Wednesday, April 14, 2004

more from Fallujah
Jo Wilding’s been busy.

First we go down the street we were sent to. There is a man, face down, in a white dishdash, a small round red stain on his back. We run to him. Again the flies have got there first. Dave is at his shoulders, I am by his knees and as we reach to roll him onto the stretcher Dave’s hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out.

There is no weapon in his hand. Only when we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting. He was unarmed, they scream. He was unarmed. He just went out the gate and they shot him. None of them have dared come out since. No one had dared come to get his body, horrified, terrified, forced to violate the traditions of treating the body immediately. They couldn’t have known we were coming so it’s inconceivable that anyone came out and retrieved a weapon but left the body.

He was unarmed, 55 years old, shot in the back.

Some – me included – might find the style deliberately overwrought. Others, I suspect, will be looking for an opportunity to discredit her because they don’t like the information she’s coming out with. I don’t think she’s lying. But there is a wider issue over killing civilians during an insurgency involving irregular combatants in urban areas.

The short answer is that it’s going to happen. You’re a US trooper looking through his gunsight for targets out of uniform, nearly all male, any age from 15 - maybe – upwards. An apparently unarmed civilian suddenly pops into sight, running from one place to another. Agitated in some way. You have a split second to make a decision. The wrong one, and you or your mates are dead. Outcome: dead civilians.

Once they are dead, it’s natural and convenient to claim them for the enemy. Like they used to say in Vietnam, if they’re dead, they’re VC. That in turn adds institutional approval to the whole process.

In effect, the real decision to kill civilians was made when the US decided to crunch their way into Fallujah in revenge for the four mercenaries butchered the other week. Contrast this with the killing of the six British military policemen in the South last summer. No reprisals there, though I bet a lot of the squaddies were sorely tempted. Result: no uprising worth the name in the UK-occupied area of Iraq.

It's curious how the most powerful, hi-tech army in the world can't seem to rise above the imperatives of what amounts to tribal honour, even when it sets their own cause back. But up close, it looks less like a blunder and more like a crime.