Patrick Cockburn and Raymond Whitaker / The Independent U.K – 2004-06-25 09:10:04
US Missile Strike Kills 22 Civilians in Iraq
Patrick Cockburn and Raymond Whitaker / The Independent U.K.
(20 June 2004) — US air forces fired two missiles into a residential area of the troubled Iraqi city of Fallujah yesterday, killing 22 people and sparking a bitter row just 10 days before the country is supposed to come under Iraqi control.
Angry local people said at least five children and three women were among the dead, and that the Americans had sought to maximise casualties by firing a second missile at people trying to rescue victims. According to a US military spokesman in Baghdad, the target was a known hideout of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al-Qa’ida-linked militant who is the Americans’ most wanted man in Iraq.
The dispute highlighted the problems likely to be thrown up by what the occupation authorities call the transfer of power to a sovereign Iraqi government on 30 June. The interim government expects to be consulted on major military operations, but it is uncertain whether US officers would clear air strikes with Iraqi ministers. If they gave the go-ahead and there were serious civilian casualties, then many Iraqis would see their government as a US puppet.
In Saudi Arabia, where another militant group connected to al-Qa’ida beheaded a kidnapped American engineer on Friday, national television showed what was reported to be the bodies of four of his captors. The authorities said the men were killed in a shoot-out after a witness reported the licence plate of a car used to move the body of Paul Johnson, their American hostage.
According to the Saudi government, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, leader of the group calling itself al-Qa’ida of the Arabian Peninsula, and his two main lieutenants were killed, although an Islamist website denied this.
It was later reported that one of the cars confiscated from the group was connected with the attack on a BBC crew earlier this month. Cameraman Simon Cumbers was killed, while security correspondent Frank Gardner was seriously injured.
In the struggle for Arab opinion, the Fallujah air strike could be a severe setback for the US. The missiles tore apart two houses which were reduced to a heap of broken concrete. “An American plane hit this house and three others were damaged,” a witness said. “Only body parts are left.”
One man sat nearby crying. Asked how many members of his family had been killed, he said: “I don’t know, maybe 10.” Sabbar al-Janabi, the chief of police in Fallujah, said: “Scores were killed and injured. This picture speaks for itself.”
The strongest resistance to the occupation has come from Fallujah, besieged by US Marines in April after four American civilian security men were killed in the main street. But the siege turned out to be a disastrous miscalculation.
US Air Strike on Fallujah
Poses New Threat to Iraqi Handover
Andrew Gumbel / Independent U.K.
(20 June 2004) — The handover of power in Iraq – now a mere 10 days away – appeared to be in a state of renewed crisis yesterday after a US air strike on homes in Fallujah brought to an end a week in which large-scale violence once again boiled to the surface.
Around 20 civilians, including eight women and children, are said to have died in the attack, which follows Thursday’s devastating car bomb outside a Baghdad army recruitment centre.
The two incidents come after a string of smaller car bombings, the assassination of two government officials and the security chief of the main oil company in Kirkuk in the north, an escalating series of clashes between US forces and Iraqi militants around Baquba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and a concerted series of attacks on the country’s oil supply system which have temporarily cut off all exports from the southern fields around the port of Basra.
These events have made for the bloodiest period in Iraq for several weeks and underline what US and Iraqi officials have known all along – that the 30 June handover is fraught with risks as well as political opportunities.
The stakes have been raised because more than one country’s future depends on the outcome. Iraq is the biggest vulnerability facing George Bush in his battle for re-election in November.
After the disastrous – and continuing – revelations of torture inflicted on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, after the damaging conclusions of the commission looking into the attacks of 11 September 2001, which has dismissed White House claims of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa’ida, after the embarrassing failure to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, President Bush desperately needs to offer the US electorate some indication that things are progressing in the right direction.
For several weeks, he could plausibly make the case that the violence in Iraq was abating. A disastrous few weeks in April and early May – when Fallujah was under siege, the revelations were made about Abu Ghraib and the first spate of kidnappings and killings of western contractors took place – was followed by a relative lull. The US withdrawal from Fallujah, in particular, appeared to ease tensions and even led to a de facto truce earlier this month with the Sunni resistance figurehead Muqtada al-Sadr.
The better news has had an effect on President Bush’s approval ratings. An opinion poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press last week showed that 57 per cent of Americans thought things were going well in Iraq – a sharp increase from the 46 per cent found a month earlier.
Bush’s sunny optimism on the campaign trail may, however, become harder to maintain if the violence continues. Yesterday’s raid on Fallujah is troubling because of the raw memories it has stirred up of the hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed there by the Americans in April. It bore the hallmark of a revenge attack straight out of the Israeli book – engendering an incensed reaction similar to that of Palestinians on the receiving of Israeli air raids in Gaza and the West Bank.
The United States has blamed the suspected al-Qa’ida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for the recent car bombings, including Thursday’s attack in Baghdad. US officials have also been saying for several days that they suspect al-Zarqawi is hiding out in Fallujah.
The impact of these events on US public opinion remains to be seen. Media coverage of the Fallujah raid was relatively muted yesterday, in part because the US military refused to comment or give details of what happened and in part because the news was dominated by the beheading of the kidnapped military contractor Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia.
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