Wednesday June 7, 2006
The bloody iceberg's tip
Haditha is in the spotlight. But such an atrocity is unexceptional in occupied Iraq
The killing of 24 people, including children, inside their homes in the Iraqi town of Haditha is at last receiving widespread media attention in the US and Britain. But it is thanks to coincidence that the story ever came to light.
News of the November 2005 massacre would have been buried alongside many other stories of occupation atrocities had it not been for the presence of mind of an Iraqi journalist, who photographed the horrific scenes before the bodies were buried, and the perseverance of an Iraqi lawyer. For US military crimes to be exposed takes overwhelming evidence, massive perseverance and a good deal of luck. On the other hand, mere speculation from occupation and pro-occupation Iraqi sources is routinely reported as an accurate reflection of events.
Take the report of the killing of three members of the same family in Samarra, which first appeared in Iraq a few weeks back and resurfaced following the publicity around the Haditha massacre. According to the Iraqi news network, US forces killed the three in a raid on the family home: Zaidan Khalaf confirmed that the soldiers had killed his 60-year-old wife Khairiya, son Khalid and daughter Ina'am. I have come across scores of stories in the Iraqi press of unarmed civilians killed by US-led occupation forces, some backed up by video footage. But few make it into the western media. In this context, Haditha is made to seem exceptional, and is always diminished by the obligatory, nauseating ministerial comment that things were worse under Saddam.
Why we should welcome an inquiry led by Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon is a mystery, given its determination to avoid investigating the involvement of senior officers in the torture and killing of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. The culture of indiscriminate violence that Iraqis have long insisted permeates the US-led occupation forces is in any case gradually being exposed by the testimony of US soldiers.
One such soldier, Specialist Jody Casey, a scout sniper in Baquba who witnessed civilians being killed by soldiers, said recently bombs "go off and you just zap any farmer that is close to you". Soldiers were told to carry shovels in vehicles so they could plant them on civilian victims, he said, to make it look like they were digging to set up roadside bombs. Specialist Michael Blake, who served in Balad, said it was common practice to "shoot up the landscape or anything that moved" after an explosion.
Meanwhile, we are inundated with stories about Sunnis killing Shias, Shias killing Sunnis, killing Kurds, killing Turkomans, while regular anti-sectarian demonstrations are ignored: 10 days ago, for example, there was a large rally in the predominantly Shia town of Balad in solidarity with the nearby Sunni town of Dhullu'iya, under siege by US forces. The reality is that the occupation is detested by most Iraqis. US-led forces are surrounded by popular hostility, and are operating completely outside Iraqi "sovereign" jurisdiction. No Pentagon courses in the ethics of how and how not to kill Iraqis will change this.
What the occupation forces experience on the ground is a consequence of what their political masters decide in Washington and London. The indiscriminate harming of Iraqis has, in practice, been the modus operandi of US-led policy towards Iraq since 1990. There is a continuity between this bloody occupation and the indiscriminate 13 years of US-led sanctions that preceded it - which also killed thousands of Iraqis.
When will the point come for the media and parliament to declare that the occupation of Iraq is a colossal and unacceptable brutality that must be immediately brought to an end?
· Sami Ramadani was a political exile from Saddam's regime and is a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University