"The occupation's hidden victims"

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Posted by Sadie from D006049.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 at 12:04PM :

The occupation's hidden victims - innocent Iraqis
Medea Benjamin, Occupation Watch Center,
via electroniciraq.net
5 August 2003

August 4th, 2003 -- You can tell from the wedding photo what a beautiful couple they were--Bushra Said Kaiwan, a lovely Armenian computer programmer and Mazen Nouradin, a handsome Iraqi veterinarian. And they were very happy together. They had two delightful daughters, two and four years old. Mazen had his own private clinic where he made a decent living--enough to take care of his family and elderly parents. They lived in a quiet middle class suburb of Baghdad, kept out of politics and out of trouble.

Then came June 28, 2003. The 32-year-old doctor got into his car to go to work, but the car wouldn't start. So he walked out to the main street down the road from his house to hail a taxi. A few minutes later, US soldiers driving by in their tanks pumped eight bullets into Mazen's chest, legs and arms. He lay dead on the sidewalk.

Mazen's wife Bushra, dressed in black and holding her two young children, weeps as she sat in her living room recounting the events. Her father-in-law, Antoine, also breaks down crying as he described his son's bullet-ridden body.

Why the soldiers shot Mazen is unclear. His family heard two different stories. One is that the soldiers were driving by, heard shots, thought they were being attacked and fired back. Another version is that they thought Mazen was trying to steal a car and fired to stop him. In any case, the soldiers claimed that Mazen was holding a pistol. But according to his family, the doctor didn't even own a pistol; the black object he had in his hand was his daybook. Bushra went to her room to fetch the daybook, which she clings to as evidence. It was seared by a bullet.

Mazen's only sibling is his younger brother Maher. Maher is an unemployed engineer who speaks English and had been working part-time as an interpreter at a US base. He was home the morning of June 28, heard the shots and ran out onto the street in his pajamas. Seeing his brother lying in a pool of blood, he started yelling "That's my brother, that's my brother." Instead of letting him get to his brother's side, the soldiers tied Maher's arms behind his back and pushed him to the ground. "If he moves, shoot him," one soldier ordered.

The soldiers dumped Mazen's body into a humvee and drove to the army hospital near the airport. When his anguished father Antoine went to claim his son's body, the soldiers held him for questioning, then handed him the bloody body and told him to leave. Antoine had no transportation and pleaded with them to take him and his son home. The soldiers refused to go directly to the house, apparently afraid that an angry neighbor might attack them. They dropped Antoine off down the block, and he had to ask the neighbors to help carry his son's dead body home. Just the way Saddam used to do things, muttered one of the neighbors.

The Americans didn't offer to help with the coffin or the funeral. There was no explanation, no apology, no soldier charged with murder.

"I still can't believe he's really dead," said Antoine, tears streaming down his cheeks. " He was so happy. He was happy that Saddam Hussein was gone. He was happy that his daughter's birthday and his wedding anniversary were both coming up in July. He was already buying presents and planning the celebrations."

If you read the international news that day, you'd never know about Mazen's tragic death. A web search for his name comes up with 0 entries. There were several stories about killings in Iraq on June 28, but they were about two US soldiers, Sergeant Philippe Gladimir and Private Kevin Ott, who were found dead 20 miles outside Baghdad. In that case, the army conducted extensive raids and searches to find the killers, and four suspects were taken into custody. But nothing was done to find Mazen's killers and bring them to justice.

Mazen's father, a broken man, wants nothing from the Americans for himself, since he feels his own life is over now that he has lost his son. But Mazen's widow and children now have no source of income. With the help of his brother, they went to the army base and filed a claim with the Americans asking for compensation. They were told they could ask for $10,000--small compensation for their huge loss and the life-time expenses of his widow and children. They filed the claim on July 2 but so far they have heard nothing, except the disturbing news that the military judge who accepted the claim has since returned to the United States.

Mazen's brother wants more than money, though. He wants justice. He wants the Americans to publicly admit that his brother was not a criminal trying to steal a car or kill a soldier, but a decent family man on his way to work, holding his daybook and planning his anniversary celebration that would never be.

"The soldiers acted like my brother was Rambo or John Wayne," said Maher bitterly. "They acted like this was a movie where the actors would get up, dust themselves off and go back home. No, Mazen's gone and I will miss him everyday for the rest of my life. So will his wife, his children and my parents. The Americans should admit that they made a terrible mistake and punish the ones who shot him. Otherwise, this will keep happening to innocent Iraqis."

It is estimated that some 7,000 Iraqi civilians died during the war. We have no idea how many innocent Iraqis have died since the major fighting was officially declared over on May 1. We can assume, however, that with US soldiers nervous and under siege, they lash out with greater force, hurting more innocent Iraqis like Mazen. It's a vicious cycle that leads to increased animosity against the soldiers.

"We thought the American soldiers were our friends," said Mazen's father sadly. "No more."

Medea Benjamin is one of the founders of the Occupation Watch Center and the human rights group Global Exchange.

-- Sadie
-- signature .

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