|News and opinions on situation in Iraq|
|27/10/04||Civil claims provide glimpse into war's impact on Iraqi citizens By Russell Carollo, Larry Kaplow, Mike Wagner and Ken McCall|
10/27/04 “Dayton Daily News” — BAGHDAD, Iraq — Tahsin Ali Hussein al-Ruba'i knew that danger waited in the darkened streets, where American soldiers suspicious of every approaching vehicle lurked near poorly marked checkpoints.
The 32-year-old knew the danger because he made his living earning $3 to $4 a day driving his orange-and-white 1983 Volkswagen Passat in the streets of Baghdad. But on July 1, 2003, his infant daughter, Tabarek, had the flu, and he decided to risk driving to his in-laws so he could pick her up and take her to a hospital.
As his taxi neared the working-class Cairo Street neighborhood, American soldiers spread several Humvees across an eight-lane boulevard, preparing to stop oncoming vehicles. Fearing someone would be shot because the makeshift checkpoint had no signs, cones or lights, a man selling kabobs along the road 50 yards away started waving and yelling at unsuspecting motorists.
Al-Ruba'i apparently never got the warning.
Soldiers opened fire with rifles and mounted machine guns, riddling his taxi with bullet holes and killing him, witnesses said.
“They (the soldiers) were the reason for what happened. They didn't point to him and tell him to stop,” said the kabob vendor, Taha Mehdi al-Jabouri. “They treat us in a savage way.”
The family filed a civil claim asking for $2,500 from the American military, but the claim was denied.
The case is among 4,611 never-before-released civil claims from Iraq— hundreds alleging abuse and misconduct by American military personnel — on a computer database obtained by the Dayton Daily News through the federal Freedom of Information Act. The U.S. Army tort claims database is the most comprehensive public record released to date of alleged acts against Iraqi civilians by American forces, which do not otherwise systematically track civilian casualties.
The records provide a previously unseen portrait of the toll the war has had on civilians in Iraq, and the kinds of incidents described in the records have fueled the growing insurgency and hatred toward the American-led coalition.
About 78 percent of the claims are for incidents that occurred after President Bush declared major combat operations over on May 2, 2003.
“When we first got there, the Iraqis were glad to see us. I believe things changed because there was disrespect to the people,” said Elizabeth Wisdorf of Colorado Springs, Colo., who served for nearly a year in Iraq as a member of the Colorado National Guard's 220th
Military Police Company. “There were a lot of accidents, a lot of deaths.”
At least 16 death claims specifically identify 20 children as victims, most from bombings or shootings, and another 193 claims allege 171 sons or daughters were killed without providing an age.
Incidents such as these have turned many Iraqis, such as the family of Samir Shleman Chaman, against the American occupation. Chaman, a house painter, was killed when a tank crushed his car as he was returning from a painting job — one of at least 150 Iraqis allegedly killed or injured in encounters with military vehicles.
“Our point of view toward the Americans has changed. You can feel the fury inside you,” said Amir Shleman, Chaman's brother. “If they treated people like human beings, no one would take up weapons against them.”
Like other Iraqis, Shleman's grieving family became more outraged at how the military handled their claim for compensation.
Chaman was a husband and father of a 7-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. The day after he was killed, the family said, soldiers left $2,000 near the pillow of his widow — money the family was told was for funeral expenses.
When they filed a claim through an Iraqi attorney for compensation for the children, they encountered months of delays and confusion before finally receiving a letter on Sept. 7, 2004.
“The evidence does not prove that the death of your husband or damages to your vehicle were due to the negligent or wrongful acts of the United States Armed Forces,” the letter reads.
The claim was denied.
“I think it is despicable how we are treating the innocent people or their families after there is a tragedy,” said Ivan Medina of Middletown, N.Y., who served as an assistant chaplain for the Army's 10th engineer battalion in Iraq. “We do nothing for them after these terrible things happen. These are innocent people, not soldiers fighting a battle.”
