he has a dropping foot now. He does not feel it, even if it is burnt, which actually happened . The shot went into his thigh from the outside and emerged from the inside.
But he was luckier than his cousins who were both killed. Hamad, 60, was shot in the chest and the abdomen. He bled to death, and his only son, Mon’im, 19, was shot in the heart and died immediately. Hamad had 11 children, all girls. Now they are being taken care of by their uncles.
Dhafir’s problem does not end here. Now he can not go out, can not go to Baghdad to treat his injury for fear of being arrested. The American troops are now arresting injured young men because they suspect them as fighters. M.H. Jasim, Dhafir’s uncle was arrested 7 months ago in his house. He had an injury and the soldiers arrested him for that. He is still in Abu Greib.
What the Lawyers Say
Lawyer A.J. was a member of claims committee in Al-Qaim local council before it was recently dissolved. Since October 2004 he, alone, presented more than 100 claims to the American authorities in the town. His colleagues, other lawyers, work directly with the people, not necessarily through the council, they had more cases. Many other cases were not registered for different reasons: no court, no police station, no security, no feeling of trust that the Americans are serious about these cases, and a general feeling of despair and the absurdity of the whole situation. Some people however refuse to present their claims to the enemy.
Of these hundreds of cases, only three were compensated, according to lawyer A. They were trivial , like a case of confiscated blankets on the borders or a case of confiscated construction stones…No real cases of killing, injury, demolished houses, car or property damage were compensated.
What the American authorities are actually doing is bluffing the people. Last year an officer, Velasios or Belasios in Division 82 was appointed by these troops as responsible for receiving the casualties’ cases. He had an office to receive the people and the lawyers. He collected hundreds of the original documents of these cases, with photos and official reports. He used to read the case and decide which was good enough for compensation and which was not. He gets the addresses, supposedly to reply. All of a sudden this officer disappeared, and all the documents disappeared with him.
Another one called Captain Fetch never agreed to compensate any case. We got copies of about 40 replies from the American authorities, all are clichés of the same wording; the only change is the name of the complainant. The replies were in English, full of law jargon that no one can understand. All of them say “the claim is denied” no matter what it is. There is one sentence that says the complainant has the right to appeal in Ramadi or Baghdad, which of course is the worst part, because if the case is denied in the spot, how the appeal would work in a place that does not know anything about it. Some lawyers, however, did go to Baghdad to appeal, they were told that there is a responsible office in Al-Qaim for these cases and that they have to solve the cases there, because “we have nothing to do with it”, and that this office itself should present the appeal, which is illogical.
The cheating is obvious; at least they want to make it more difficult for the people so that they stop complaining.
“In my last meeting with the American officer” Lawyer A. says,” I asked him are you serious about the compensations”, he said “yes, and there are money allocated for these cases, but the problem is that you are bringing cases of terrorists”
-” I asked him about some cases, as the case of Malik, the mentally abnormal old man who was shot, and about Abid the crippled who was shot in front of his house, and about Abdul Qadir who was killed by a mortar grenade in his house, and his two sons who were killed in their father’s funeral inside the same house two days later”
– In such a situation, as a lawyer, what do you advise the people?
– I advise them to raise their voices, to tell the International and the humanitarian organizations about their violated rights. But the problem is the people are too tired and desperate of any possible change, and also the bombing, the curfew, the difficult situation in general.
“We know that the casualties are not terrorists”
-Why do you think the American are killing so many civilians? We asked A.
-” A prisoner in one of the American prisons asked a guard the same question, and the soldier replied: we know that they are not terrorists, because the terrorists who hit us do not stay in the same place. But we are doing this so that the civilians would not allow the terrorists to hit us” . The prisoner asked again” if you, the Americans with all your power and weapons are not stopping them, how do you think we could” and the reply was” that is why we keep on shooting so that the civilians prevent the terrorists from attacking us”
So it not mistake, not “collateral damage”, but a policy of terror and intimidation.
These testimonies are just few examples. There are hundreds more.
Sabah Ali June 20,2005.
To be continued…
Thanks to Dirk Adriaensens, BRussells Tribunal