Dunya's WAR: Fallujah, Feb 2004.

By Stephen Grey, Falluja.

THE WAR for little Dunya Hamid began and ended in a warm afternoon last

autumn. She was playing with her sisters in a dusty palm grove when the

American army opened fire on her hamlet.

Just two years old, Dunya had no words to utter but ”mama”’ and ”dadda,”

when just after 4pm, the soldiers approached her village from two sides in

armoured Humvees cars. Dunya ran for safety but she was cut down, shot in

the head with a machine gun bullet before she could reach the back door of

the family’s squat four-bedroomed bungalow.

Her sister, Manal, aged seven, who was injured from shrapnel, recalled: “I

saw Dunya playing outside. When she heard the shooting she wanted to go

inside but then I saw her falling to the ground. Then I was hit. I didn’t

feel anything bu I saw my blood come out. We were very afraid.”

In the fast-moving pace of events in Iraq, Dunya’s death and the injuries of

four other children in the hamlet merited just a brief paragraph in

newspaper accounts of a bloody day of fighting between American forces and

guerrilla fighters. A day earlier, in the same town of Fallujah, US troops

also shot dead ten Iraqi policemen by mistake.

Yet for Dunya’s family the events of September 12 last year and the

perceived failure of US forces to investigate or compensate them for the

incident remain uppermost in their minds. Her case illustrates what many

Iraqis describe as a deepening sense of outrage at the failure of American

occupying forces to address the injustice of the innocent people who die or

are wounded in the crossfire of military operations.

Separating fact from fiction is difficult task in a town like Fallujah, a

town at the heart of violent resistance to American occupation of Iraq, and

where the soldiers of the US 82nd Airborne, who now occupy the town, seem to

have few friends left.

Senior commanders admit that in places like Fallujah there is little

question of winning hearts and minds – what once was acronymed ‘Wham’ in

Vietnam. They would settle now for a sullen neutrality. They hope only to

prevent local citizens from lifting guns or launching grenades at them, and

to stop harbouring those that do.

But Dr Abdul Wahab, orthopaedic surgeon, at the general hospital in

Fallujah, said support for the resistance was very strong indeed. “Everyone

who works for the Americans are considered an enemy here.”

Everyone knew, he said, that when American troops are attacked they

responded by spraying fire in all directions around, with the inevitable

loss of life to innocent civilians.

Said Wahab: “When someone attacks the Americans, they shoot at random around

them. I know this is true because I have treated the casualties of this

policy. I have treated may be 15 children with injuries from bullets or

shrapnel in the last year.”

Dunya’s family say her death occurred.after resistance fighters detonated a

roadside bomb near the hamlet under an American convoy. Angered by the

attack, the US troops had retaliated by driving up to their homes and

opening fire from two directions. All those interviewed denied there was any

fire on US forces from their houses.

Although the US forces last week declined comment on the incident, accounts

from US officials differed from what the villagers said. They described the

firing on Dunya’s hamlet as a response to hostile fire from guerrillas

sheltering within its buildings.

But, as Dunya’s grandfather, Turki Abbas, pointed out that, whatever its

justification, the American fire was hardly accurate. Showing us around the

village, as he clutched amber prayer beads, he showed us a score of machine

gun rounds that had torn through the Brieze block walls of different

buildings. There were four more bullet holes through the metal door beside

which Dunya died.

“How can a two-year-old child be described as a supporter of the resistance?

How did she threaten any American?”: Abbas said. “I had such dreams for this

little child: just to live in peace and security and have a healthy life. We

are farmers and can ask for nothing more.”

Regardless of whether Dunya was killed by undisciplined random fire, as the

family allege, or caught in the crossfire of an actual engagement, it is

clear that Americans have done little to investigate the incident. An

official report reported compiled by a local police lieutenant, Bashar

Khadir, provided a detailed map of whether Dunya was killed, and showed the

bullet trajectories leading from American vehicles. A medical report was

attached that confirmed bullet injuries as the cause of death.

Khadir concluded his report by demanding compensation for the family and for

a full investigation by US authorities. Yet Dunya’s father, Hamid, says they

have heard no more. “We were told we would get compensation but they lied.

We have had nothing,” he said.