Army Lt. Col. Charlotte Herring said the Army, which handles civil claims for all three services in Iraq, has given out $8.2 million since June 2003 and budgeted $10 million in fiscal year 2005 to help the Iraqi people deal with losses suffered because of the war. Considering the dangerous conditions in Iraq, she said, the system is “working famously.” She blamed some of the problems on the realities of war and predicted improvements as hostilities subside.
Through the claims system, “the local commander can try to keep good will and come and amend a somewhat tragic situation,” said Marine Reserve Capt. Sean Dunn, who worked as a platoon commander and supervised claims payments in Iraq. “You're also trying to keep the neighborhood from going nuts and attacking other people.”
Proving whether the claims were valid, he said, often was a difficult and time-consuming job.
“There were blatantly fraudulent claims,” he said. “As soon as they realized there was money being paid, they were beating down the door wanting money for all kinds of crazy things with no evidence whatsoever.”
Soldiers who served in Iraq said innocent civilians sometimes become victims because soldiers are forced to react to situations without knowing whether they will encounter a roadside bomb, an attacker dressed like a civilian or a motorist who steers into a convoy or absent-mindedly runs through a checkpoint.
Spc. Charles Bradford, 29, who went to elementary school in Dayton while his father was in the Air Force, earned a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound and survived two roadside bombs and eight rocket-propelled grenade attacks. He is regularly hit with stones when he rides the “gunning” position through the hatch of his Humvee. But he said he has fired his rifle only once since coming to Iraq in March.
“I give these people a chance regardless of the stuff I've been through,” he said. “Every day I go out of the (base), I pray I don't have to kill anyone.”
Spc. Grant Horn, 23, of Quakertown, Penn., was recently about 50 feet from a car bomb explosion that left him shaken and with cuts on his face. He has not fired at anyone, he said, but he knows that with the city's dangerous streets comes the possibility of wounding a civilian.
“You don't want to do it, but if it happened I would be glad I was alive,” he said. “It's better to be safe than sorry.”
Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, a Department of Defense consultant who once headed the strategy department at the National War College, said the fear, hatred and corresponding acts of violence are byproducts of lengthy occupations.
“It feeds on itself because people are angry,” said Gardiner, who was assigned to strategy and prisoner of war recovery from Thailand during the Vietnam War. “It frightens soldiers more. They feel less secure. They react more strongly, which creates more anger, which causes people to be more afraid, which (makes soldiers) pull the trigger faster.
“Once you start down this slippery slope, I don't know that anybody knows how to stop it.”
Claims in the Army database seek compensation for at least 437 Iraqi deaths and 468 injuries.
However, the actual number of casualties is unknown. The database recorded only a portion of the total deaths and injuries because not all alleged acts by American personnel resulted in claims. In addition, difficult conditions in parts of Iraq prevented up to 70 percent of the claims committees there from accessing the database, Herring said. She estimated that the Army has received as many as 18,000 claims in the last year alone.
Victims and their families filed claims for homes destroyed in bombings, confiscated property, and injuries and deaths from shootings and bombings, according to the database. In 29 cases, Iraqis claimed the military left so-called “unexploded ordnance” that later detonated, killing 14 and injuring 25 innocent people.
The victims in at least six Iraqi claims were allegedly hit by warning shots that went awry.
In an April 8, 2004, incident in Balad Ruz, a soldier fired a .50-caliber machine gun into the air to disperse a crowd of about 100 civilian demonstrators, according to an Army account of the incident. The soldier ducked to avoid being hit by rocks being thrown by the crowd, and the gun accidentally discharged twice, killing an 11-year-old boy named Mustafa Nadig, the account says.
“The U.S. soldier who shot the 11-year-old boy was seen by (a military officer) with his hands up in the air giving the three-fingered `hang loose/surfs up' sign as the soldier was driving away,” the Army records say.
“It appears probable that U.S. forces facilitated the death of a civilian boy,” the records say, adding that a $2,500 payment to the family was approved by a general.
