by Ben Granby, Electronic Iraq –
FALLUJA, IRAQ (February 16, 2004) — It began with the rockets. Fired from distant jets, as the residents claim, several missiles began falling upon various homes around the dusty and remote village of Amiriyah at 1am on February 16th.
They landed almost simultaneously on the homes of Sheikh Mohammed As-Soueed and Mishaan Abid Saleh, about a mile apart as US ground forces closed in. The American objective, according to the residents, were three Syrians suspected of having taken refuge in the area.
The Saleh farm lies at the end of a gravel road, several hundred meters from their nearest neighbor. The modest one-story mud brick house is home to a large extended family of almost 40 people, the vast majority being Mishaan’s many grand-children.
Troops Accused of Vandalism, Brutality and Theft
Mishaan, 70, who is nearly blind, relied on his wife to recount what happened in the early morning hours.
“We woke up to the missiles hitting our home,” she explains, almost trembling from beneath her hejab. “Then the soldiers came and blew up one of our trucks and attacked our sheep. They then came into the house and took everyone out.” Four of her children were hooded, bound and taken away.
Afterwards, even though the Americans had the complete compliance of the family, she claims they ransacked the house, confiscating the family’s two rifles, their jewelry and their life savings of 25 million Iraqi Dinars (about US$18,000).
Some of the soldiers outside came across the three other vehicles owned by various family members, a large truck used for moving produce, a small sedan and a new pickup truck. Each had ever tire systematically shot out, and several bullets squarely placed in the engine blocks in an unmistakably intentional manner.
“IWhat Do They Want? They Have Taken Everything!’
Mishaan himself begins wailing, while holding one of his youngest relatives, a small boy who simply stares off in a glass-eyed gaze.
“What do they want with us? We are just farmers here! they have taken everything we have, destroyed the rest and I don’t know where my children are.”
Dead sheep lay scattered around the side of the house, some splayed out infront of craters caused by the rockets. About 50m down the driveway, an unexploded rocket remains burrowed into the sandy soil.
A Two-hour Aerial Attack to Destroy One Small House
The Saleh family, however, received a far more lenient treatment that morning.
On the other side of the village, past large farms of budding cucumber and tomato plants, the Soueed home is in total ruin. According to the neighbors, right from the start the house was under constant bombardment by airplanes, helicopters, tanks and other armored vehicles.
The shooting did not stop for almost two hours. Of the small home’s only two inhabitants, Mohammed lay dead and his mortally wounded wife had managed to crawl out the back. He was burried in the nearby cemetary at one that day, with most of the village coming out in mourning.
The roof of Mohammed’s building shows the marks of at least thirteen blast holes left by rocket impacts. The concrete ceiling has been blown away revealing an iron frame and dropping rubble everywhere.
Although the neighbors insist that the 70-year-old Mohammed never fired a shot, nor even owned a gun, the home resembles a WWII-era battle ground on the inside. Not a single wall, corner, crevice or walkway stands without at least several bullet holes. Several outer walls have been blown apart completely and one of the side windows shows evidence of where the metal grate cover was cut away with a torch. Mohammed’s wife had made it out the back window and neighbors took her to a hospital, however word came that she passed away in the middle of the day.
No knock on the front door or call to surrender was ever made, according to witnesses and relatives. Instead spatterings of dark red and bloody-handprints reveal where Mohammed spent his final moments near the front of the home.
It is evident that he was long dead before the American soldiers finished blasting paths clear through the home. Fragments of concrete cover everything: the floors, the stairs, the few pieces of furniture the couple owned. In one of the few furnished rooms, where the Soueed’s slept, cabinets and boxes had been ripped open. The only appliance, a small old television, had been blasted to pieces. Most walls seemed to be barely able to stand, having been punctured by everything from small arms fire to tank shells.
‘This Is a Sin. This Is a Sin’
“This is a sin. This is a sin,” repeats Ali (real name withheld), who can do nothing but curse the incident.
As the house was under attack, other American soldiers in the squadron rounded up some fifteen young men from nearby homes and took them away. Although subjected to raids, none of the other homes were attacked to any degree, let alone the almost incomprehensible ferocity the Soueen household withstood.
Ahmed (real name withheld) holds tight to one of his two young boys. “Just think what this boy has seen. Imagine what he thinks,” Ahmed seethes with anger.
“Before now, there were no problems, but now my son will grow up to hate Americans forever for what they did today.” He believes that some one with a personal grudge must have tipped off Mohammed Soueed as a resistance supporter to warrant this enormous onslaught. “If I just now go and tell the Americans some one I don’t like is a terrorist, they will go and kill him for me — no questions asked! Is this real? Is this American justice?”
Ali wanders past, kicking pieces of shattered glass and concrete as he shakes his head. “This is a sin,” he continues to repeat.
On Tuesday, February 17, US Centcom issued a press release referencing the attack.
The US military asserted that forces with the 82nd Division’s 3rd Brigade came to the area “to kill or capture Dr. Yasim Hamdi Asef and Sadun Misha” According to Centcom, “both targets are believed to be anti-Coalition cell leaders operating in the Fallujah region.”
They claim that a gunbattle broke out, without giving any specifics, and that one “guerilla” was killed and nine others were captured including Sadum Misha. No mention was made of 70-year old Soueed or his wife.
>i>Ben Granby is a freelance writer with several years of experience writing from Palestine and Iraq.
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