Marla Ruzicka, an American living in Baghdad who has founded a group called

the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (civic), argues that, at the

very least, US forces need to systematically pay out generous compensation

when they kill the innocent – and to properly investigate each and every

case.

She said: “The Iraqis feel that American soldiers are operating with

impunity. It doesn’t send the right message at all when we need to show we

have different standards from other brutal regimes. It would really make

American lives safer in Iraq when we showed we cared too about Iraqi lives.”

Ruzicka’s campaign has been one of those that has helped America start a

limited programme to compensate for the first time the victims of so-called

collateral damage.

Karin Tackaberry, an army lawyer with the 82nd Airborne, explained that

America was liable to pay out damages when caused by US negligence. But

these pay-outs, made under the Foreign Compensation Act, did not apply as

soon as any incident was declared as a combat operation.

“Roughly speaking when the bullets start to fly in both directions then

there is no legal right to compensation,” she said.

Instead the US has allotted its commanders a new discretionary budget to pay

out what amounts, in the Arab tradition, to so-called blood money and can be

used, with no admission of blame, to pay-out even for deaths or injuries

caused by crossfire in combat cases.

In the government offices in central Ramadi, another town in the Sunni

triangle that is also under 82 Airborne control, Tackaberry and her

assistants arrived last week with 90,000 dollars in cash to pay out on a

long list of damage claims.

Since last October, over 150 discretionary payments have been made in the

Ramadi area. Most amounted to pay-outs for traffic accidents, damage to

houses caused by off-target bombs or artillery, and to compensation for

wrongful arrest or loss of property. Others have been pay-outs for injury or

deaths: but, her staff explained, there was maximum pay out of 2500 dollars

for any death caused by US forces.

In a measure of the area’s insecurity and the difficulty of local people to

lodge their claims, the session was suspended for three hours after

Tackaberry’s convoy of vehicles was attacked with a roadside bomb as it

drove to the centre. One armoured vehicle was flung up into the air in a

cloud of black smoke and orange sparks, but no-one suffered serious injury.

Later, when the convoy reached the headquarters, heavy machine gun fire

could be heard in the background and the whole complex was sealed off.

“This compound has just come under attack. It seems an Iraqi policeman on

guard outside has been killed,” announced Tackaberry.

Despite the fighting outside, a handful of claimants did make it through the

police cordons to lodge claims or receive payouts. Allaway Rashid Abid, 42,

accepted a payment of 2500 US dollars for the destruction of his car by

Americans searching for weapons.

“If I get the money I will forgive them,” said Abid. “You know us Arab

people look for revenge but what can I do. You accept what you can.”

But his lawyer, Mohamed Mukhlif, who handles dozens of complaints from

Ramadi residents, said the Americans seemed more willing to pay out for

broken cars than for the civilians they killed. “For every family that

receives compensation for a death, there are ten that received nothing at

all.”

He said he handled one case when the Americans paid out 500 dollars to the

family of an un-armed un-uniformed civilian who was shot dead as he walked

down the street. Even the local tribal system of blood money, he said,

required at least 5000 dollars to be paid by one family to another as

retribution for any murder or wrongful death, “so the amount they pay out

here is considered shameful.”

Tackaberry said believed the payments could help to correct the idea that

American forces cared nothing for any damage they caused to local

communities but she said innocents would continue to die while the war

continued.

“There is a perception, a terrible perception, out there that we kill

innocent people. It’s not always completely true or completely false because

the truth is that the enemy operates and fires from the vicinity of innocent

people. We know that collateral damage happens.”

Elsewhere, US commanders defend their right to respond aggressively when

their forces feel themselves under attack.

Col Steve Russell, commander of the US forces in Saddam’s birth city of

Tikrit, which continues to remain largely hostile to US occupation, said his

soldiers initiated 40 per cent of contacts with the enemy. “The soldier has

the right to self defence. If he is under fire then he can use whatever

lethal force he needs to end the threat.”

Russell said there it was surprising there was not more collateral damage.

“Innocents are injured as a result of the immoral nature of our opponents.

They are lawless terrorists who try to mask themselves among the civilian

population. They use the innocents as shields for their attacks.”

Among Iraqis, however, soldiers like Russell have much work to do to

convince them that the lives of those innocent like Dunya Hamid are really a

concern for the average American soldier.

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