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Green Left: Iraq - US Invaders Massacre Civilians

Iraq - US Invaders Massacre Civilians

By Rohan Pearce

On March 31, soldiers from the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division stationed at a roadblock near the Iraqi towns of Najaf and Karbala opened fire on a car, killing 11 of the civilians inside. According to an “embedded” Washington Post reporter, the US captain in charge of the checkpoint yelled, “You just fucking killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!”.

The British Guardian reported that, on April 1, US soldiers admitted to killing an unarmed Iraqi driver outside the town of Shatra.

These incidents highlight the Pentagon's change to its soldiers' “rules of engagement”. While the defence department maintains that the ROE haven't been changed — only “tightened” — there is increasing evidence that the US, British and Australian invasion forces now consider every Iraqi to be a potential threat.

The change is symptomatic of a broader crisis of the US war effort. Although the Pentagon has mobilised enough military might to level Iraq, the US war machine is constrained by a series of factors — the weight of anti-war public opinion, already, particularly in the Middle East, further inflamed by atrocities committed by the invasion forces; the need to maintain at least minimal infrastructure for its post-war occupation; and, most significantly, the inability so far to win any significant section of Iraqi society, including the oppressed Shiite Muslims, to support the invasion.

The last factor has been manifested in the absence of any significant level of desertions of Iraqi military forces. In a March 31 interview on Iraqi TV, NBC reporter Peter Arnett noted: “Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces.” (NBC sacked the veteran reporter for his comments. The British Daily Mirror's April 2 editorial announced that it had hired the “shining beacon of truth in an increasingly foggy war”, as it described Arnett.)

Invaders Drive For Baghdad

The US invaders are making a determined drive for Baghdad. Gaining control of the Iraqi capital would open the possibility of declaring the war “over”, leaving the country in a similar situation to “post-war” Afghanistan, where even now fierce fighting continues.

Pentagon war planners also hope that the capture or killing of the ruling Baath Party leadership in Baghdad will halt resistance in other parts of the country. However, the fierce struggle against the invasion by irregular Iraqi forces and civilian militia makes this scenario unlikely.

By April 4, the invaders did not have complete control of any significant Iraqi population centre, and were still coming under attack inside occupied cities and towns. Nor do they have control of large areas of the countryside, being subjected to guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings.

“There may be more setbacks for coalition troops”, British foreign secretary Jack Straw warned the annual conference of the Newspaper Society on April 1.

The seeds of a political crisis in Britain have already been sown by Iraqi resistance: A poll conducted by YouGov Market Research found that support for the war began to drop as soon as the first British casualties arrived home.

The Guardian reported on March 31 that three British soldiers have been ordered home “for protesting that the war is killing innocent civilians”.

In the lead-up to an attack on Baghdad, US troops have shown an unwillingness to engage in ground combat, relying on massive aerial assaults to “soften up” Iraq's Republican Guards, including using 6800kg “Daisy Cutter” bombs.

An eventual attack on Baghdad is likely to result in massive civilian casualties. British Air Marshal Brian Burridge has promised to “proceed with great delicacy in Baghdad, as we did in Basra”. However, the “great delicacy” in Basra, a city with at least 1.5 million inhabitants, included the murder of six Iraqi civilians on March 21 during air strikes.

After an air strike on Basra which included the use of cluster bombs on March 22, there were media reports of between 50 and 77 civilian deaths. A further 14 civilians were killed by coalition attacks on Basra on March 23.

Basra had still not come under US or British control by the end of the second week of the invasion, even though British troops had reached its outskirts five days after the US-dominated coalition's invasion began on March 19.

Sections of Baghdad, particularly in its poorer outlying suburbs, have been reduced to rubble from continuous US air strikes — carried out a rate over 1000 per day throughout the country. Iraqi officials say these air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians.

On April 1, 310 Iraqis were wounded and 33 killed during bombing of the town of Hilla. Razek al-Kazem al-Khafaji told the Agence France Presse wire service that his wife and their six children, his father, mother and three brothers and their wives were killed by the brutal assault.

The previous day, British home secretary David Blunkett bluntly told the BBC: “We know that for the moment we will be seen as the villains. We knew that from the reaction before the conflict started.”

Daily Mirror journalists Anton Antonowicz and Mike Moore visited some of those who were injured in the Hilla attack. They described how “men, women, children, bore the wounds of bomb shrapnel. It peppered their bodies. Blackened the skin. Smashed heads. Tore limbs.”

“What kind of war is it that you and America are fighting?”, a doctor at the hospital asked the British journalists. “Do you really think that you will be supported by the Iraqi people if you win? Do you think we will all forget this and say it was for our own good? This war is building a hatred which will grow and grow against you.”

Phoney Aid Effort

Humanitarian groups have slammed the (limited) US distribution of aid as propaganda, according to a March 28 Reuters report. Lewis Sida, Save the Children Fund director of emergencies, told the wire service: “What [US forces] are doing is not humanitarian aid but a `hearts and minds' operation and that is quite different.”

On March 25, the British supply ship Sir Galahad delivered the first shipment of aid to Iraq since the start of the invasion. A Christian Aid spokesperson told Reuters: “To put it in context, we have been waiting for the Sir Galahad for days with its 200 tons of food. Under the oil for food program ... 16,000 tons a day were supplied, so you are looking at 80 Sir Galahads a day just to restore the normal supply.” (The UN oil for food program was suspended at the start of the invasion.)

Prior to the start of the war, a draft UN report obtained by Cambridge-based Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq predicted that the “population in immediate need of humanitarian intervention and that are expected to be accessible, those in the south”, would “total 5.4 million, to which must be added a further 2 million internally displaced persons and refugees”. The report warned that 1.26 million Iraqi children under the age of five would be at risk of dying from malnutrition because of the war.

From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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