Report from Baghdad

Editor’s note—This begins a series of reports from the Iraqi capital by members of the Christian Peacemakers Team, a project of the Brethren, Mennonite and Quaker churches. These reports will appear periodically to provide another perspective on the war in Iraq.

Special to The Rock River Times

Recently, CPT members Anne Montgomery and myself, and visitors Peter and Meg Lumsdaine traveled north from Baghdad to the village of Duluhaya to document human rights abuses by the U.S. military. Duluhaya is a small agricultural village just south of Samarra, in the “Sunni Triangle” of Iraq.

On the road, traffic was blocked for hours due to the ambush of a U.S. military Humvee. A sergeant stopping traffic one-half kilometer from the ambush told us that Iraqi insurgents attacked the vehicle with an improvised explosive device (IED) and a gunman firing an AK-47 after the blast.

He also said the soldiers inside the Humvee were very badly wounded. However, something seemed awry; the Humvee was part of a 20-vehicle military convoy heading north along the road. There was immediate availability of communications, but it was taking an unusually long time for a helicopter to arrive to transport the wounded. I realized what this meant: the soldiers were likely already dead.

We next visited a farm near the village which had been hit by U.S. shelling on Sept. 29th. The 30 kg shell destroyed a support pillar at the corner of the house, as well as a one-square-meter area of the patio on which it landed and shattered several windows.

The shell hit the house at 10 p.m., when most of the family was inside the home. The family reported that U.S. forces had shelled the area nightly for the past three months. The father of the home, who is a sheikh in the village, met with U.S. forces to ask them not to fight in civilian-occupied areas. “Every evening they bomb my gardens,” he said. “We don’t need this, we need freedom and electricity.”

Next we traveled to a large date palm grove which had been completely clear-cut by the U.S. military. The military said it was necessary to do this because an insurgent fired upon U.S. troops from the grove.

More than 1,000 trees and two houses were destroyed in the process. Eighty families nearby depended on the income from this grove. Date palms must grow for 15 years before they are able to bear fruit.

Our final stop for the day was a funeral. Men were lined up in mourners’ tents outside in a dusty field, while crowds of black-clad women filled the house. We met the family of the man who had been killed by U.S. forces during a raid of their home.

The man was killed as he was trying to protect his wife from being beaten by the soldiers. The soldiers also shot their 12-year-old son, wounding him in the shoulder, torso and thigh. The bullets are still in his body.

The soldiers also ransacked the house and took $1,500 and several family photographs. Just before we left, the dead man’s friends brought out a letter to show us, signed by First Lt. Justin Cole at a nearby U.S. military base.

The letter, bearing the dead man’s photograph, stated that the man had been helpful to U.S. troops previously and if U.S. officials needed anything else from him, he would willingly cooperate. The letter closes: “Please treat this gentleman with the dignity and respect that he deserves.”

Something has gone terribly wrong in my country’s quest to bring freedom to the Iraqi people. Most of the human rights abuses I saw carried out in Palestine by the Israeli military during my two years with CPT there, I have seen carried out in Iraq by U.S. forces in just the two months since I arrived here.

Many Iraqis our team has listened to from this area speak of initially welcoming the U.S. troops, who removed Saddam. They were hopeful for a peaceful, prosperous life on their farmland with their families. What they received instead was house raids and dead wives and children. Now they support the armed resistance.

In return for these violations of dignity and human rights, daily my neighbors return to the U.S. in coffins draped with flags.

At the end of these past several weeks of numerous soldier casualties, what has my country learned?

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!