Belgian doctor Geert Van Moorter (email@example.com) was in Iraq during and after the war with the NGO Medical Aid for the Third World. He wrote this opinion piece for two major Belgian dailies.
Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, kidnapped in Iraq, was shot at by US soldiers on 4 March, immediately after her release. In a reaction, Sgrena said that her kidnappers had warned her that “the Americans could intervene, for they don’t want you to return”. According to her husband, the attack was deliberate, because she knew too much.
It reminds me of the shooting at the Palestine Hotel on 8 April 2003, in which two journalists were killed. I was working in Iraq for Medical Aid for the Third World. At the time of the shooting, I was just two floors below, so I helped out with the rescue operation. The US army’s excuse was that they had been fired at from the hotel, but nobody in or around the hotel had heard any shots. Later, a US soldier explained to me how, from inside his tank, he could clearly see a person’s head from 2,000 meters away. So the soldier in the US army tank that fired at the Palestine Hotel could clearly distinguish the journalists and their cameras. The secret US military report found no fault on the part of US troops.
That very same day, there was an air strike on the Baghdad offices of Aljazeera. A journalist was killed in this incident. Paul Pascual of Reuters confirmed to me that the US troops knew in which building Aljazeera was housed. He himself had, upon the request of Aljazeera, transmitted the GPS coordinates of the office to the Pentagon, so that it would not be targeted.
In March 2004, two journalists from another Arab station, Al Arabiya, were shot in the head while returning from a US checkpoint, after having been identified by the soldiers. In August 2004, the US-installed Iraqi government closed down the Al Jazeera offices for one month, after US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had accused the station of anti-Americanism.
In January 2005, CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that several journalists in Iraq had been targeted by the US armed forces. After making this statement, Jordan later resigned, under pressure, saying that he had been misunderstood. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) accuses the US of attempting to control and intimidate the media in Iraq. According to the IFJ, so far there has been no proper explanation or investigation into the death of thirteen journalists – almost all of them not ’embedded’ – who were killed in Iraq by US soldiers.
Were these all army blunders?
What does the US have to hide?
The US forces in Iraq are confronted with growing resistance. A resistance they try to crush with a dirty war, clearing entire towns and villages of ‘terrorists’. I have seen the cruel results of this ‘clearing’ in the hospitals of Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah: many civilians killed or wounded, victims of (cluster) bombs or shot during house searches, at checkpoints or in the streets.
I experienced how the US army is in itself a factor of insecurity. US soldiers shoot at anything they deem suspicious; they even fire at ambulances. When I questioned a soldier about this, he told me: “Those ambulances might have been full of explosives.” Never mind the Geneva Convention, the soldiers know they can act with impunity. Bush himself set the example with his pre-emptive strike on Iraq.
In August 2003 I asked an American MP what he would do if he saw suspicious people running away. “We’ll finish them off,” was his response. He told me that he doesn’t even have to make a report when a US soldier shoots an Iraqi. And if ever a report had to be made, “then we adjust the story in the sense that the guy was threatening us, or was firing at us while running away”.
In November last year we saw on TV how a US marine “finished off” a wounded Iraqi in a mosque during the attack on Fallujah. The marine saw no wrong in what he did. Such behaviour is not at all unusual in occupied Iraq. However, the pictures went round the world, and so he had to justify his action. At the end of February, the US Army dropped all charges.
At least 100,000 Iraqis have already died in this war
Many more Iraqi civilians die in actions by the US and British forces than in suicide attacks. Let’s be clear, nobody can approve of attacks on innocent civilians, neither those by the US armed forces, nor those by certain groups in Iraq that have nothing to do with the legitimate resistance against the occupation.
According to the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, as of October last year at least 100,000 Iraqis had died because of the war.
Half of them died a violent death, attributable in 84 percent of cases to US and British forces (4 percent to the resistance). The US is trying to hide this dirty war. During the siege of Fallujah, US forces occupied the hospital in order to prevent accounts by doctors and pictures of victims reaching the outside world. And so it’s the suicide attacks that get on the front pages.
Complete chaos reigns in Iraq. With Iraqi colleagues I did research into Iraq’s health situation. Two years after the fall of Baghdad, the situation is dramatic. Nobody is safe anymore. Purchasing power, the food situation and living conditions have all seriously deteriorated. More than half of the population has no job, and hence no income. Prices of food and transportation have more than doubled. There are major problems with electricity, drinking water, sewerage and garbage. As a result, child mortality has increased, while the medical infrastructure has not yet improved.
The occupying forces appear to be concerned only with their own interests and their own security. Any support for the occupation – including training of Iraqi military, police and justice personnel, in which Belgium and other NATO members are going to participate – will only strengthen the US grip on Iraq. As a result, a large part of the country’s wealth – mainly oil – is likely to flow to the multinational corporations of the West. This will not benefit the Iraqi population, and the chaos in the country is likely to continue.
A large majority of Iraqis want the occupation forces to leave. The sooner the occupation ends, the greater the chances are for genuine progress for the Iraqi people.
Geert Van Moorter has also written A year after the fall of Baghdad, how healthy is Iraq?