War Against Iraqi People

By Essam Al-Ghalib, Al-Jazeerah, 8 April 2003

NAJAF, 8 April 2003—This is no longer a war against Saddam and his regime, if it ever was. It has become a war against the Iraqi people. The number of civilians killed since the invasion began is massive, and is rising dramatically as American and British forces continue to make their way north through densely populated areas.

Each Iraqi city has lost many civilians, at times entire families, to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Sami Osama, a truck driver, was delivering 5,000 kg of tomatoes through the small town of Sanawa when he approached an American checkpoint. According to witnesses who spoke to Arab News yesterday, he did not understand the orders in English and approached the checkpoint as normal. The US forces opened fire, killing him instantly and injuring two of his passengers.

A friend of the deceased told Arab News: “Had there been a translator at the checkpoint, he would be alive now.”

His friend who was driving with him said that before he was executed he was slowing down and asking what the US troops could be shooting at.

While Arab News was interviewing witnesses to the death of Sami Osama, a woman approached and asked to use a satellite phone belonging to this correspondent. She wanted to call the United States for, as she put it, “a humanitarian reason”.

She explained that her brother had arrived from the United States, where he was living with his wife and 10 children before the war began. He had been on a visit to his own family in Nassiriyah and Sanawa, and was killed there as the US troops advanced.

In Sanawa, witnesses described how American troops were firing at suspected Iraqi positions, some located in residential areas. Huge holes could be seen in virtually every building along the heavily traveled highway to Sanawa, and there was also a burned-out high school.

Saleh Mohammed, a local, told Arab News: “One Iraqi soldier will enter a neighborhood and fire a few shots at the fighter plane, and they will respond with a barrage of shots killing as many as 50 civilians in the effort to get him.”

Further north, in the city of Hamza, a taxi driver told of a rescue operation in progress at a Baath Party center bombed from the air. A witness told Arab News: “It was nighttime and there were civilians walking in front of the building when the first explosions started. They were all buried underneath the rubble.”

The rescue efforts—or, more accurately, the body recovery—had been going on for two days. So far, 22 corpses have been removed. They were laid to rest just near the place where they were killed.

While Arab News was interviewing witnesses at the scene, the body of an eight-year-old boy was removed from under the rubble.

Among the tragedies of war comes desperation, and a loss of dignity.

During the three-hour drive from Sanawa, Iraqis lined the roads, begging for food and water. Arab News came across a three-year-old boy named Ahmed and his father. The boy's feet were swollen, cut and bleeding as a result of severe eczema.

The father explained: “We were told medical service will be provided for the sick and the injured. But since the Americans arrived, I haven't been allowed to drive outside Sanawa to get the medication I need for my son.”

Just outside Hamza, a military checkpoint was set up. All Iraqis and their vehicles are being searched thoroughly, including a coffin containing the corpse of a man strapped to his family car.

“He had nothing to do with Saddam or Baath, yet he is dead,” said his family.

Residents of Sanawa, without food or water for several days, complained that the US troops in some sections of the city have not been allowing people to move to other districts. As a result, the river, a lifeline for the people, has not been accessible to the hungry.

At Najaf, the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society was supposed to be distributing food to the hungry masses. As Arab News approached, a Kuwaiti shouting in Arabic was heard. He was dressed in a US military uniform, and was ordering people to stand back.

He shouted: “If you step back from the fence, maybe we will start thinking of distributing food. If you do not behave, we will not distribute food.”

Angered further by the crowd eager to receive the humanitarian aid, he bellowed: “I have warned you enough times, so there will be no distribution today.”

The food distribution was stopped for at least 15 minutes. Then only women and those with aid permits were being allowed to take away packages.

Arab News asked what was involved in getting an aid permit, but none of the distributors nor the Iraqi civilians knew. Above him a soldier was pointing at the crowd ordering them away from the fence separating the food distributors from the hungry crowd. Every time the soldier passed an order on to the civilians or those arriving in vehicles, he aggressively pointed his 50-caliber truck-mounted machine gun at them, lowering his head to see as though taking aim.

Arab News approached the soldier and asked why he was pointing his machine gun at unarmed civilians here to receive humanitarian aid.

“Any of these people could be suicide bombers,” was his reply.

An Iraqi man, who asked not to be identified, told Arab News that as the Iraqi troops begin to see that they are becoming weaker and weaker, many of them are not surrendering but withdrawing and moving ahead of the Americans. As the Americans are moving north, they are fighting the same soldiers from the cities they have “conquered”. Iraqi soldiers from the southern districts are moving north and joining their counterparts there. The biggest battle is going to be the battle of Baghdad, they say.

The Americans are becoming more and more scared as they lose more of their soldiers. And they appear to have little if any respect for the civilians they say they have come to liberate.

To them all Iraqis are a threat. “They have no respect for us, so we have no respect for them,” one civilian said. “As they kill us, the time will come when we will kill them.”