Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Every day, Iraqis run the risk of being killed by US troops or US military contractors. They are accountable to no one. Much as distinctions of socioeconomic status among African Americans only marginally protect them from racial profiling and police brutality, even the most privileged Iraqis are vulnerable, as this episode demonstrates. No wonder there is such opposition to a pending status of forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely.
Like most Iraqis, Mohammad Abood expects the highly secured roads at the Baghdad airport to be safe. So when someone told him his father's car had broken down on his way to a job in the terminal, the son calmly went to assist him. But a cordon of U.S. troops stopped him from reaching the car. Abood, 21, could only get close enough to see the two-door Opel engulfed in flames, incinerating 57-year-old Hafd Abood and two women colleagues from his office in an airport bank. Abood realized the breakdown story had been a friend's way of easing him toward the tragedy. "I couldn't bear it. My father was inside, burning," Abood recalled, describing how he beat himself and fell on the ground in anguish before the soldiers ordered him to stay away.
The next day, the family recovered the carbonized body of Hafd, a gentle man who used to come home and tutor his children, urging them to focus on schooling. His death has prompted outrage from co-workers and the country's political elite, who are in the middle of negotiating with Americans over the future of U.S. troops in Iraq. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for a special investigation into the June 25 shooting—though he's launched similar probes in other deaths with little result.
The U.S. military issued a press release the day of the shooting. It said troops from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, were stopped on the roadside when "criminals" traveling the road fired on them. When the soldiers fired back, the statement said, the car crashed against a wall and "exploded." Two of the U.S. vehicles had bullet holes and a weapon was found in the burned car according to the military.
The statement provokes anger from Hafd Abood's friends and relatives and, at the very least, leaves many questions unanswered. Those killed were all longtime bank workers on their usual morning commute. The spot where the shooting occurred is supposed to be one of the safest in Iraq. By most accounts, including a police document shown to NEWSWEEK, it occurred inside the extensive campus of the Baghdad International Airport, a presumed secure zone. Travelers and airport workers get searched in a series of checkpoints as they enter from the notorious airport highway. Guards watch security contractors to ensure they unload their weapons for the last couple miles on the loop around to the commercial terminal. It's where the dangers melt away and you can finally relax.
Airport police, who spoke to NEWSWEEK on the condition they not be named, said they believe that Hafd Abood was unarmed, having successfully passed through checkpoints that include a bomb-sniffing dog. Their theory is that he was about 30 yards from the parked soldiers when he swerved in their direction to avoid a large pothole. Another motorist, refusing to be identified because of the intense attention the case is receiving, told NEWSWEEK that the soldiers fired into his hood to keep him away from where they were positioned, apparently after they had already shot Hafd Abood's car.