American agents are blamed for raid that became a massacre
By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
29 July 2003
The American killing of up to 11 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad during an abortive attempt to seize Saddam Hussein on Sunday has provoked disturbing questions as well as widespread anger in the city. Many witnesses now say armed Americans in civilian clothes also participated in the raid - after which at least three of the wounded were spirited away by US troops and have not been seen since.
Fadi Barash, an unemployed car mechanic, told The Independent yesterday how his relative Mazen Elyas was shot in the head by US troops as he drove towards them on his way to church with his mother Tamantin and brother Thamir. "Mazen was killed - his brain was blown out - but his mother and Thamir were wounded," he said. "The Americans took them away in some kind of pick-up and didn't tell anyone where they went. Mr Barash appealed yesterday, along with other members of his family, to the International Red Cross in an effort to force the Americans to disclose the whereabouts of the wounded - or dead - relatives.
Thamir Elyas, it was disclosed yesterday, was himself a translator for the American army in Baghdad. His official card states that he works for the "Coalition Forces Land Component Command Linguist Pool Management team DNVT 550 2321." Doubly ironic - since he was shot by US forces - is that his card allows him "authorised entry through military checkpoints" between 0700 and 1800 hours each day.
The bodies of the dead were treated shamefully. Mazen Elyas's remains were brought to the Yarmouk hospital but his identity was not registered in the mortuary file. Since his two closest relatives were also shot and taken away by the Americans, there was presumably no one to identity him.
Nor is it known if Tamantine and Thamir - if alive - are aware their son and brother are dead. In the mortuary register at the Yarmouk, I found three victims of the American shooting. One is named as Mushrak al-Ibrahim; his body was brought to the hospital at 7pm on Sunday - almost two hours after the killings - and he died of "gunshot wounds to the head - police case."
"Police case" merely means he did not die in a car crash or other kind of accident. The other two dead men, however, remained unidentified yesterday. As usual, no Americans visited the hospital to ask for details of those they had killed.
Old Mohamed Abdul Rahman was lucky to be alive in the surgery room yesterday. He was shot in the stomach and hit by metal splinters when US troops opened fire on his car during their raid in Mansur. Writhing on his bed in pain with a drip tube in his nose, he allowed his son Firas - who was in the family car when it was hit - to tell their story. "We were only going to a local office with a letter to post abroad," he said. "My uncle Ahmed was driving, my father was sitting beside him and I was in the back of the car. We were driving up to the main Mansur road beside the Al-Sa'ah restaurant and were about to turn right. None of us saw any Americans. There was no barbed wire, no signs, nothing." A burst of shooting brought the car to a halt. "My uncle was wounded in the head and neck and a bullet hit my father in the stomach. We all lay down to hide in the car. I was unwounded. We must have stayed like that for two minutes. My father managed to get out of the car and then people came to help. Despite their wounds, my father and uncle got the car started and tried to drive to the Yarmouk for help. But the Americans had shot out the tyres so we stopped on the main highway and other drivers came to help us."
Other witnesses gave equally terrifying accounts. A doctor at the Yarmouk lost his son as he ran away from the shooting. A woman with at least one child also died. Two cars burst into flames but - contrary to first reports from the scene - they were both empty. The Americans stormed the house of Sheikh Rabia Mohamed Habib, a tribal leader who knew Saddam Hussein before the war, but the building was empty.
In the crowded street, the American troops - and US plain clothes agents they brought with them - apparently regarded every approaching car as a threat and opened fire. Even last night, the exact number of dead remained unknown.
Standing beside his father, Firas Abdul Rahman broke down angrily at one point in our interview. "Why did they shoot at the innocent?" he asked. "What did we do to the Americans? We were only going to post a letter. They shot at us from 50 metres away. Why?"
The United States, of course, has refused to sign up to the International Criminal Tribunal for fear its soldiers serving overseas may be forced to appear before it.
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