Shedding No Tears for Iraqi Civilians
by Firas Al-Atrqchi
April 3, 2003
On March 31st, ten women and children were killed near Najaf when a van they were in was riddled with fire from U.S. Marines who had tried to get it to stop at a military checkpoint. After Saturday's suicide bombing that caused the death of four U.S. Marines at another checkpoint, coalition forces are now instructed to shoot at any vehicle or person that does not stop.
U.S. Marines said they had shouted at the driver to stop but to no avail. They then fired warning shots, but the van ploughed on. The matter is still under investigation.
(According to the BBC, and quoting the Washington Post, there are conflicting reports that the warning shots were fired too late to warn off the van. "You just [expletive] killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!" the paper quotes Captain Ronny Johnson as telling his platoon leader.)
U.S. officials are worried this incident will weigh heavily on their campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and convince them that this is a war of liberation.
(Professor Des Ball, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of Canberra's Australian National University (ANU), believes that the coalition may already be losing the publicity war: "Saddam and his regime will go but the coalition's other war aims, I believe, are in tatters,")
Last week, embedded London Times reporter Mark Franchetti gave the following chilling account of a battle that ensued for a strategic bridge over the Euphrates river:
"Down the road, a little girl, no older than five and dressed in a pretty orange and gold dress, lay dead in a ditch next to the body of a man who may have been her father. Half his head was missing."
Franchetti reports that the U.S. Marines have become disillusioned after nearly two weeks of fierce fighting with Iraqi forces. The fight for the bridge at Nasiriyah will likely be forgotten as just another chapter in the war. However, for Franchetti it brought him face to face with the horrid facade of a war plan gone wrong:
"But it was also the turning point when the jovial band of brothers from America lost all their assumptions about the war and became jittery aggressors who talked of wanting to 'nuke' the place."
While one soldier confided to Franchetti that he was horrified at the civilian toll, other U.S. Marines have taken a different approach to liberating Iraq:
"The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy," said Corporal Ryan Dupre. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."
Innocent Iraqis are being killed by the dozens every day in the current phase of the war.
Agence France Presse reported that "20 people including 11 children, were killed Saturday when a nighttime air raid hit a farm in the Al-Janabiin suburb on the edge of Baghdad."
On April 2nd, Al Jazeera news network reported that Bartallah, a predominantly Iraqi Christian town north of Mosul, suffered heavy civilian casualties after a night of intense coalition bombing. The local chief surgeon at the hospital reported that there were 120 dead and wounded civilians brought into the hospital within the past week.
Al Jazeera showed footage of an Iraqi Christian with severe injuries to his face and head. In the bed next to him lay his wife, who miscarried shortly after being brought into the hospital. Local doctors said her face required 200 stitches and will likely be disfigured. The couple did not know at press time that their three-year old daughter had died in the bombing.
By the time there is a cessation of hostilities, thousands of dead Iraqi civilians will have been liberated. Supporters of the war are echoing Madeleine Albright and stating that it is better for Iraqis to be killed and liberated than to be butchered by Saddam. A popular myth making the rounds on the internet is that Saddam butchers many more Iraqis than anyone else, therefore this war is good for the Iraqis.
The dead in Bartallah might disagree. If they could speak, that is.
Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry. He is a columnist for YellowTimes.org. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org