In two other warning-shot cases, the victims were described as deaf.
Victims in at least two other cases were identified as bus passengers, one whose arm was amputated after a Marine allegedly fired “a warning shot” into the bus. The other, described in Army records as an “innocent passenger,” was killed after a soldier from the 194th Military Police Company fired into a bus.
The victim in a sixth claim was identified as a 13-year-old boy hit by a “ricochet bullet fired as a warning shot” that entered his thigh and fractured his femur. Army records say that the boy required a year to recover and that there were “some minor residual issues such as a slightly shorter leg.”
In a separate case, Army records show, a soldier from the 220th Military Police Brigade fired at the tires of a driver who was fleeing soldiers in Scania, “accidentally shooting the deceased in the chest, killing him,” according to Army records.
The soldier in that case was never prosecuted, an Army spokesman said.
Under Section 2 of Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17, which will remain in effect until the “last coalition element leaves Iraq,” coalition forces are immune from civil lawsuits and criminal charges. The immunity leaves Iraqis with a single option: filing for compensation under the Foreign Claims Act with the United States Armed Services, the same entity they are accusing of wrongdoing.
Other countries do not grant such immunity to American soldiers.
After Spc. Christopher McCarthy was convicted of killing bar hostess Kim Sung-hi in Korea in 2000, the victim's family not only got a $154,000 payment from the Army, but also received a civil judgment from the South Korean court.
“We just rounded up what we could and sent it (the money) over there,” McCarthy's mother, Susan McCarthy, recalled.
More than 1,000 claims involved vehicle accidents — by far the largest category of claims recorded in the database. At least 160 of those involved tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles, resulting in at least seven deaths and 16 injuries.
More than 400 claims involved destruction of crops, trees, livestock or water sources — property essential to the survival of Iraqi citizens.
A Daily News analysis of the roughly 4,600 claims in Iraq shows just one in four resulted in some type of payment. Of the 51,018 Army claims filed in other countries during that same period, one in two resulted in a payment.
Lt. Col. Herring, the chief of the U.S. Army's Foreign Torts Branch, said the database is incomplete. In fiscal year 2004 the Army paid 11,000 claims and denied 3,000, she said. Prior to this past June, however, the Army did not track how many claims were denied.
According to the database, the average payment for a death in Iraq was $3,421, less than 1/20th of the average payment for a claim filed anywhere else.
On May 12, 2003, an Iraqi man died when a tire fell from a U.S. Army vehicle in Tikrit, and his widow received $5,000, according to Army records. On April 24, 1999, in Bath County, Ky., a female motorist suffered neck and back injuries after a tire fell from a military vehicle, and she got $50,000, or 10 times what the Iraq widow received for losing her husband under nearly identical circumstances.
The Army paid $5,000 — the same amount given the Iraq widow — to a woman who got a staple stuck in her finger at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.
In addition to the formal claims system in Iraq, Iraqis were sometimes given $2,500 in so-called solatia or sympathy payments without any paperwork at all, said attorney Jack Bournazian, who held seminars to show Iraqi attorneys how to file civil claims.
The payments, military officials said, were frequently given out as a way of defusing animosity toward American forces and improving relations in a community.
Attorneys and representatives of human rights groups said the process used in Iraq to settle civil claims is subjective, left to the whim of individual commanders or claims officers who often make their decisions based on little investigation.
“People were told if you want to settle on the spot, we'll give you a certain amount of money,” said Gael Murphy, a board member of Occupation Watch, which collected information on incidents involving Iraqi civilians. “Otherwise, your claim has to go to Washington.”
The military does not pay claims for incidents deemed to be caused by “combat operations,” which could include checkpoint shootings and other incidents involving innocent civilians.
The military originally told the family of Mazen Nouradin, a husband and father of two young daughters, that he was shot while riding in a car with people firing on coalition forces.
Nouradin, a 36-year-old pharmaceutical salesman and veterinarian who had worked as a translator for U.S. forces, was shot dead June 28, 2003, as he waited for a ride to work in front of his home in a middle-class section of Baghdad, according to the family and records filed by an American attorney.
