Agence France-Press – 2004-07-11 13:10:49
SAMARRA (July 10, 2004) – Anger is building up in this northern Iraqi city against what residents see as an indiscriminate and heavy handed US military approach in dealing with the entrenched insurgency here.
The frail and bandaged body of Ali Aziz, 12, lies on a hospital bed surrounded by his tearful parents and relatives. “Is this the democracy they have come to offer us?” asks his father Aziz Yahya, 50, telling AFP that Ali suffered severe burns and shrapnel cuts when a missile landed in their home Thursday.
In an adjacent room, 50-year-old Wafiya Hassan, who was hit by shrapnel in her thighs, is being comforted by her family. “When I heard the shelling, I rushed to the street to fetch my children and I was hit in front of the mosque,” she says. One of her relatives starts screaming and vowing to “extract revenge from the Americans.”
Innocent Iraqis Killed and Wounded
Four Iraqi civilians, including a senior Sunni Muslim cleric, were killed and 33 wounded when missiles rained down on a mosque and nearby homes in the central Al-Mutasem neighborhood, also known locally as the Al-Bubaz.
Samarra’s latest bloodshed started when a car bomb, coupled with a mortar attack, hit the local headquarters of the Iraqi National Guard, killing five US soldiers and two Iraqi guardsmen, and wounded 18 soldiers.
The attack flattened a large part of the building, unleashing a furious response by the US military on suspected insurgency hideouts. The US military says an Apache helicopter fired Hellfire missiles on four insurgents hiding in a building next to scene of the attack and that no other areas in Samarra were targeted. “Anti-Iraqi forces fired mortars into Samarra that landed among civilian population areas,” said Major Neal O’Brien of the 1st Infantry Division.
The same neighborhood was targeted by insurgents over the past three weeks, he added. “These are people who have no interest in Iraq moving forward… they are former regime elements hanging on to a failed past of violence.”
Mosque Left Damaged and Bloodstained
At the Al-Risala al-Mohammediya mosque, blood stains and debris cover the courtyard and the home of its imam at the back is partially destroyed.
Sheikh Ahmed Mehdi, 47, says when a missile fell on the mosque, his friend Mulla Naama al Turki, 54, and seven of his companions rushed to check on him. They then rushed into the street when another missile fell nearby.
When a third hit, Turki and three other men, including the mosque’s muazzin Sajed, were killed, said Mehdi. “Mula Naama was hit in the head, my cousin was split up and I was hit in my upper body,” said Ali Ghaffar, 26, from his hospital bed.
A memorial was being held for Turki, who belonged to the influential Sunni Committee of Muslim Scholars, as well as the other men, in a tent set up near the mosque. “We have repeatedly called for calm and not to turn the city into a second Fallujah,” said Mehdi, referring to the flashpoint city west of Baghdad. “But unfortunately the barbarism, recklessness of US soldiers and their disrespect for our values as Arabs and Muslims is compounding the resistance against them in Samarra.”
Another US Military Outrage Adds to a Legacy of Anger
Men nearby start recalling incidents, such as an alleged US attack on a wedding in May 2003 in which several people died, the purported deliberate drowning of a 20-year-old man in January by troops and nightly raids on homes.
In the eastern part of the city, dozens of young bearded men, many in hallmark Sunni white scull caps or white headdresses, gather for prayers and to remember Mulla Naama in a nondescript and isolated mosque. “Everyone who keeps quiet when our brothers are being killed is a traitor and not one of us,” Mulla Mussa, a young imam, or cleric, tells the faithful.
US troops recently returned government buildings in Samarra to the local authority and have withdrawn to their base on the outskirts of the city. However, they maintain a presence at the Iraqi national guard building at the entrance of the city, the target of Thursday’s attack.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)