Iraqi rage grows after Fallujah massacre
By Phil Reeves in Fallujah
04 May 2003

Nearly a week after troops from the 82nd Airborne Division randomly opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators here, prompting the US military to announce an inquiry, commanders have yet to speak to the doctors who counted the bodies.

Nor, by late yesterday, had US commanders been to the home of a 13-year-old boy who was among the dead, even though it is located less than a mile from the main American base in Fallujah, a conservative Sunni town 35 miles west of Baghdad.

The Americans’ conduct over the Fallujah affair – and their highly implausible version of events – has compounded the anger in Iraq over the killings, in which 13 people died after being hit by a hail of US bullets outside a school which the troops were occupying. It combines all the worst elements of the occupation: panicky troops firing at Iraqis instead of seeking to engage with them or understand their circumstances, then insisting that local people have no cause for anger.

The US military’s case was enshrined in a 290-word statement issued by its Central Command (Centcom) in Qatar the day afterwards, Tuesday, issued when the interest of the world’s media was at its height. This stated that the “parachuters” from the 82nd Airborne Division opened fire in self-defence after being shot at by around 25 armed civilians interspersed among 200 demonstrators and positioned on the neighbouring rooftops. It spoke of a “fire-fight”.

Witnesses interviewed by The Independent on Sunday stated that there was some shooting in the air in the general vicinity, but it was nowhere near the crowd, which comprised mostly boys and young men who descended on the school at around 9pm to call for the US troops to leave the premises.

Gunfire in the air is commonplace – and the Fallujah demonstration coincided with Saddam Hussein’s birthday. But there is a consensus among Iraqi witnesses on two issues. There was no fire-fight nor any shooting at the school. And the crowd – although it had one poster of Saddam and may have thrown some stones – had no guns.

The evidence at the scene overwhelmingly supports this. Al-Ka’at primary and secondary school is a yellow concrete building about the length and height of seven terraced houses located in a walled compound. The soldiers fired at people gathered below them. There are no bullet marks on the facade of the school or the perimeter wall in front of it. The top floors of the houses directly opposite, from where the troops say they were fired on, also appear unmarked. Their upper windows are intact.

The day after the bloodbath, US soldiers displayed three guns which they said they had recovered from a home opposite, but this proved nothing. Every other Iraqi home has at least one firearm. Centcom also refused to confirm that the soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who raked the crowd had killed or injured unarmed civilians. Although it conceded that this was possible, it described the deaths of unarmed people as “allegations” and estimated the toll at seven injuries, all people who were armed.

Yet a mile from the US army’s base is the home of 13-year-old Abdul Khader al-Jumaili. The boy had tagged along with the demonstration as it passed by his home, having spotted some of his friends. He was shot in the chest, and died in hospital a few hours later. His house – No 3 Al-Monjazat Street – is easy to find. Dozens of relatives gathered there for three days of mourning amid an atmosphere of quiet anger, grief and indignation.

“The Americans are just lying,” said his father, Abdul Latif al-Jumaili, a clerk. “You can see it for yourself,” he added, showing a photograph of his son. “He was just a boy.”

The affair has angered British Army officials who believe that the US troops lack the vital experience which the British acquired – painfully at first – in Northern Ireland. “Don’t talk to me about the US army,” said one British military source. “Let’s just say that they face a very steep leaning curve.”

The Americans will be hoping that the damage will be repaired once they establish stability and the economy gets going. But they will find no consolation from the signals being sent to them in Fallujah. On Wednesday night, someone fired two grenades into their compound, a former Baath party building, injuring seven soldiers. A banner was hanging from the front gate of the mayor’s office next door: “Sooner or later, US killers, we’ll kick you out.”

Outstanding cases: Still waiting for an explanation

The battlefields are littered with the bodies of those who got in the way, were targeted for the wrong reasons, or were the victims of ill intent. Here are some outstanding cases:

The incident: Terry Lloyd, ITN reporter, killed near Basra on 22 March. Cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Osman are still missing.

What happened: ITN vehicles caught between Iraqis and US forces, though it is not clear who fired first. Strenuous ITN efforts to establish fate of the two missing men, without success. US military appears highly reluctant to co-operate.