His father said he came out of the house immediately after hearing gunshots and found his son's body on the sidewalk.
“I saw the American soldiers standing around him,” he said. “I got sick and started to throw up.”
Witnesses said Nouradin was shot after the occupants in two cars began firing at a convoy of U.S. soldiers, who returned fire.
In later correspondence, the military, which eventually paid the family $2,500, dropped the allegation that Nouradin was in a car with gunmen, saying only that he was “killed during an exchange of gunfire between Iraqi civilians and members of the coalition forces.”
The military, however, still refused to pay additional damages, insisting the death was the result of “combat activities” and not subject to compensation.
In response to a man who claimed that his two brothers were killed and his parents injured on March 29, 2003, when coalition forces bombed the Al Tajiya area of Babel city, the military wrote: “Coalition forces dropped ordnance during Operation Iraqi Freedom on legitimate targets. Your family was in an area that was being legitimately targeted and therefore regrettably harmed.”
a price on it'
Like thousands of other civil claims, the description provided for claim number 04I1AT189 gives no indication of the impact to the victims or to the U.S.-led coalition's effort to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
The only description of the incident leading to Claim 04I1AT189, which asks for $25,000, reads: “U.S. forces confiscated a knife and Iraqi government dump truck,” a seemingly routine description of a routine claim — one of hundreds claiming property was seized or damaged.
The incident began with a noon raid on May 18, 2003, at the home of Najedh Abdel Sadeh al-Fatlawi, a 60-year-old retired hospital administrator and father of five sons and two daughters.
“They put the women in the front room,” he recalled during an interview at his home, adding that they put plastic handcuffs on him and four of his sons.
The soldiers refused his offer for keys to other rooms and cabinets, he said, and instead broke interior doors and closets.
In one cabinet, he said, they found an antique Arab dagger more than 100 years old with a handle of dark gray “very precious stone.” The dagger had belonged to al-Fatlawi's grandfather, who gave it to his father, who eventually gave it to al-Fatlawi, he said.
“When I was a child, it was always in our house,” he said. “You cannot put a price on it.”
A soldier put the dagger in a plastic bag and carried it away without providing a receipt, al-Fatlawi said. Along with the dagger, he said, soldiers seized two rifles and a licensed pistol, a government truck and about $172 in cash.
After the last of his four sons was released three weeks later, al-Fatawi said, he tried to file a complaint at the convention center in the heavily guarded Green Zone of Baghdad, which houses the headquarters for the American-led coalition. He said he was told to go to an Army base on the southern edge of the city, and later sent somewhere else.
“After one year, they had lost all my files,” he said.
Losing files is not uncommon in Iraq. Records from an Aug. 21, 2003, claim involving an automobile accident that killed one man and severely injured six others says that a military officer conducted an investigation but that the officer “lost the investigation.”
Iraqi attorney Mohammed al-Saadi said one base lost 60 claims files when offices were moved, and the Army asked all the families to resubmit the claims.
A July 1, 2004, letter al-Fatlawi has from Chief Warrant Officer Anton Streeter of the Foreign Claims Commission says, “Allow me to express my sympathy for the confiscation of your personal property.”
The letter offered $1,000.
“I thought they would change people again and lose my file again, so I took the $1,000,” said al-Fatlawi, adding he never saw the dagger again.
Two of his sons — one in high school and the other in college — failed their exams, in part because of the stress suffered from the raid and its aftermath, al-Fatlawi said, adding that he has suffered from hypertension since the raid. His son, who was responsible for watching the government-owned truck, might have to pay for it, he said.
“In the beginning, we thought they were liberators for the Iraqi people, and we were happy,” al-Fatlawi said. “We thought there would be justice in Iraq after 35 years of injustice.
“Now there is no justice. Nothing has changed except for the faces.”
