The Man From Haditha
June 01, 2006
Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. He can be reached through his website: www.robertdreyfuss.com.
The hand-picked Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, plans an inquiry. “We will ask for answers not only about Haditha but about any operation ... in which killing happened by mistake and we will hold those who did it responsible,” said Maliki. He suggested that U.S. actions not only in Haditha but in other cases would be investigated by the Iraqi authorities—including the notorious attacks last March when U.S. and Kurdish forces raided a Shiite mosque in Baghdad. Indeed, the nightmare for the Pentagon is “two, three, many Hadithas.”
And, as I found out, unexpectedly, Haditha has a special meaning for the man assigned to represent Iraq in Washington.
Yesterday, at a forum on Iraq arranged by the U.S. Institute for Peace, I asked Samir al-Sumaidaie, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, about Haditha. In answering, he stepped out of his objective, diplomatic cadence—because Haditha, for Sumaidaie, is personal. “What happened in Haditha is a huge tragedy, for Haditha and for the United States,” he began. “I am from Haditha. I know the people, I know the neighborhood. One of my cousins in Haditha was killed by the Marines in Haditha not long before this.” Quiet and well-spoken, Sunni but not sectarian, Sumaidaie seemed ready to hold the Marines accountable not only for the November, 2005, atrocity but for the killing of his cousin and for other deaths in the town.
“The people of Haditha are squeezed between two huge threats,” he said. On the one hand, they face religious-extremist terrorists, “and on the other hand, there are the Marines, fighting them, shooting, going around killing people.” When he was asked if the revelations about the events of November would make him reevaluate what happened to his cousin, he answered in a steely voice. “I already know what happened to my cousin,” he said. “It might help others to reevaluate what happened.”
Though tens of thousands, at least, lie dead in Iraq as the result of the 2003 U.S. invasion, though dozens more are butchered every day in Iraq’s sectarian civil war and by U.S. forces determined to enforce President George W. Bush’s will in that war-torn country, sometimes it takes the flesh and blood of real people to help make sense of the grim statistics. With Haditha, it is grim indeed.
Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones, the first of the Marines who took part in the massacre to speak out, told the Los Angeles Times: “They ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood.” Added his mother: “He called me many times about carrying this little girl in his hands and her brains splattering on his boots. He'd say, ‘Mom, I can't clean my boots. I can't clean my boots. I see her.’” From The Washington Post account of the atrocity, there is this:
As unspeakable as the Marines crimes in Haditha are, it’s safe to say that Haditha is not an isolated case. Indeed, were it not for Time, we might never have learned about the massacre. Yesterday I went back and read the coverage of Haditha in the U.S. media last November, and it is chillingly barren, a mere recitation of the U.S. military’s lying official version. From The New York Times, of November 21, 2005:
After Time broke the Haditha story a few weeks ago, I went back in my blog, The Dreyfuss Report, to take a look at what I’d written about another reported massacre that drifted in and out of the news not long ago. Michael Georgy of Reuters, visiting the scene of another alleged atrocity in the town of Ishaqi, north of Baghdad, interviewed several witnesses and filed this report about the aftermath of another U.S. attack:
And from MSNBC, yesterday:
So far, there have been a series of disturbing reports that the Haditha massacre has failed to anger Iraqis. Appearing on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now on Tuesday, the bureau chief for Knight-Ridder in Baghdad, Nancy Youssef was asked about the reaction in Iraq, and she replied:
Other reports, in The Washington Post and elsewhere, suggest that Iraqis are too stunned by the continuing violence, occupation and civil war to react to the specific story from Haditha. But I disagree. My hunch is that Iraqis will respond with bitter anger over the story of Haditha, and that it will kick the last remaining props out from under those Iraqi politicians who continue, however half-heartedly, to support the continued presence of the American occupation. I also find it remarkable that Iraq’s ambassador in Washington would speak so personally about a story that, as it unfolds, could devastate whatever remains of the moral case for the United States staying in Iraq.
I asked Ambassador Sumaidaie about how he learned of the atrocity, and whether the Iraqi government knew about it before the report in Time. “Yes, we did. I knew it myself soon afterward,” he said. Sumaidaie learned of the events in Haditha from friends and family, by telephone, but he refused to believe it. “It sounded incredible,” he added. “But frankly, without concrete evidence, I did not raise it.” Haditha, he said, is controlled by the Iraqi resistance, and in November there were effectively no Iraqi police, no army and no government in the town. “But,” he said, “I found it hard to believe that a group of highly trained Marines would go into peoples’ homes and shoot women and children.”
He believes it now. And his comments provide striking testimony about the utter invisibility of the government of Iraq in large parts of the country, where power is exercised by U.S. forces and by the paramilitary, sectarian armies and militias.
Permit, if you will, a devilish comparison. Saddam Hussein, at present, is on trial for his role in the alleged murder of dozens of residents of a small Iraqi city. In the wake of an attempted assassination of Saddam by members of the (now ruling) Dawa party of Iraq, Iraqi forces under Saddam’s command reportedly murdered men and young boys. In Haditha, in the wake of a roadside bomb that killed a Marine, other Marines—under the command of George W. Bush—reportedly murdered dozens, including children and babies. Perhaps, when the Saddam trial is over, Ramsey Clark will have a new client?