Since then: Colin Powell promised Nerac’s wife he would do everything possible, but formal investigation only opened last Monday. Press watchdog Reporters sans Fronti่res says US shows no interest in a serious inquiry.

The incident: British soldiers killed by US “friendly fire”.

What happened: Worst incident was an attack on clearly marked Scimitar light tanks on 28 March by US A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft in broad daylight, killing one soldier and wounding three.

Since then: Pentagon has withheld all information about the names of the offending pilots and the unit they belonged to. British officials say joint investigation with Americans is “still ongoing”. No details made public.

The incident: An unknown number of Iraqis, including women and children, shot down at US checkpoints by guards afraid of suicide attacks.

What happened: Ten people, including five children, killed outside Najaf on 30 March by high-explosive shell. Commander heard shouting: “You just killed a family because you didn’t fire a warning shot soon enough!”

Since then: US officials defended troops, saying warning shots were ignored. The men did “absolutely the right thing”, General Peter Pace said. Not clear if any further inquiry has taken place.

The incident: Al-Jazeera reporter Tarek Ayoub, Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish TV cameraman Jose Couso killed as US troops move into Baghdad.

What happened: Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television offices bombed from the air. Reuters man killed by US tank round fired at Palestine Hotel. Al-Jazeera, also hit in Basra and during Afghanistan war, believes it was deliberately targeted; similar accusations made about hotel attack.

Since then: Soldiers said to be responding to hostile fire – eyewitnesses disagree. No other information forthcoming.

The incident: Two unknown Iraqi soldiers apparently shot, execution-style, by vengeful Marine, Gus Covarrubias, after mortar shell exploded near him.

What happened: Covarrubias himself told the story to his local paper in Las Vegas, saying he ordered soldier he believed to have fired the mortar to turn around, then shot him in the back of the head. He then chased and shot a second man.

Since then: Covarrubias interviewed by Naval Criminal Investigative Service, but no decision yet made whether to investigate him for war crimes.

Andrew Gumbel



In Voice of the Mirror, Friday 2 May 2003:

True battle is the fight for peace

GENERAL Tommy Franks, who led the US military operation in Iraq, said yesterday that the war is over.

He should read the report in the Mirror today from our reporter Chris Hughes.

Hughes was one of few media witnesses to the second shooting in 24 hours at Fallujah. This time, two Iraqis died and 16 were wounded.

His report makes clear the aggressive and threatening behaviour of the protesters.

But Hughes also says he saw no weapons among them and the only shots he saw or heard came from the Americans.

The shooting of unarmed Iraqis is not only a disgrace but has terrifying implications. Enormous hatred is already being directed at the US forces – and that will surely spill over towards the British.

Our own troops have behaved immaculately. Early in the war, those of our forces who were not involved in fighting replaced their helmets with berets.

They have done everything to reassure the local population so a potentially explosive situation could be avoided.

But there are certain to be many Iraqis who have not experienced the British way of doing things and believe our forces are the same as the nervy, trigger-happy Americans.

This conflict is far from over. We can only hope that needless loss of life can be avoided in future and the invading forces come home as soon as possible.

And here is the article by Chris Hughes:


May 1 2003

From Chris Hughes In Al-Fallujah. Pictures by Julian Andrews

IT started when a young boy hurled a sandal at a US jeep – it ended with two Iraqis dead and 16 seriously injured.

I watched in horror as American troops opened fire on a crowd of 1,000 unarmed people here yesterday.

Many, including children, were cut down by a 20-second burst of automatic gunfire during a demonstration against the killing of 13 protesters at the Al-Kaahd school on Monday.

FIRST SHOTS: Soldier opens fire on crowd yesterday

They had been whipped into a frenzy by religious leaders. The crowd were facing down a military compound of tanks and machine-gun posts.

The youngster had apparently lobbed his shoe at the jeep – with a M2 heavy machine gun post on the back – as it drove past in a convoy of other vehicles.

A soldier operating the weapon suddenly ducked, raised it on its pivot then pressed his thumb on the trigger.

