Occupied Iraq Report

One Year After the Invasion, Iraqi and International Human Rights
Organizations Plan Three Days of Solidarity with Iraqi People Suffering
Under Occupation

Andrea Schmidt

March 14, 2004

In the week leading up to the anniversary of the last year’s US-led invasion of Iraq, communities around the world are mobilizing to march again to say no to war and to occupation.

Here in Iraq, over the past week, the occupation has wormed its way ever deeper into Iraq’s soil and into its future. The interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law, which will govern the transition of power to an appointed government in June was signed by the Interim Governing Council on Monday, after a number of false starts. And in spite of the transition to a nominally ‘sovereign’ -- if unelected -- Iraqi government in June, the US has announced that it will maintain military control of Iraq’s security forces for two years. A US general will be at the helm of a multinational security force which will include the Iraqi army, and a second US general will head up the Operations unit.

The announcement comes as Iraqi and international organizations prepare “Three Days of Solidarity with Iraqi People Suffering Under Occupation”, a series of events that will be held in Baghdad from Tuesday, March 16th to Friday, March 19th and which aim to denounce the large-scale violation of Iraqis’ human rights by occupation forces over the past year.

The Days of Solidarity are being called under the slogan: “After three decades of human rights abuses under the old regime, we don’t need to endure any more violations!” The events will provide a forum for individuals whose rights have been violated by occupation forces, and their families to come and tell their stories. Their stories will be documented by a team of human rights lawyers, in the view of eventually submitting them to the Ministry of Human Rights of Iraq and the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

What sort of stories? Last week I accompanied Paola and Ismail, two human rights activists, to a town just North of Baghdad, where we met with two families with direct experience of the brutality of occupation forces. Ismail Daoud works with the Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Iraq, and Paola Gasparoli is an international working with theOccupation Watch Center. Both organizations are involved in putting together the “Three Days of Solidarity.”

Last January, they released a report on the CPA’s compensation process, according to which Iraqis who have suffered theft, damages, injury or death of a relative at the hands of US occupying forces in a ‘non-combat situation’ can file a claim for financial restitution for their losses. The report described in detail the sorts of violations committed by occupation forces. Last week’s trip was the sort of visit that Paola and Ismail have made numerous times over the past several months -- a fact that in no sense diminished the horrific nature of the stories the families recounted.

The first story goes like this: One night in late December, US forces exploded the door of the family’s home. They pulled everyone from their beds, leaving some of the women no time to put on hijab. They were looking for the eldest brother, who was in Baghdad for the night. They pushed the two younger brothers and the father onto the ground, held them at gunpoint and demanded to know where the brother was. They beat the father, who is diabetic and has heart problems. They ransacked the house, throwing the Qu’ran onto the ground and stomping on it in the process. Finally, they arrested the middle brother and took the eldest sister hostage, saying that the brother they were searching for would be sure to turn up if they arrested her too.

While in detention, the brother was interrogated and tortured. Lying on the ground, his head was stomped on by US soldiers, and he was repeatedly beaten. First they wanted to know where his brother was. Then they wanted him to name people in old pictures they had taken from his family house -- many of them of people he didn’t know, in photos taken before he was born. They threatened to kill his sisters if he didn’t cooperate. Then they asked him to inform on his friends. Ultimately they tortured him until he led them to a friend’s house.

Three days later, the older brother had returned from Baghdad and, hearing from the rest of his family what had happened, he went to the police station where his siblings were being held. The authorities there did not arrest him, and questioned him only briefly, although he had been the ostensible target of the search operation. Finally, all three siblings were released together. But the beatings he received in detention have left the young man, roughly my age, deaf in his left ear and with blurry vision in his left eye.

The second story was told by a family mourning the murder of their son by occupation forces. On a night in January, their son was returning from a nearby town with his cousin. The two young men were stopped by Iraqi police at a checkpoint, searched and then told to proceed onward. Then they were then stopped by US soldiers, who first searched them and then let them go, then stopped them again and forced them into their armed personel carrier. Next to the river, the soldiers made both men get out of the car, and at gun point, obliged them to jump into the river just below the dam, where water fell with greatest force. The cousin was lucky and was able to grab onto a branch that saved his life. The son drowned.

His family found his body in a small river behind the dam. They buried him, and went to the US military to demand some sort of justice. The US military denied categorically that the murder had taken place; its soldiers would never perpetrate such crimes. The family told them they had witnesses, and the military demanded that an autopsy be done on the body. The family went to the Islamic Council, and received permission to exhume their son’s body. Now they are waiting for occupation authorities to fly in a US military doctor from Washington, who alone, it seems, is competent enough to examine the body.

Faced with stories such as these, the disingenuity of the basic premises of the compensation process is patently obvious. How could even the most ‘fair’ and accessible of processes adequately compensate a family for the loss of their son, or a young man for the loss of his hearing and his sight, or a young woman for the trauma of being taken hostage to lure one brother and manipulate another? How could even the best and most generous compensation process imaginable mitigate or erase the injustice of an illegal occupation pursued for purposes of pillage and global dominance? Yet, as Paola and Ismail’s report pointed out, the US compensation process is far from fair or generous; it heaps insult upon injury. Getting through the bureaucracy is a Kafkaesque experience for Iraqis, which they frequently endure only to end up with a “bureaucratic smile” and the dismissal of their cases on the grounds that the crimes were committed ‘in a combat situation.’ (A link to the full report is included at the end of this email.)

Equally egregious violations of the basic rights of detainees are being perpetrated by occupying forces in detention centers across Iraq. The Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq authored a report on the inhumane treatment of Iraqi detainees by occupation forces in December 2003. At the end of February, they began a 40 day campaign, fasting and praying in public squares in Baghdad and in towns in the surrounding area, in order to denounce these violations and to demand just treatment for all detainees: access to a lawyer, being informed of their charges, access to their families, freedom from torture and physical and psychological abuse, water, and bathroom facilities.

At each vigil in Al-Tahrir square in Baghdad, hundreds of people approach the line of CPTers who hold large pictures of detainees. Some tell stories of their own detention, or the detention of one of their loved ones. Some speak out of curiosity, asking the CPT members why, as foreigners, and as American foreigners no less, they care. Some ask challenging questions, questions the vast majority of the anti-occupation movement must reckon with: “Why weren’t you here when Saddam was ?”.

The “Three Days of Solidarity” will be built around these stories, around issues related to compensation and detention, and on the obligations of occupying forces to provide for the security of civilians according to the Geneva conventions. On Thursday, the day devoted to the rights of detainees, families will be invited to join the CPT’s vigil in Al-Tahrir Square. Then families, supporters and members of the convening organizations will march from Al-Tahrir Square to CPA headquarters in the Green Zone to demand just treatment for all those detained.

The almost laughable understatement of the banner slogan speaks volumes about some of the realities of the occupation: After three decades of human rights abuses under the old regime, Iraqi people reallly don’t need to endure any more violations.

------- Please take a look at the following resources for more comprehensive information about detention and compensation issues in occupied Iraq:

Report on Detentions and Detainees (Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq; December 2003)

Justice for Detainees: An interview with Peggy Gish of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq (February 26 2004) URL: http://www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=8803 mp3: ftp://ftp.radio4all.net/pub/radio/20040228cpt.mp3

Joint Report on Civilian Casualties and Claims Related to US Operations (Occupation Watch and The National Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Iraq; January 2004)

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This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq Solidarity Project. The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis struggling against the occupation; strengthen the mobilization against economic and military domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and build links of solidarity between struggles against the occupation of Iraq and struggles against oppression in Canada and Quebec.

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