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April 30, 2004

Heavy-Handed Baghdad Raid Backfires


by Dahr Jamail

The 26 April explosions at a chemical warehouse being raided by the U.S. military constitute yet another example of heavy-handed tactics gone awry. US officials say they had reason to believe the facility was being used to manufacture chemical munitions. Rather than use other means to investigate, such as better human intelligence or a more discreet method of entry, the military used its preferred reconnaissance approach: a cadre of soldiers, armored vehicles and a blowtorch. Troops stormed their way into the facility, with horrendous consequences.

The US military reports two soldiers died and fifteen were wounded in two massive explosions that immediately followed troops' attempt to access the building.

When I arrived at the scene, a witness told me, "People were jumping and dancing on the burning Humvees because of the hatred towards the Americans due to their dealings with Iraqis. People were cheering for Fallujah." Images of the aftermath were broadcast and printed throughout the Western media.

In order for Western observers to understand why the deaths of people presented to Western audiences as liberators would be cheered by those supposedly being liberated, the media would need to present the hundreds of raids that result in Iraqi suffering. Monday's perfume factory calamity was certainly not the first time a military raid in occupied Iraq has backfired on the soldiers carrying it out.

But botched raids typically go unnoticed by the international media because officials are loathe to point them out and reporters rarely follow the numerous leads that circulate around Baghdad and beyond.

Earlier in this month, for instance, the Army conducted an early morning raid searching for weapons in the Abu Hanifa Mosque in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad. The fruits for crashing through two gates with tanks, for driving a Humvee over and destroying three tons of food-aid stockpiled for Fallujah, for holding 210 people inside the mosque at gunpoint, for smashing through classroom doors and for shooting up walls and ceilings? Not one bullet. The raid wasn't entirely without results for occupation forces, though. The US military gained even more resentment, distrust and rage from the Iraqis in Baghdad.

Troops conduct home raids throughout Iraq on a daily basis. At times these do produce weapons, and sometimes even a person engaged in the increasingly popular resistance to the US-UK occupation. However, a great number of them yield nothing but anguish.

In one case I reported on last winter, a late night raid on a house found soldiers breaking the door to the home of two Baghdad University professors, even though they were offered free access. The home was destroyed, furniture broken and torn apart, bags of rice dumped on the kitchen floor, and the husband and son detained.

The next day soldiers revisited the home, I was told, excusing themselves for having had poor information. The husband and son remain in detention, whereabouts unknown to the family.

The raid on 26 April erupted into more than the two explosions reported by eyewitnesses. The warehouse incident is symbolic of so many raids the occupation forces have conducted. One witness told me he saw the warehouse's owner offer a key to the soldiers before they entered, but they refused it, preferring instead to force their way in.

Stories such as this abound on the Iraqi street. More often than not, they end in dead, beaten or detained Iraqis and personal property stolen by soldiers.

This time, because it ended in American deaths, the raid received at least some mention in the Western press.

When human rights organizations estimate that at least half of the 13,000 detainees in the horrid, overflowing Abu Ghraib prison had no affiliation with the armed resistance prior to being arrested by occupation forces, one can imagine how they, their families and friends now view the Anglo-American occupation of their country.


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  • Dahr Jamail is the Baghdad correspondent for The NewStandard. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Dahr writes about the effects of the US occupation on the people of Iraq, since the mainstream media in the US has in large part, he believes, failed to do so.

    To find out more about Dahr's coverage of Iraq, visit Dahr's support pages.

    To read Dahr's weblog, click here.

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