Mirror photographer Julian Andrews and I were standing about six feet from the vehicle when the first shots rang out, without warning.

We dived for cover under the compound wall as troops within the crowd opened fire. The convoy accelerated away from the scene.

Iraqis in the line of fire dived for cover, hugging the dust to escape being hit.

We could hear the bullets screaming over our heads. Explosions of sand erupted from the ground – if the rounds failed to hit a demonstrator first. Seconds later the shooting stopped and the screaming and wailing began.

One of the dead, a young man, lay face up, half his head missing, first black blood, then red spilling into the dirt.

MAYHEM: Iraqis run for cover and others dive to the ground to escape bullets

His friends screamed at us in anger, then looked at the grim sight in disbelief.

A boy of 11 lay shouting in agony before being carted off in a car to a hospital already jam-packed with Iraqis hurt in Monday’s incident.

Cars pulled up like taxis to take the dead and injured to hospital, as if they had been waiting for this to happen.

A man dressed like a sheik took off his headcloth to wave and direct traffic around the injured. The sickening scenes of death and pain were the culmination of a day of tension in Al-Fallujah sparked by Monday’s killings.

The baying crowd had marched 500 yards from the school to a local Ba’ath party HQ. We joined them, asking questions and taking pictures, as Apache helicopters circled above.

The crowd waved their fists at the gunships angrily and shouted: “Go home America, go home America.”

We rounded a corner and saw edgy-looking soldiers lined up along the street in between a dozen armoured vehicles. All of them had automatic weapons pointing in the firing position.

As the crowd – 10 deep and about 100 yards long – marched towards the US positions, chanting “Allah is great, go home Americans”, the troops reversed into the compound.

On the roof of the two-storey fortress, ringed by a seven-foot high brick wall, razor wire and with several tanks inside, around 20 soldiers ran to the edge and took up positions.

TRAGEDY: Shot man lies dead in the street as blood pours from his head wound

A machine gun post at one of the corners swivelled round, taking aim at the crowd which pulled to a halt.

We heard no warning to disperse and saw no guns or knives among the Iraqis whose religious and tribal leaders kept shouting through loud hailers to remain peaceful. In the baking heat and with the deafening noise of helicopters the tension reached breaking point.

Julian and I ran towards the compound to get away from the crowd as dozens of troops started taking aim at them, others peering at them through binoculars.

Tribal leaders struggled to contain the mob which was reaching a frenzy.

A dozen ran through the cordon of elders, several hurling what appeared to be rocks at troops.

Some of the stones just reached the compound walls. Many threw sandals – a popular Iraqi insult.

A convoy of Bradley military jeeps passed by, the Iraqis hurling insults at them, slapping the sides of the vehicles with their sandals, tribal leaders begging them to retreat.

The main body of demonstrators jeered the passing US troops pointing their thumbs down to mock them.

Then came the gunfire – and the death and the agony.

After the shootings the American soldiers looked at the appalling scene through their binoculars and set up new positions, still training their guns at us.

An angry mob battered an Arab TV crew van, pulling out recording equipment and hurling it at the compound. Those left standing – now apparently insane with anger – ran at the fortress battering its walls with their fists. Many had tears pouring down their faces.

Still no shots from the Iraqis and still no sign of the man with the AK47 who the US later claimed had let off a shot at the convoy.

I counted at least four or five soldiers with binoculars staring at the crowd for weapons but we saw no guns amongst the injured or dropped on the ground.

A local told us the crowd would turn on foreigners so we left and went to the hospital.

There, half an hour later, another chanting mob was carrying an open coffin of one of the dead, chanting “Islam, Islam, Islam, death to the Americans”.

We left when we were spat at by a wailing woman dressed in black robes.

US troops had been accused of a bloody massacre over the killings of the 13 Iraqis outside the school on Monday. Three of the dead were said to be boys under 11.

At least 75 locals were injured in a 30-minute gun battle after soldiers claimed they were shot at by protesters.

Demonstrators claimed they were trying to reclaim the school from the Americans who had occupied it as a military HQ.

The crowd had defied a night-time curfew to carry out the protest.