by Dahr Jamail / Electronic Iraq –
(December 18, 2003) — On the evening of December 16th, in the Amiriya suburb of West Baghdad, the residents held a pro-Saddam Hussein demonstration. Many of the kids were throwing stones at a US Humvee Patrol as it passed by. Aside from this, it was a non-violent demonstration-no shots were fired, nobody was injured.
Today, US forces from the First Armored Division returned with two large tanks, helicopters, several Bradley fighting vehicles and at least 10 hummers to seal off the Al Shahid Adnan Kherala secondary school for boys.
The school was sealed off completely, as well as the doors locked when soldiers and Iraqi Police entered with photos of students taken during the demonstration the night before.
I asked the first soldier I came upon today at the school, “I’m an American journalist. Can you please fill me in on what is going on here?”
He started to talk to me, and then was yelled at by another soldier in a tank behind us. We looked back to see a soldier waving his hand across his neck, telling him to be silent. “I can’t talk to you,” he said.
We walked closer to the school. Two hummers with loudspeakers mounted atop them were parked out front. An Iraqi translator was telling the crowd standing in front of the school, “You must not attend the demonstration tomorrow that is to be held here. Please disperse and go away.”
A US soldier from Wisconsin, who asked to remain nameless, provided me with the following information on what was happening:
He told me the aforementioned about the demonstration last night, and that IP (Iraqi Police) were in the school trying to catch the kids who were throwing rocks last night.
I asked him if anyone was injured last night at the demonstration, or if any weapons were fired. “No. Some kids were just throwing rocks.”
I ask him how they knew which kids to talk with from last night. “We had some IP here last night who took photos. They are going through the school to get the kids in the pictures.”
Several Humvees with machine guns surrounded a large canvas covered troop transport truck into which 26 students were loaded, then driven away with tanks both in front and behind. The arrests were apparently a preemption for the demonstration to take place tomorrow in the same area.
As we continue to the front entrance of the school we see students held inside, all the doors sealed with security guards outside of them. Students are seen crowded behind the bars of the doors, waiting to be released.
Young Iraqi Students Terrorized by US Response
Shortly thereafter the doors are unlocked, releasing the frightened students who are flocking out the doors. The youngest look to be about 10 years old, none of the students older than 18.
At the front gate they are running out, many in tears. Others are enraged, kicking and shaking the front gate. We are surrounded by frenzied students, yelling, “This is the democracy? This is the freedom? You see what the Americans are doing to us here?”
Another student is crying, and tells us, “They took several of my friends! Why are they taking them to prison? For throwing rocks?”
They surround us and are threatening to beat us because we are western. Our translator steps in, and they call him a traitor for being with us. As he explains to them we are here to report the truth, that we are on their side, myself and the Hungarian videographer I am with quickly walk away.
Children Throwing Stones are Arrested and Whisked Away
A few blocks away, a smaller group of students who have run from the school talk with us, and tell us many of their friends were taken away for throwing rocks. One student is crying, and yells to me, “Why are they doing this to us? We are only kids! A few threw rocks, and now we don’t know where they have taken them!”
Tanks and hummers that were guarding the perimeter of the school now drive down the street next to us, exiting the scene. Several young boys with tears running down their faces pick up stones and throw them at the tanks as they drive by.
US soldiers on top of the tanks begin firing M-16’s above our heads as we duck inside a taxi. A soldier on another tank, behind the first, passes and is firing randomly above our heads as well. Kids and pedestrians in the shops are running for cover. None of us can believe what we are seeing.
A boy holding a stone is standing just on the side of the street glaring at the tanks. Another soldier riding by atop yet another passing Bradley pulls his pistol out and aims it at the boy’s head, keeping him in his sights until the tank rolls out of sight.
One of the students, crying, yells to me, “Who are the terrorists here now? You have seen this yourself! We are school kids!”
All of us in the car are shocked and deeply shaken as we drive back into central Baghdad. Ahmed, our interpreter, is weeping quietly, holding his head in his hands. Thus far, the public relations officer for the First Armored Division has failed to return our phone calls, or emails.
Dahr Jamail is a freelance journalist and political activist from Anchorage, Alaska. He has come to Iraq to bear witness and write about how the US occupation is affecting the people of Iraq, since the media in the US has in large part, he believes, failed to do so.