with Ali al-Fadhily
FALLUJAH - Ten-year-old Yassir aimed a plastic gun at a passing US armored
patrol in Fallujah, and shouted "Bang! Bang!"
Yassir did not know what was coming. "I yelled for everyone to run, because
the Americans were turning back," 12-year-old Ahmed who was with Yassir
The soldiers followed Yassir to his house and smashed almost everything in
it. "They did this after beating Yassir and his uncle hard, and they spoke
the nastiest words," Ahmed said.
It is not just the children, or the people of Fallujah who are frightened.
"Those soldiers are terrified here," Dr. Salim al-Dyni, a psychotherapist
visiting Fallujah told IPS. Dr Dyni said he had seen professional reports of
psychologically disturbed soldiers "while serving in hot areas, and Fallujah
is the hottest and most terrifying for them."
Dr. Dyni said disturbed soldiers were behind the worst atrocities. "Most
murders committed by US soldiers resulted from the soldiers' fears."
Local Iraqi police estimate that at least five attacks are being carried out
against US troops in Fallujah each day, and about as many against Iraqi government
security forces. The city in the restive Anbar province to the west of Baghdad
has been under some form of siege since April 2004.
That has meant punishment for the people. "American officers asked me
a hundred times how the fighters obtain weapons," a 35-year-old resident
who was detained together with dozens of others during a US military raid
at their houses in the Muallimin Quarter last month told IPS.
"They (American soldiers) called me the worst of names that I could understand,
and many that I could not. I heard younger detainees screaming under torture
repeating 'I do not know, I do not know', apparently replying to the same question
I was asked."
US soldiers have been reacting wildly to attacks on them.
Several areas of Fallujah recently went without electricity for two weeks after
US soldiers attacked the power station following a sniper attack.
Thubbat, Muhandiseen, Muallimeen, Jughaifi and most western parts of the city
were affected. "They are punishing civilians for their failure to protect
themselves," a resident of Thubbat quarter told IPS. "I defy them
to capture a single sniper who kills their soldiers."
Many of those killed in the ongoing violence are civilians. The biggest local
complaint is that US forces attack civilians at random in revenge for colleagues
killed in attacks by the resistance.
More than 5,000 civilians killed by US soldiers have been buried in Fallujah
cemeteries and mass graves dug on the outskirts of the city, according to the
Study Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a non-governmental organization
based in Fallujah.
"At least half the deceased are women, children and elderly people,"
group co-director Mohamad Tareq al-Deraji told IPS.
Overstretched US soldiers appear to be punishing civilians while suffering
from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. IPS reported Jan. 3 that new
guidelines released by the Pentagon last month allow commanders now to redeploy
soldiers suffering from such disorders.
According to the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes, service
members with "a psychiatric disorder in remission, or whose residual symptoms
do not impair duty performance" may be considered for duty downrange. It
lists post-traumatic stress disorder as a "treatable" problem.
Steve Robinson, director of Veterans Affairs for Veterans for America told
IPS correspondent Aaron Glantz that "as a layman and a former soldier
I think that's ridiculous."
"If I've got a soldier who's on Ambien to go to sleep and Seroquel and
Qanapin and all kinds of other psychotropic meds, I don't want them to have
a weapon in their hand and to be part of my team because they're a risk to themselves
and to others," he said. "But apparently, the military has its own
view of how well a soldier can function under those conditions, and is gambling
that they can be successful."
Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist
writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering
the Middle East for several years.
(Inter Press Service)