Robert Fisk and John Pilger Reporting from Iraq
A hail of bullets, a trail of dead, and a mystery the US is in no hurry to
The Independent, 13 September 2003
A human brain lay beside the highway. It was
scattered in the sand, blasted from its owner’s head when the Americans
ambushed their own Iraqi policemen.
A few inches away were a policeman’s teeth, broken but clean dentures, the
teeth of a young man. “I don’t know if they are the teeth of my brother – I
don’t even know if my brother is alive or dead,” Ahmed Mohamed shouted at
me. “The Americans took the dead and the wounded away – they won’t tell us
Ahmed Mohamed was telling the truth. He is also, I should add, an Iraqi
policeman working for the Americans.
United States forces in Iraq officially stated – incredibly – that they had
“no information” about the killing of the 10 cops and the wounding of five
others early yesterday morning. Unfortunately, the Americans are not
telling the truth.
Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division fired thousands of bullets in the
ambush, hundreds of them smashing into the wall of a building in the
neighbouring Jordanian Hospital compound, setting several rooms on fire.
And if they really need “information”, they have only to look at the 40mm
grenade cartridges scattered in the sand near the brains and teeth.
On each is printed the coding “AMM LOT MA-92A170-024”. This is a US code
for grenades belt-fired from an American M-19 gun.
And out in Fallujah, where infuriated Iraqi civilians roamed the streets
after morning prayers looking for US patrols to stone, it wasn’t difficult
to put the story together. The local American-trained and American-paid
police chief, Qahtan Adnan Hamad – who confirmed that 10 died – described
how, not long after midnight, gunmen in a BMW car had opened fire on the
mayor’s office in Fallujah.
Two squads of the American-trained and American-paid police force – from
the local Fallujah constabulary established by US forces last month and the
newly constituted Iraqi national police – set off in pursuit.
Since the Americans will not reveal the truth, let Ahmed Mohamed, whose
28-year-old brother, Walid, was one of the policemen who gave chase, tell
“We have been told that the BMW opened fire on the mayor’s office at
12.30am. The police chased them in two vehicles, a Nissan pick-up and a
Honda car and they set off down the old Kandar road towards Baghdad.
“But the Americans were there in the darkness, outside the Jordanian
Hospital, to ambush cars on the road. They let the BMW through, then fired
at the police cars.”
One of the policemen who was wounded in the second vehicle said the
Americans suddenly appeared on the darkened road.
“When they shouted at us, we stopped immediately,” he said. “We tried to
tell them we were police. They just kept on shooting.”
The latter is true. I found thousands of brass cartridge cases at the
scene, piles of them like autumn leaves glimmering in the sun, along with
the dark-green grenade cartridges. There were several hundred unfired
bullets but – far more disturbing – was the evidence on the walls of a
building at the Jordanian Hospital. At least 150 rounds had hit the
breeze-block wall and two rooms had burnt out, the flames blackening the
outside of the building.
Therein lies another mystery that the Americans were in no hurry to
resolve. Several Iraqis said a Jordanian doctor in the hospital had been
killed and five nurses wounded. Yet when I approached the hospital gate, I
was confronted by three armed men who said they were Jordanian. To enter
hospitals here now, you must obtain permission from the occupation
authorities in Baghdad – which is rarely, if ever, forthcoming.
No one wants journalists prowling round dismal mortuaries in “liberated”
Iraq. Who knows what they might find?
“The doctors have gone to prayer so you cannot come in,” an unsmiling
Jordanian gunman at the gate told me.
On the roof of the shattered hospital building, two armed and helmeted
guards watched us. They looked to me very like Jordanian troops. And their
hospital is opposite a US 3rd Infantry Division base. Are the Jordanians
here for the Americans? Or are the Americans guarding the Jordanian
Hospital? When I asked if the bodies of the dead policemen were here, the
armed man at the gate shrugged his shoulders.
So what happened? Did the Americans shoot down their Iraqi policemen under
the mistaken impression that they were “terrorists” – Saddamite or
al-Qa’ida, depending on their faith in President George Bush – and then,
once their bullets had smashed into the hospital, come under attack from
the Jordanian guards on the roof?
In any other land, the Americans would surely have acknowledged some of the
But all they would speak of yesterday were their own casualties. Two US
soldiers were killed and seven wounded in a raid in the neighbouring town
of Ramadi when the occupants of a house fired back at them.
It gave the impression, of course, that American lives were infinitely more
valuable than Iraqi lives.
And had the brains and teeth beside the road outside Fallujah been American
brains and teeth, of course, they would have been removed. There were other
things beside the highway yesterday.
A torn, blood-stained fragment of an American-supplied Iraqi policeman’s
shirt, a primitive tourniquet and medical gauze and lots and lots of dried,
blackened blood. The 3rd Infantry Division are tired, so the story goes
here. They invaded Iraq in March and haven’t been home since. Their morale
is low. Or so they say in Fallujah and Baghdad.
But already the cancer of rumour is beginning to turn this massacre into
something far more dangerous.
Here are the words of Ahmed, whose brother Sabah was a policeman caught in
the ambush and taken away by the Americans – alive or dead, he doesn’t know
– and who turned up to examine the blood and cartridge cases yesterday.
“The Americans were forced to leave Fallujah after much fighting following
their killing of 16 demonstrators in April. They were forced to hire a
Fallujah police force. But they wanted to return to Fallujah so they
arranged the ambush. The BMW ‘gunmen’ were Americans who were supposed to
show there was no security in Fallujah – so the Americans could return. Our
police kept crying out: ‘We are the police – we are the police’. And the
Americans went on shooting.”
In vain did I try to explain that the last thing Americans wanted to do was
return to the Sunni Muslim Saddamite town of Fallujah. Already they have
paid “blood money” to the families of local, innocent Iraqis shot down at
They will have to do the same to the tribal leader whose two sons they also
killed at another checkpoint near Fallujah on Thursday night.
But why did the Americans kill so many of their own Iraqi policemen? Had
they not heard the radio appeals of the dying men? Why – and here the story
of the Jordanian Hospital guards and the policemen’s relatives were the
same – did the Americans go on shooting for an hour and a half? And why did
the Americans say that they had “no information” about the slaughter 18
hours after they had gunned down 10 of the very men that President Bush
needs most if he wishes to extricate his army from the Iraqi death trap?
Copyright The Independent
Iraq’s Epic Suffering Is Made Invisible
by John Pilger
September 15, 2003
For the past few weeks, I have been watching videotapes of the attack on
Iraq, most of them not shown in this country. The tapes concentrate on the
epic suffering of ordinary Iraqis. There are photographs, too, that were
never published here. They show streets and hospitals running with blood,
as American and British forces smashed their way into Iraq with weapons
designed to incinerate and dismember human beings.
It is difficult viewing, but necessary if one is to understand fully the
words of the Nuremberg judges in 1946 when they laid down the principles of
modern international law: “To initiate a war of aggression… is not only
an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing
only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the
accumulated evil of the whole.”
Guiding me through this visual evidence of a great crime is the diary of a
young law graduate, Jo Wilding, who was in Baghdad with a group of
international human rights observers. She and the others stayed with Iraqi
families as the missiles, bunker busters and cluster bombs exploded around
them. Where possible, they hurried to the scene of civilian casualties and
followed the victims to hospitals and mortuaries, interviewing eyewitnesses
and doctors. Their work received scant media coverage.
Jo has described to me, in detail, attacks on civilian targets that were –
she is in no doubt – deliberate. In any case, the sheer ferocity of the
assault on elusive Iraqi defenders could not fail to kill and injure large
numbers of civilians. According to a recent study, up to 10,000 civilians
“One of the stunning things about the quick coalition victory,” John
Bolton, George Bush’s under-secretary of state for international security,
told me in Washington recently, “was how little damage was done to Iraqi
infrastructure, and how low Iraqi casualties were.”
I said, “Well, it’s high if it’s 10,000 civilians.”
He replied, “Well, I think it’s quite low if you look at the size of the
Quite low at 10,000. And multiply that many times when the figure includes
the killing of mostly teenage conscripts who, as a Marine colonel said,
“sure as hell didn’t know what hit them”. Keep multiplying when the wounded
are added: such as 1,000 children maimed, according to Unicef, by the
delayed blast of cluster bomblets.
What does it take for journalists with a public voice and responsibility to
acknowledge the truth of such a crime? Are those who stand in front of
cameras in Downing Street and on the White House lawn, incessantly
obfuscating the obvious (a technique they call objectivity), that
conditioned? The resistance to the illegal Anglo-American occupation of
Iraq is now propagated as part of Bush’s “war on terror”. The deaths of
Americans, Britons and UN people are news; Iraqis flit across the screen:
otherwise, they do not exist.
For Blair’s ministers, the cover-up, like almost everything, originates in
Washington. Read the armed forces minister Adam Ingram’s replies to the
tireless questioning by Llewellyn Smith MP and his message is almost
identical to Bolton’s. The “regrettable” loss of life is really not too
bad, considering “a military operation of [this] size”. As to numbers of
people killed, “we have no way of establishing with any certainty…”
Whoever Adam Ingram is, remember the name, for he embodies the mundane,
routine, amoral apologist for state murder.
Of course, if the great crime in Iraq was represented not by the poignant
moment of a dead squaddie’s flag-draped coffin returning, but by the
unrelenting horror I have watched on unseen videotape, the cover would
crack. And the illusion presented by the Hutton inquiry would be revealed.
As it is, Hutton is the magician Blair’s best trick so far, for an inquiry
into the death of one man ensures that real public investigation into why
Blair took Britain into war will not happen. It ensures that while we are
allowed to read internal e-mails in Whitehall, we are denied scrutiny of
the traffic between Blair and Bush, which almost certainly would expose the
biggest lie of all, and reveal that the decision to invade was taken long
before Washington dreamt up the charade of weapons of mass destruction.
That would sink Blair.
Instead, we have glimpses of truth. On 17 September 2001, six days after
the attacks in America, Bush signed a document, marked Top Secret, in which
he directed the Pentagon to begin planning “military options” for an
invasion of Iraq. In July last year, Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national
security adviser, told another Bush official: “That decision has been made.
Don’t waste your breath” (Washington Post, 12 January 2003; New Yorker, 31
March 2003). On 2 July last, Air Marshal Sir John Walker, the former chief
of defence intelligence and deputy chair of the Joint Intelligence
Committee, wrote a confidential memo to MPs to alert them that the
“commitment to war” was made a year ago. “Thereafter,” he wrote, “the whole
process of reason, other reason, yet other reason, humanitarian, morality,
regime change, terrorism, finally imminent WMD attack… was merely
The unfettered disclosure of this would present an uncontrollable crisis to
the clique that runs Britain: the secret service, the civil service,
Downing Street, the favoured City and the courted media. Few spooks and
mandarins have much time for the strange, Messianic Blair, but they will
strive to protect him in order to protect themselves and to ensure that
their version of Lord Curzon’s “great game” (ie, imperialism), continues
It is a game exemplified by the arms fair that opened in London on 9
September, hosted by a government and an arms industry that are together
the world’s second-biggest merchant of death, selling to the usual tyrants
and state killers. Their ruthlessness was expressed when the same fair last
convened in 2001, and 11 September happened. Public events, such as the
TUC conference, were abandoned out of respect for the victims in New York
and Washington. The arms fair was told to keep going.
“The kaleidoscope has been shaken,” Blair said in the wake of 11 September.
“The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let
us re-order this world around us.” Whoever wrote that inanity might have
left Downing Street now; but Blair tells us constantly that he believes
what he says, and perhaps he does. Several of the defendants at Nuremberg
offered the same plea, and so have other state murderers at The Hague. Like
them, Blair should have his day in court.