Slandering the Dead: The American Massacre at al-Khalis

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As Glenn Greenwald, among others, has pointed out, the new Bushist line is that everyone killed by American forces in Iraq is "al Qaeda" — a transparent falsehood belied by the Pentagon’s own assessments but now mindlessly adopted by almost every corporate media venue, with the honorable exception (as always) of McClatchy Newspapers. Of course, the Invader-in-Chief and his multitude of bootlickers in traditional media and the blogosphere have always vastly inflated the numbers and importance of those elements in Iraq that are associated with al Qaeda in some way, however tenuous. Indeed, we know, again from the Pentagon itself, that the exaggeration of al Qaeda’s influence in Iraq has been part of a deliberate, well-funded "psy-ops" scheme. (See "Hubub in Hibhib: The Timely Death of al-Zarqawi.") But now they have decided to dispense with the subtleties of psy-ops and simply repeat "al Qaeda" with every breath, in an effort to demonize all resistance (both in Iraq and at home, both violent and non-violent) to Bush’s murderous boondoggle.

But while this deceit is peddled for domestic consumption — avidly gobbled up and regurgitated by the bootlickers, and spreading the intended misinformation among casual consumers of the news (i.e., the vast majority of Americans) — Iraqis have to deal with the brutal reality of the war. And they know that everyone killed there by the invading forces is not "al Qaeda." They know that many Iraqis being killed by the Anglo-American coalition are innocent civilians. And they are increasingly embittered at the American slander of their dead.

This slander is being applied even to those Iraqis who have taken up arms against the very "al Qaeda" terrorists that the American military is purportedly protecting them from, Iraqis who are cooperating with the American-backed government and its American-trained military and security forces. The BBC reports about an horrific massacre of Iraqi civilians last week — an air attack with missiles and gunships that literally ripped to shreds the bodies of village guards who had just returned from a raid with Iraqi government forces on a suspected terrorist hideout. These men were then accused of being "al Qaeda gunmen" in Pentagon press releases trumpeting this magnificent feat of arms — accusations then duly (not to mention dully) parroted in the press.

But the people in the village of al-Khalis tell a different story. (And for all the bootlickers out there who have fully entered into the spirit of the sectarian bloodbath unleashed by Bush and resolutely reject any contradiction of Pentagon propaganda by Sunni victims, al-Khalis is a largely Shiite village, on the side of the American-backed Iraqi government.) The BBC, which acknowledges that it too simply repeated the Pentagon line in its first reports on the "triumph," has gone back to the village to dig up the truth — and to do what the Bush Regime never does, and what the American press does only with the most extreme rarity: give names to the "collateral damage" of Bush’s aggression.

Village Disputes Story of Deadly Attack (BBC):

Excerpts: A group of villagers in Iraq is bitterly disputing the US account of a deadly air attack on 22 June, in the latest example of the confusion surrounding the reporting of combat incidents there.

On 22 June the US military announced that its attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen who had been trying to infiltrate the village of al-Khalis, north of Baquba, where operation "Arrowhead Ripper" had been under way for the previous three days. The item was duly carried by international news agencies and received widespread coverage, including on the BBC News website.

But villagers in largely-Shia al-Khalis say that those who died had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They say they were local village guards trying to protect the township from exactly the kind of attack by insurgents the US military says it foiled…

They say that of 16 guards, 11 were killed and five others injured — two of them seriously — when US helicopters fired rockets at them and then strafed them with heavy machinegun fire. Minutes before the attack, they had been co-operating with an Iraqi police unit raiding a suspected insurgent hideout, the villagers said.

They added that the guards, lightly armed with the AK47 assault rifles that are a feature of practically every home in Iraq, were essentially a local neighbourhood watch paid by the village to monitor the dangerous insurgent-ridden area to the immediate south-west at Arab Shawkeh and Hibhib, where the al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed a year ago.

The BBC then quotes the American command’s version of the incident:

"Coalition Forces attack helicopters engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen southwest of Khalis, Friday. Iraqi police were conducting security operations in and around the village when Coalition attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and ground forces from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, observed more than 15 armed men attempting to circumvent the IPs and infiltrate the village. The attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen and destroyed the vehicle they were using."

This, say the villagers of al-Khalis, is simply a lie. Here is the account they gave to the BBC when it followed up on the story:

At around 2am on Friday morning, the village guards were at their usual base in an unfinished building on the edge of the Hayy al-Junoud quarter about 1.2 miles south-west of al-Khalis village centre. They were surprised when a convoy of Iraqi police suddenly turned up, headed by the commander of the Khalis emergency squad, Col Hussein Kadhim.

The police told them they were about to raid a suspect house in nearby al-Akrad Street and asked for the village mukhtar (headman) to accompany them. The Mukhtar of Hayy al-Junoud, Jassem Khalil, and his brothers Abbas and Ali, went with the police. Some of the other guards, about half altogether, also offered to go along. The raid turned out to be a false alarm — there was nothing suspicious at the house in question.

But as the police and guards began to return, the police received an urgent radio message from the Joint Operations Centre saying that US helicopters were about to raid the area. The police disappeared immediately. But before the guards could even get to their own car, they were hit by a rocket strike by American helicopters which suddenly appeared overhead. So too were the remainder of the guards, still at their base in the unfinished building nearby.

The rocket attacks were followed by a prolonged period of strafing by heavy machinegun fire from the helicopters. "It was like a battlefront, but with the fire going only in one direction," said a local witness. "There was no return fire".

…When frightened villagers ventured out at first light, they found 11 of the village guards dead, some of their bodies cut into small pieces by the munitions used against them. All but two of those killed were Shia and they have been buried at Najaf. The other two who were from the local minority Sunni community.

So here we have a local guard, an admirable example of Shia-Sunni cooperation, working with the Iraqi government against suspected insurgents, ground into mulch by American bullets then denounced by American brass as killers and terrorists. Thus yet another village has been turned against the blind and brutal occupation; thus many more seeds of revenge and bitterness have been planted.

Is this part of the much-ballyhooed "counterinsurgency doctrine" crafted by the sainted General Petraeus to win hearts and minds, to teach peace to the conquered? Or just the inevitable product of a war of aggression, an action conceived in deceit and callous inhumanity?

The BBC goes on to ask a few more pertinent questions:

If the villagers’ account is true, the incident would raise many questions, including: On what basis did the US helicopters launch their attack that night? How many other coalition reports of successes against "al-Qaeda fighters" are based on similar mistakes, especially when powerful remote weaponry is used?

The incident also highlights the problems the news media face in verifying such combat incidents in remote areas where communications are disrupted, where direct independent access is impossible because of the many lethal dangers they would face, and where only the official military version of events is available.

Ah yes, it’s the best of all possible worlds for dirty warriors like George Bush and Dick Cheney: a bloodbath "where only the official military version of events is available." But as we all know, "murder, though it hath no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ." And the names of the slaughtered in al-Khalis cry out with bitter eloquence their silent condemnation.

Jassem Khalil, the Mukhtar of Hayy al-Junoud
Abbas Khalil, his brother
Ali Khalil, his other brother
Kamal Hadi, their cousin
Shaker Adnan
Abdul Wahhab Ibrahim
Mohammad al-Zubaie
Abbas Muzhir Fadhel
Jamal Hussein Alwan
Abdul Hussein Abdullah
Ali Jawad Kadhem

Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.

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