Clash of cultures
If there is a place that most exemplifies the problems plaguing the American-led occupation, it is the traffic-control checkpoints. Often little more than a group of Humvees in the middle of a road, checkpoints are used to secure an area or conduct spot searches of cars.
In 114 claims, the incident was described as happening at a checkpoint. The claims allege 39 shootings that left 12 dead and 28 injured.
Human rights groups say checkpoints are safer since early in the war, but problems persist.
Between Nov. 12, 2003, and Jan. 1, 2004, five people were shot at checkpoints in Mosul — three of them during an 11-day period. Another claim in Mosul, occurring during the same period, alleges someone was “shot in the leg while driving by U.S. forces.”
Medina, the former assistant Army chaplain in Iraq, said many checkpoints were poorly marked and manned by soldiers who didn't understand the culture or have translators who could help them communicate with Iraqi citizens.
“Our soldiers would put their hands up as a sign to stop at the (checkpoints), but we didn't do our homework on how to deal with the Iraqi people,” he said. “To them, putting your hand up was a gesture or greeting, so they would just keep approaching the soldiers in their cars.
“And a lot of soldiers would just open fire, and they killed a lot of innocent people. We just didn't do enough to study the culture of Iraqis.”
Medina, whose twin brother was killed in Iraq last November, said soldiers sometimes were ordered to open fire on any vehicle that didn't stop.
“In one case, there was a father, mother and three children,” said Medina, whose unit arrived shortly after the shooting. “They were shot many times. The car was full of blood. There was one kid alive. He was alive for a few hours before being pronounced dead in the hospital a few hours later… It was horrible.”
Kelly Dougherty and Elizabeth Wisdorf, two members of a Colorado National Guard unit, said soldiers manning checkpoints from their unit were ordered by commanders to take money and other property from Iraqis.
“We would take things from them; we would take money in the beginning, which made no sense to me because we just overthrew their government, and they didn't have banks to put their money in, so they would carry it with them,” Wisdorf said. “Our chain of command told us to do that because they felt the Iraqis … they were terrorists.”
Wisdorf said units frequently had no translators to help soldiers explain to bewildered and sometimes angry drivers what was happening.
“We had no way of communicating with the Iraqis,” Wisdorf said. “Guns pointed was as much communication as we had with these people.”
Both former soldiers were medics who had a few months each of law-enforcement training years earlier, and they didn't learn they were going to serve as military police officers in Iraq until just before they left to go overseas.
“It was hard for me because I didn't have a military police background,” Dougherty said.
Hassan Rahim, a customs judge for nearly 40 years in Iraq, was shot July 1, 2003, after driving under an overpass where U.S. troops were manning a checkpoint, according to witnesses, the family and documents prepared by their attorney.
“The cars were passing by, and suddenly the shooting started,” said Mohammed Abbas, 43, who witnessed the shooting from a small bakery nearby. The judge was driving to a produce market with his son when they heard shots and began to slow down. As Rahim started to make a left turn, he was struck in the back and killed. Witnesses said the shots came from an American armored vehicle that was standing guard on a traffic circle that leads to the 14th of July Bridge into the Green Zone.
“The son got out of the car and started to yell,” Abbas said. “His son was crying and shouting. He said, 'My father is shot.'”
The Army denied the family's claim for $86,775.
“I told them I don't want compensation,” said the son, Maher Hassan Rahim, 35. “But (by making the claim) we were trying to tell them that the value of the blood of an Iraqi person is not so cheap.”
'Climate of impunity'
Hundreds of claims allege improper conduct by military personnel, yet there is little evidence in a number of cases that the military conducted thorough investigations into the allegations.
Only hours after a June 18, 2003, shooting into a crowd of demonstrators that left two people dead in Baghdad, the military publicly exonerated the soldiers in a press release issued by the United States Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The press release says that members of the 204th Military Police Company responded “in self-defense” to a demonstration that had occurred earlier that day.
The Army also denied a civil claim filed by the family of one of the dead demonstrators, Jafar Mola, saying the death was “a result of combat operations.”
The Daily News' analysis of the database found 259 claims describing shootings that left at least 128 dead and 172 injured. The actual number of shooting incidents is undoubtedly several times higher because all claims were not entered into the database.
Coalition forces are only subject to the justice of their own countries. In the case of American soldiers, who are subject to the military's separate justice system, their own commanders often decide whether they have committed crimes.
Fred Abrahams, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that by September 2003, his group had found credible allegations in 94 death cases in Baghdad alone. Yet at that time, the Army acknowledged only five criminal investigations into the actions of soldiers in all of Iraq.
“We concluded that there was this climate of impunity where soldiers feel like they can pull the trigger, and without any sense that they could be held responsible for their actions, they're much more likely to resort more quickly to lethal force,” Abrahams said.
The military has court-martialed personnel for acts in Iraq. One case in the database shows the Army paid a $50 claim to an Iraqi who was kidnapped and robbed by a sergeant and a private with the 19th Quartermaster Company of Fort Story, Va. Both soldiers were court-martialed and sentenced to jail.
Army officials wouldn't say how many investigations and courts-martial have been conducted, even though courts-martial generally are open to the public. Capt. Regen Wilson, a spokesman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, said since March 2003 that office has conducted nine investigations of possible criminal wrongdoing in all of southwest Asia, which includes Iraq. Six of those investigations are still open, he said.
Les Nott, whose son was killed in an incident that also left an Iraqi detainee dead and three other Iraqis wounded, said it was obvious to him that the military had no interest in conducting a thorough investigation.
“I believe that their motivation was to cover this up,” said Nott, who retired from the Army after 23 years and now lives in Cheyenne, Wy.
On the night of July 30, 2003, 24-year-old 1st Lt. Leif E. Nott led a patrol to investigate shots fired near their military compound in Balad Ruz, according Army Sgt. Mickey Anderson and Army records of the incident. The shots turned out to be a few participants at a large wedding party firing in the air to celebrate, according to Anderson and the records.
Anderson said the 200 to 300 Iraqis at the party welcomed the soldiers, offering them cake and juice. As a precaution, the soldiers put plastic handcuffs on the groom, the best man and the father of one of the men, and confiscated an assault rifle.
None of the three men was considered dangerous, Anderson said, and they likely would have been released after a routine questioning.
“We just wanted to let them know you can't do that any more,” he said.
The soldiers were loading the detainees in a Bradley Fighting Vehicles when a commander radioed to order the armored vehicles to go somewhere else, leaving the soldiers to escort the detainees on foot and without a radio to communicate with the compound, Anderson said.
According to Anderson and Army records, as the patrol walked under streetlights about 200 yards from the compound, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle position near the entrance opened fire, triggering more fire from other soldiers in the compound.
“The next thing I knew I was on the ground, and my leg was blown to pieces,” Anderson said. “Other people were screaming and moaning.”
Anderson, Nott, an Army medic, the patrol's Iraqi translator and the three Iraqi detainees were all hit by gunfire.
The Bradleys that opened fired drove to where Anderson lay, he said, and as he crawled up on one of them to stop the shooting, he was shot three more times at close range by an American soldier who apparently stuck his 9mm pistol out of the armored vehicle without looking at who was there.
Nott and one of the detainees, identified in claims records as Abu Hassan, later died. Hassan's widow, who was left with nine children to support, received $2,500 for her civil claim, according to the records, which clearly identify the incident as “friendly fire” and “not in response to enemy activity.”
“Give her the money. Please. She's very patient — been given the run around for eight months,” says a hand-written note from a military captain included in the Army records.
The Army told a different story to Nott's family and to the public.
After his death, Nott was promoted to captain and awarded a Bronze Star, and the citation for the medal says he “responded to a unprovoked attack on his troop headquarters.” That same account was repeated in a newspaper story.
Les Nott said the family didn't learn the truth until a member of his son's unit spoke to them at the funeral. Later, he said, he, his wife and his son's widow traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to personally talk to members of the unit to find out what happened — a trip he paid for himself.
