Powell draws a veil over killings as he tours Iraq
By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
16 September 2003
Killings are now like heartbeats in Iraq. Among the first yesterday was an American soldier from the US 1st Armoured Division, whose Baghdad patrol was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade at ten past one in the morning.
In the coffin statistics of the American occupation, he was the 76th US soldier to die "in action" since President George Bush declared major combat operations at an end. As usual, the occupation authorities here announced his fate.
Then came the turn of Sami Hassan Saref, who was killed west of the town of Baqubah 20 minutes later when US troops were raiding his home.
Apparently this is according to a neighbour, Ahmed Karim Mr Saref thought the Americans were thieves, seized a rifle to defend his home and was shot. The Americans, according to Mr Karim, took the wounded 35-year-old man to hospital where he died. As usual, the occupation authorities who never report the killing of the Iraqis whose country they occupy did not announce his fate.
Nobody knows how many bodies were brought to the mortuaries of Iraq's hospitals during the day they are usually numbered in scores but just over 12 hours after Mr Saref was killed, three armed men in a white pick-up truck attacked an Iraqi police car containing the police chief of Khaldiyah township near Fallujah, Colonel Khdayyir
Ali Mukhlif. Three more men, whose faces were concealed behind keffiyeh (headscarves), seriously wounded the two police sergeants accompanying the colonel, Rabih Kannan and Fuad Fadel.
The culture of official secrecy smothering all violence in Iraq means rumour and eyewitness accounts are the only record of the country's current tragedy unless, of course, Western soldiers die.
It is being said in Fallujah, for example, that the killing of eight police officers and a Jordanian hospital guard by US troops on Friday came after an American military convoy was ambushed the previous day.
Although the occupation authorities reported one US soldier dead in the attack, local Iraqis say that many other troops were wounded and that the ambush succeeded a request by the Americans for a local Iraqi police escort.
The police, so the story goes, declined the request.
For Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, yesterday was a day of solemnity and optimism. After failing to acknowledge the growing chaos in the country at a press conference on his arrival in Baghdad on Sunday, Mr Powell travelled to the Kurdish north of Iraq where he was assured of a patriotic welcome for everything American.
Kurdish families lined the streets of Halabja, where one of Saddam Hussein's most infamous atrocities was perpetrated against civilians 15 years ago. At least 5,000 were killed in a poison gas attack by Iraqi aircraft at the height of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. Mr Powell visited grave sites, lit a candle of remembrance and promised that Ali Hassan al-Majid, the Iraqi believed to have ordered the massacre and who is now in US custody, would be judged by an Iraqi court.
Unmentioned by Mr Powell was that in 1988 the Americans were supporting Saddam in his titanic conflict with Iran and that the CIA urged US diplomats at the time to suggest that the mass gassing may have been the work of Iran. "I cannot tell you that the world should have acted sooner you know that," Mr Powell told the Kurds of Halabja. He was accompanied by Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The Kurds remain the happiest of Iraqis in the aftermath of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, partly because it brought them freedom from the fear that Saddam will ever return and partly because Iraqi Kurdistan unlike the rest of the country is not really occupied. As long as the Americans keep the Turkish army out, there will be no guerrilla attacks on US forces by Kurds.