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The death of a child: the birth of a national hero.
This story is still in first draft, rough with a lot of blanks to be filled in. On July 22, 200 American soldiers with enough sophisticated weaponry to start a small war attacked an upscale villa in the al-Falah neighborhood of Mosul for the purpose of killing Saddam Hussein’s two sons, Uday and Qusay. The four people in the villa, who defended themselves with only small arms for approximately four hours, included an aide to one of the brothers and Qusay’s 14-year old son, Mustafa.
But, according to information available as of July 27, after the three adults were killed and killed again and again (ten to twenty anti-tank missiles, depending upon the source, but undeniably by a 50-to-1 ratio), 14-year old Mustafa, grandson to Saddam Hussein, held off eighty or more soldiers until he too was finally overcome and shot to death.
Were it not for the pathos of Mustafa’s still being a child, the events would evoke the last scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It’s not, however, very comfortable to laugh at the image of a brave 14-year old boy, his dead father and uncle at his feet, mustering the courage of legendary heroes to fight off two hundred men from the world’s mightiest military, all armed to the teeth against whatever small arms one boy could grab.
It’s a cruel story that civilized people will never be comfortable with as we wonder what kind of thoughts ran through the boy’s head in his last moments. Surely he made a conscious decision to fight to the death. He had apparently been placed protectively in a back bedroom, so it might well be that he emerged only upon the murder of his father. Was his own nationalism as firmly entrenched in his mind as that of the soldiers who had invaded and destroyed his country? Perhaps a Steven Spielberg can someday put it together right. There is surely a devastated mother somewhere, a best friend, a girl who had caught her breath once upon speaking with the teenager. Maybe it will come out that there are keepsakes, first shoes, a lucky soccer ball, a piece of artwork from a child artist. That we have to leave to the movies. OR to those who preserve all they can of their heroes.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi people who did not support Saddam or his sons now have a hero able to break hearts, not the first time one was compiled by the bones of a valiant death. Whereas Saddam, Uday, and Qusay — unless they have been demonized out of any semblance to truth — were cruel to their own people, young Mustafa is probably squeaky clean. We don’t yet know, but it could be difficult for those forces against Iraqi insurgence to convincingly paint any fourteen year old as “evil.”
Mention of young Mustafa, even after his death, is rare. A long search provided no detailed report, no biography. It might well be assumed that this is one death the killers would prefer to bury. We have photos of Uday and Qusay. For those who enjoy gore, there are the indelicate naked pictures that almost seem to boast — twenty plus bullet holes, blood, disfigurement. Then, when global outrage against the brash bad taste of displaying such photos shook the Mideast, new photos emerged, these patched up, like an American body in an American morgue.
But there are no photos of Mustafa. Not in life OR death.
The invaders have shrugged and said they had no choice but to kill them. Some of us wish we had been contacted so that we could have reminded them of sieges, of tear gas. For reasons we don’t yet understand, Uday and Qusay appear to have been wanted dead, not alive. It speaks poorly for the mentality of the designers of this killing. Captured, the brothers could have been tried by their own victims and a picture of some kind of justice could have replaced the barbaric embarrassment of two hundred soldiers, many inept enough that the entire neighborhood around the villa was bullet-riddled by the end of the attack, fumbling as they killed.
The official line (stated by U.S. General Sanchez) is that the Americans were careful, conducting an orderly and gradual siege, taking every effort to avoid harming bystanders. The neighbors in Mosul, however, describe the entire event as a “chaotic free-for-all” where ushering local residents to safety was never a factor. (Source: Guardian Unlimited – Special Report; Julian Borger in Washington and Jonathan Steele in Mosul, Thursday July 24, 2003)
Hundreds watched from the street as the U.S. troops fired missiles launched from Humvees into the villa, helicopter-borne US troops climbed by rope down to the rooftops of the villa, and a steady barrage of gunfire kept the neighbors in frightened prone positions, as they feared for their own lives.
Two days later 21-year old Anas Basil Hamed was laid to rest in Mosul by his father as fifty or so friends mourned his death. Neighbors claimed that Hamed was killed by U.S. soldiers who fired into a crowd of young, unarmed Iraqis who were throwing rocks at the troops, shortly after the fierce firefight in which Mustafa was killed.
A U.S. military spokesman reported no record of any civilians being shot at during the uprising, but eight eyewitnesses (two of whom were recovering from gunshot wounds themselves) report seeing four to eight U.S. soldiers firing briefly into the crowd. