Civilian Deaths at Checkpoint in al-Mansur

October 21st, 2003 - by admin

by Human Rights Watch –

On July 27, US soldiers from Task Force 20, a special operations team searching for Saddam Hussain and other former ruling elite, conducted a raid on the home of Shaikh Abdul Karim al-Gubair in the upscale al-Mansur neighborhood. Soldiers set up checkpoints in the area while the operation took place.

One witness told Human Rights Watch that three cars were fired upon when they did not realize they were supposed to stop, killing four or five people, one in one car and three or four in the other. The US military acknowledged two deaths in one car, although it is not clear to which car the military is referring.

According to the witness interviewed by Human Rights Watch, four or five US Humvees blocked a small street near the al-Sa’ah Restaurant at 5:00 p.m. One vehicle was parked in the road and soldiers were diverting traffic. The soldiers left after five minutes, leaving no sign other than the vehicle that cars should not pass. A man who worked in an optician’s shop across the street, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Shaikh al-Jaburi, told Human Rights Watch what happened next:

A gray Chevrolet Malibu appeared from the other side of the alley, not from the main street. The Americans started waving for the car to stop, but it did not stop. One of the soldiers who was sitting on top of one of the Humvees turned his machine gun mounted on top of the Humvee and started shooting at the Chevrolet with the machine gun. There was more shooting, probably from one of the [other] soldiers. They hit the car from a distance of fifty meters….

Troops Open Fire on Two Teenagers Picking Up Food Rations
The driver of that car was Muhanad `Imad Ghazal Ibrahim al-Ruba`i, 17 years old. He told Human Rights Watch that he was driving with his younger brother Zaid, 14, and their cousin Fahd Ahmad, sixteen, to pick up food rations. US soldiers were blocking the road with bricks and told him to turn around, so he took another street to the main road which seemed open. He asked some young Iraqi men if the road was clear and they said it was, as long as Muhanad drove slowly and stopped when ordered. He told Human Rights Watch what happened next:

[T]he soldiers were hidden on both sides of the street—we could not see them. We could see two Humvees a long way from us…. While we were driving slowly, and as we were approaching the Humvee nearer to us, there was an intensive shooting at our car from all sides and directions. When the shooting started I lowered my head so I lost control of the car. The car continued to move very slowly until it collided with a Humvee and stopped. Fragments from two bullets hit my head, so when I saw the blood flowing from my head I lost consciousness until the car collided with the Humvee and stopped. For that reason I did not know what had happened to my cousin, who was sitting next to me, or my brother, who was sitting in the back.

According to Muhanad al-Ruba`i, he and his cousin Fahd were dragged from the car and forced to sit on the pavement. He was given some bandages, he said, but also beaten every time he tried to ask about his brother Zaid. After approximately 30 minutes, he said, two US soldiers in civilian clothes with beards, machine guns and pistols in their belts arrived in a pick-up truck. Muhanad and Fahd were put in the back together with a uniformed soldier.

Troops Fire on Second Civilian Car. Dying Woman Punched in Stomach
At this point, Muhanad said, a Toyota Corona turned onto the alley from the main street. The two soldiers in civilian clothes got out of the truck and, together with the soldier in the back, opened fire on the car. Muhanad told Human Rights Watch:

They were all shooting at the Toyota; the shooting lasted for three to five minutes. When shooting stopped the two American civilians with other soldiers went to the car and took the two passengers out of the car, they only took out the wounded and they left the driver inside the car because he was dead.

The witness from the optician’s shop, Ahmad al-Jaburi, confirmed this account. He told Human Rights Watch:

I saw a Toyota Corona driving from a side street on the right side of the alley. The side street was open, there were no soldiers there or even a checkpoint. As soon as the car reached the intersection where the side street connects to the alley, there was intensive shooting at the car which led to the death of all the passengers. I think there were either three or four passengers. I saw an old woman with gray hair opening the door of the car. She started walking towards the soldiers for a few meters and then she collapsed. She was covered with blood.

Soldiers brought the elderly woman [Klemantine Salim `Abd al-Karim, 75] and another injured person from the car to the pick-up truck, and put them in the back with Muhanad and Fahd. The driver of the Corona was dead and stayed in the car. Muhanad recalled:

They brought the two wounded to the pick-up. One was an old woman with gray hair and another was a young man. When they brought the lady she started asking about her sons and she was screaming in pain. There was blood all over her body, her body was full of blood. She begged them for some water but one of the soldiers started hitting her in the stomach and she kept quiet. After that a soldier came and sat with us in the back of the pick-up.

$4,500 Compensation for Two Destroyed Cars
Human Rights Watch also interviewed a relative of the three people shot in the Corona. Yelda Hermiz, who lived with the three victims, said they were on their way to church when the incident took place. The driver of the car was Mazin Alber Alias Kasira, an air conditioner technician who had a partially amputated leg. He was killed instantly …. As for Klemantine and Tamir, however, the family had no information until September 28, two months and one day after the incident. “On that day, Americans came to our house and asked us to come to the airport to receive their corpses,” she said.

In addition to these deaths, the witness al-Jaburi said he saw soldiers shoot at a third car, a Toyota Landcruiser that had driven down the alley and parked. One person in the car was wounded in the stomach, he said, and Iraqis took this person to the hospital. From all the shooting, two parked cars also caught fire and were destroyed, one of them belonging to a worker in al-Jaburi’s shop. They received $4,500 in compensation from the US Army. Negotiations for compensation were conducted with Lt. Col. Richard Bowyer from the 1st Armored Division, who apologized for the incident.

The US military issued a press statement on July 29 that acknowledged two deaths in one car. “The forces fired on the vehicle when it did not slow down at the checkpoint and started to run the barriers, appearing to be hostile,” the statement said. “Coalition forces were not involved in any other incident in the area.”

On the day of the incident, a military spokesman, Staff Sgt. J.J. Johnson, told the press “there are rules of engagement when somebody approaches a checkpoint…. The soldiers have a right to defend themselves.” The US military maintains the secrecy of its rules of engagement for security reasons.

For the full report, go to the Human Rights Watch website: