A Rare Look at a Civilian Casualty In Iraq

By: Greg Mitchell The civilian death toll in Iraq is, by all accounts, frightful. Car bombs enact a terrible toll, and this is widely covered by the press almost every day. But civilians who die at the hands of American troops get much less attention. There are many reasons for this. The incidents are widely scattered and usually do not involve large numbers at one time. The U.S. military rarely admits wrongdoing -- in some cases, it may not even know that anyone has died. The media, amid horrible violence, has trouble investigating.

But a recent episode involving a single casualty has drawn unusual attention ? only because the youth happened to be the son of a Los Angeles Times employee in Baghdad.

Tina Susman told the story last Tuesday in the Los Angeles
Times, and commented today in an email to E&P. The boy was 17, but she did not name him, nor identify the father.

Susman, the paper?s Baghdad bureau chief, wrote in the Times, ?U.S. military officials say troops are trained to avoid civilian casualties and do not fire wildly. Iraqis, however, say the shootings happen frequently and that even if troops are firing at suspected attackers, they often do so on city streets where bystanders are likely to be hit. Rarely is it possible to confirm such incidents. In this case, the boy was the son of a Los Angeles Times employee, which provided reporters knowledge of the incident in time to examine it. Witness and military accounts of the shooting offered a rare look into how such killings can occur.?

She revealed that since February, stringers for the newspaper across Iraq have reported at least 18 incidents of American troops firing wildly with at least 22 noncombatants killed. Surely this only scratches the surface, as Walter Pincus observed yesterday in a Washington Post article on the ?solatia? or condolence payments that I have often written about. Thousands of such payments have been made by the U.S. Susman noted that in most cases the wild firing occurs after an IED or car bomb goes off (as happened most tragically in Haditha).

She graphically recounted the testimony of a man named Abu Mohammed who owned a shop where the youth ran for help after getting shot. "I was hesitant to open the door because I was afraid that the American soldiers would shoot me dead," he said, recalling when the boy began beating on his door. Even as he let the boy in and helped him to the floor, he said, troops kept firing.

"They were confused and angry and suspecting anyone around," Mohammed said. "If a bird had passed by, they would have shot it." The U.S. military said troops fired in self-defense.

?It?s a psychological thing. When one U.S. soldier gets killed or injured, they shoot in vengeance,? Alaa Safi told Susman. Safi was the minister of civil society in the government of former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, after the toppling of Saddam. He said his brother, Ahmed, was killed April 4 when U.S. troops riddled the streets of their southwestern Baghdad neighborhood with bullets after a sniper attack.

By email yesterday, Susman was asked how the military had responded to her article. She replied to E&P today: ?I have not had any official response from the military or otherwise here on the article, but there is no reason that they would have been expected to say anything. They do not have time to respond to every article written about U.S. troop actions in Iraq.

?I got a few emails from individual soldiers as well as citizens, here and in the States. Most were critical and accused us of being ultra-liberals and failing to comprehend the reality of what soldiers face." She added that one letter writer suggested that the dead boy's father, the L.A. Time employee. "was at fault for not having sent his son out of the country when the war began.?


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