“I shouldn't have to travel from Wyoming to Texas to find out how my kid died,” Nott said.
While at Fort Hood, Nott said, he obtained a lengthy report on the investigation into the incident. Anderson said he wasn't asked to give an official statement until 14 months later, after a journalist in Washington, D.C., began asking questions.
“The report was a joke,” Nott said. “Nobody wanted this to happen, but it did happen. And after they had to deal with it, there was one driving factor and one driving factor only: to make sure that nobody gets blamed.”
A one-paragraph press release provided last week by Fort Hood officials says one soldier was killed and two wounded “during an attack.” Fort Hood spokesman Maj. Matt Garner said he was very familiar with the shooting, but when asked for more information, he said, “I'm not going to give you a statement. No.”
Garner referred questions to Army headquarters. The Daily News contacted three different officials at Army headquarters at the Pentagon and left messages for a fourth official. None would discuss the case, but one faxed a press release that alleges that Lt. Nott “died of wounds received from hostile fire.”
Both Nott and Anderson agreed that the shooting of the detainees could be part of the reason the Army is trying to cover up what happened.
“They told us hostile fire, and they'll still tell you that if you ask them,” Nott said, adding that someone should be held accountable for what happened.
“This isn't the Army I was a part of for 23 years.”
For many Iraqis, the hundreds of incidents described in the claims and others never recorded in the database have turned them against the American-led occupation.
Military personnel, attorneys, human rights experts and Iraqis believe the incidents are fueling the growing insurgency. And, they said, as intensity of the insurgency increases, soldiers become even more apprehensive, creating an atmosphere for more allegations of abuse and misconduct.
“If I could give you the clue for which reason the Americans lost this war —because for me the war is lost — it's because of the behavior of the soldiers,” said Marc Henzelin, a Swiss attorney who has worked with the Red Cross and is one of four attorneys identified on the database as having filed claims in Iraq.
Like many Iraqis, Wafa Abdel Latif al-Mukhtar and her family thought things would get better when the Americans came. Children like her 12-year-old son, Mohammed Subhi al-Qubaisi, idolized the American soldiers.
“In the beginning, the children saw the Americans and their weapons and gear and binoculars and wanted to follow them and look at them,” the 45-year-old woman recalled during an interview in her home.
On a warm night in June 2003, the family's opinions about the Americans changed.
On that night, her son Mohammad decided to sleep on the roof of his home with his twin brother, something many Iraqis do to escape the hot summer nights. Al-Mukhtar said she and her family were unaware that soldiers were searching a house across a vacant lot about 70 yards away.
One of the soldiers, according to the family, spotted the 12-year-old on the roof and fired, hitting him in the chest.
“I was downstairs in my room when I heard the sounds of bullets,” his mother recalled during an interview in her home. “Then I heard the boys yelling.”
A neighbor, she said, helped carry her wounded son downstairs.
“The kitchen was full of blood,” she recalled.
Minutes later, soldiers broke down the door of her kitchen and pointed guns at the people who had gathered in the room with her bleeding son.
“I tried to explain to them why this boy was bleeding and he (a soldier) kicked me and said, `Shut up, don't say anything,' “ she said.
The soldiers searched the house and found an assault rifle, a type of weapon many Iraqis keep in their homes, and they refused to allow neighbors to take the boy to the hospital, citing the 11 p.m. curfew, the mother said. Later, a doctor from the neighborhood came and pronounced the boy dead, she said.
Two weeks after Mohammad was killed, two others were killed by American soldiers while sleeping on a rooftop in Baghdad, according to a $2 million claim filed by a brother of one of the alleged victims.
“Everyone thought the whole situation would be better, but it seems it's the opposite,” Al-Mukhtar said, adding that the opinion of Mohammad's twin bother, Mustafa, also changed about the American soldiers. “Now, Mustafa said that when he sees them he wants to be the first to kill them,” she said. “The Americans think the Iraqis are not human.”