Monday, May 29, 2006

'US is an expert in killing' innocent civilians

Baghdad - Word that United States marines may have killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in "cold-blooded" revenge after an insurgent attack has shocked Americans but many Iraqis shrug it off as a fact of life.

Despite US military denials, many Iraqis believe the killing of civilians at the hands of careless or angry American soldiers is common.

Last week, US officials said charges, including murder, were possible after an investigation into the deaths of Iraqi civilians at Haditha in November. But Iraqi media and politicians are paying scant attention to details leaking out of Washington.

US commentators wonder if Haditha could have a similar effect on public attitudes as the 1968 massacre in Vietnam, but few Iraqi leaders have mentioned the incident.

"We would like an official Iraqi investigation," said an aide to Iraq's human rights minister Wejdan Mikhail.

Leaders of the Sunni minority were more critical but said the Haditha incident is part of a pattern of US behaviour.

"The American soldier has become an expert in killing," said Abdel Salam al- Qubaisy, of the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association.

'There were no warning shots'

He said the US soldiers convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2003 were scapegoats for a wider problem: "This must be considered a war crime and the commanders tried."

In Baghdad, Mohammed Jawdaat, 47, offered a typical view at his store.

Like many in the city, he can recount an incident in which he saw US forces open fire on civilians: "Six months ago a car pulled out of a street towards an American convoy and a soldier just opened fire.

"The driver was shot in the head. There were no warning shots and the Americans didn't even stop."

In the Sunni city of Ramadi, lawyer Abd Mohammed Falah said: "The US forces have committed more crimes against the Iraqi people than appears in the media. The US defence secretary and his generals should be sent to court."

'They assume he is a terrorist'

The Haditha investigation is not complete and no final decisions on charges have been made.

But US politicians have been giving details. One anti-war congressman said marines killed "in cold blood".

Haditha residents have described how two families, including young children and women, were shot dead in their homes after a marine was killed by a roadside bomb on November 19.

The military initially said the bomb had killed the civilians. The emergence of a film of the bodies led to an inquiry by Time magazine, that in turn prompted the probe.

Hamdi Hassan, editor of the Adala newspaper, said civilians were often killed by US troops: "The insurgents attack the Americans and then they hide among the civilians. Then the Americans just open fire everywhere."

Imad Mohammed, who sells newspapers, said he had not seen Haditha on any front page and that it was not news: "The Americans see a Muslim go into a mosque and just assume he is a terrorist.

"They either arrest him or blow it up."