Fourteen-year-old Akhmad has a treasured dream: to buy a gun and to shoot an American soldier. It’s not easy: Akhmad has no idea how he would get such a huge sum of money – 30 dollars, for which he was promised an old Colt with a full clip.
This is the kind of money his father – a shoe shiner – earned in a month. His entire family survived on this money. Now they are all dead: on April 2 an American missile targeted at the Information Ministry went slightly off-course and buried Akhmad’s parents and two sisters under the rubble of their home.
On April 9 Americans entered Baghdad and ordered everybody to stay in their homes. Akhmad no longer had a home. He was running in the street when an American soldier in an armored personnel carrier shot him in the leg. The rifle bullet went through his knee.
Akhmad knows that today in Baghdad he can make more money by begging in the street – something unseen in the city before the war. However, Akhmad cannot chase after foreigners near five-star hotels. His leg dried out and he can hardly bend it. Akhmad is sitting behind his father’s shoe shining stand he found in the ruins of his parents’ house. There’s little work: people got really poor. Still, he manages to set aside a little money for the gun.
I met Akhmad at the shelter for homeless children set up by the antiwar group “Human Shield”. “Do you really think you can shoot a man?” – I asked him. “A man – no”, replied Akhmad, – “an occupant (“khamran”, as Iraqis scornfully call the “red-faced foreigners”) – yes.”
Of course they promised the Iraqi people freedom from tyranny, democracy and future prosperity. But on November 28 Americans have suddenly surrounded the house of the local lawyer Ibrahim Al-Bussaf in Ramadi – a small town about a hundred kilometers to the west of Baghdad. It was the last day Ramadan and his large family was getting ready for a holiday dinner.
“Just the tanks and trucks there were more than thirty,” – tells me Ibrahim’s cousin Ehdris. “Later three helicopters flew in. Surprised by all the commotion Ibrahim came out to meet the Americans. He held his two-year-old daughter in his hands. They threw him face down onto the ground. Then they dragged his brother Sabah and his sister’s husband Mohammed out of the house.”
Meanwhile, Americans broke into the house from two sides. Confused inside the dark house they started shooting each other. Hearing the shooting in the house the soldiers guarding the three men on the ground outside the house shot Ibrahim, Sabah, and Mohammed in the back of the head. More Americans soldiers nearby killed five of Ibrahim’s neighbors, who had the misfortune of coming too close to the house. Another eight neighbors were wounded.
“Ibrahim was right here and here was Mohammed,” says Ehdris pointing to the blood stains in the grass. The attackers found nothing in the house of the peaceful attorney. When leaving Americans opened fire at the house from tanks and one of the helicopters. But not before they stole some gold and jewelry worth three million dinars (one-and-a-half thousand dollars) saved for Sabah’s wedding. He was supposed to get married in two days.
“American representatives came the next day,” – Ehdris concludes his sad story. “They returned the bodies of the dead and said: Sorry. We made a mistake. And, yes, they also offered a cake to the mother of the two dead brothers.”
Every individual American soldier I had a chance to meet in Baghdad was a nice fellow: sober, polite and did not give off an impression of being a sadist. However, this does not change one simple truth: any army sent in to control a civilian population inevitably commits war crimes, be it in Songmi [Vietnam], in Samashki [Chechnya] or, here, in Ramadi.
At one time the Abu-Graib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad was known as a gloomy sign of Saddam’s power. Today every morning hundreds of people gather near the prison’s gates, guarded by an American tank. Women dressed in black are not carrying hand-outs for the prisoners – none are permitted here – but they are trying to find out the fate of relatives who disappeared without trace after the arrival of the Americans.
Sarah Al-Sahab saw her husband last time in June. Strangers brought back his car, saying that American soldiers detained the car’s driver Faahd at the checkpoint. Since then Sarah made her home on the steps of the local occupation administration building. Americans detain everyone suspected of attacks and do not inform the relatives. “Even during Saddam people were told when their close ones were arrested,” – says Sarah.
Fatima Akbar received the body of her husband two months after his disappearance. He died either from the inhumane conditions at the Abu-Graib or from diabetes nobody in the prison cared about. “They claim that they are holding five thousand Iraqi suspects. This is a lie” – says Rudi McEvan – a British human right activist now living in Baghdad. “There are at least ten thousand prisoners. They are imprisoned indefinitely without being charged with anything and without being offered legal aid. Where are these standards of the praised American justice system?”
How did it happen that the much advertised American “liberation mission” turned into a bloody occupation, every day multiplying hatred of the Iraqis? This I will tell you about in my next report from Baghdad.
About the author: Andrew Kabannikov, 45, worked as the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” journalist in Vietnam, China and now works in Washington, from where he flew to Baghdad.
Translated by Venik