Haditha, Iraq, Asharq Al-Awsat – With the world awaiting the results of a US military investigation into the killings of unarmed Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005, Asharq Al Awsat visited the Sunni town on the banks of the Euphrates, 240 km northwest of Baghdad, and met with some of the survivors of that tragic day.
The road leading to Haditha is pleasant and lined with trees. The city is only accessible to its own inhabitants, which is why we travel with a local guide.
When we reach the western parts of the city, we are met by our guide’s cousin, who told us it would be impossible for strangers to visit without being found out. Ahmad Hadi, the 68-year-old lawyer representing the victims’ families, was expecting us. He lost his sister, Asma, in the attack.
The investigation is likely to point out that the twenty-four men, women and children who died that day were killed by US Marines in cold blood. The initial line from the US military was that a US Marine and 15 Iraqis were killed by a roadside bomb. The American troops were said to have come under fire and that, in the ensuing battle, eight insurgents were killed.
However, a video shot by an Iraqi student, a day after the incident, clearly showed something far more sinister had taken place. Blood-soaked bodies of women and children, still in their nightclothes, lay strewn through local houses. Interior walls and ceilings where pockmarked with holes.
A witness told Asharq Al Awsat, that after the roadside bomb hit the US convoy, troops poured in to the adjacent crowded streets and raided Iraqi houses, killing 24 innocent civilians in less than an hour. Many of the victims were relatives.
“On 19 November 2005, a US convoy was attacked by a roadside bomb on a hilly street leading to the al Askari neighborhood in the center of the city. US troops then surrounded the area and raided the nearby houses. They immediately fired inside peoples homes, killed those inside and burnt the houses,” the lawyer indicated.
Sheikh Abdul Nasser al Hadithi, a leading figure in the city blamed “US troops with speckled army fatigue” for the killings.
Clearly emotional and wiping tears off his face, another witness said, “US soldiers moved to the house of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, and killed the 76-year-old retired employee, his sons, Jahid, aged 44, who used to work in Haditha, Walid, aged 40 a former employee in the administration of Anbar province and Rashid.”
For her part, Iman was too scared and emotional to recount how US Marines raided her house in the early morning and shot her father Walid, as he prayed, and her mother Asma, grandparents and uncles. Iman and her brother were spared after lying down on the ground and pretending to be dead.
After the massacre, US forces returned to the Iraqi city and distributed sweets and toys to the children, in an attempt to improve their image, witnesses told Asharq Al Awsat.
Close to the burnt house of Younis Salem Nassif, a neighbor, at first refusing to speak to us, said, “Leave us alone. This case concerns US troops and we have nothing to do with it.” He later informed Asharq Al Awsat that 44 year-old Younis, a customs official was killed alongside his wife and children, Mohammed, an elementary school teacher, Sabaa, Zeinab and Aisha and Huda. His 13 year-old daughter, Safa, was the sole survivor.
Witnesses described how four university students were also killed after their taxi was stopped by American troops.
A medical source at Haditha general hospital told Asharq Al Awsat, “the US army brought many bodies [to the hospital] and some of the victims were still alive but later succumbed to their injuries. The US army could have left them to die but perhaps one soldier’s consciousness prompted him to bring them here.”
The source, which refused to be identified, said that US troops returned to Haditha after the attack to investigate the events of that fateful day, even before the killings made headlines worldwide. They also offered compensation to the relatives of those killed but most declined.
Tribal sources inside Haditha warned the US army it would face “numerous problems” in the future because “tribal honor dictates the victims will be avenged.”
* Rana Feghali contributed to this article from London.