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Anniversary of a Bombing

A year after the tragic bombing of an Iraqi marketplace, the Pentagon continues to deny responsibility for the deaths of civilians.
 
 
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On Mar. 26, 2003, U.S. bombs landed on a crowded Baghdad marketplace killing at least 60 Iraqi civilians. At the time, Defense Department officials denied responsibility for the deaths. But in the following weeks, British journalist Robert Fisk found shards of an American missile at the scene of the explosion, confirming the United States' culpability.

One year later, though major combat operations supposedly ended in May 2003, the number of Iraqi civilian casualties continues to rise. The U.S. government refuses to keep a tally, but a research project called Iraq Body Count has confirmed between 8,782 and 10,631 civilian deaths.

It is difficult to describe the misery wrought by these deaths on not just the families and friends of those who’ve been killed, but also the entire population of Iraq. Everywhere you go in Baghdad, you meet mothers dressed in black, mourning the deaths of their husbands or sons who never came back from work or from the store, all because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Take the case of Mazen Antoine Hanna Noraddin, a 32-year old man who was killed last summer. On June 28, his father’s car wouldn’t start, so he set off to catch a taxi to get to work. He was shot dead as he waited for the taxi by a nearby U.S. military convoy, whose soldiers began shooting randomly when they came suddenly came under attack.

Seven-year-old Afrah Abdul Moneem met a similar fate in September. She was shopping at a market with her father when a boy ran up to a nearby tank and dropped a grenade inside it. The grenade exploded, and, in response, a soldier began wildly spraying bullets, killing Afrah and several others.

These are just two of the thousands of incidents that lawyers and human rights organization in Iraq, including the International Occupation Watch Center and the National Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Iraq (NADHRI), have documented. They include not only cases of random shootings as described above, but also house searches, car accidents between civilian and military vehicles, and deaths caused by cluster bombs.

Tragically, the system that was set up to provide monetary compensation to civilians whose family members have been killed or injured by U.S. troops only serves to create more frustration, disappointment and disillusionment among Iraqis. As of this past January, when Occupation Watch and the NADHRI published a report on civilian casualties and the claims process, none of the 120 claims filed by NADHRI with the U.S. military had been approved for compensation.

The process for filing a compensation claim is difficult, creating immense barriers every step along the way. Iraqi claimants are forced to wait for hours on end in lines outside of military bases -- which are often targets of terrorist attacks -- braving the risk of being caught in the crossfire of yet another insurgent attack. At some of the military bases that accept claims, vehicles chalked with the slogans such as “Kill Them All” and “Death From Above” are parked outside.

Inside the bases, claims officers often lose the paperwork provided by victims’ families. If the paperwork isn't missing, claims are then rejected because of an exclusion for deaths and injuries that occur during “combat” situations, which can cover almost any situation in occupied Iraq.

The rejection of the claim is far more than an economic issue for families. It is yet another insult that adds to the harm they’ve already suffered.

The issue of civilian casualties, injuries and detentions, though infrequently covered by the U.S. media, is one of the most important issues to Iraqis. Having suffered decades of human rights violations by Saddam Hussein, they now find themselves with simply more of the same. Some Iraqis now describe the U.S. occupation as “the new Saddam.”

The United States must immediately investigate and punish cases of disrespectful behavior and disproportionate use of force by U.S. troops and put an end to the atmosphere of impunity that has been created during the last year of occupation. It should also completely redesign the system for compensation claims to make a good faith effort to redress the harms that have been done to innocents, even when they happen during so-called combat situations. Ultimately, however, this violence can only end when the U.S. ends its occupation of Iraq and the Iraqi reclaim full control of their political and economic destiny.

Andrea Buffa is the peace campaign coordinator at Global Exchange. She also works with the International Occupation Watch Center, which released a report on civilian casualties and the compensation claims process in January 2004.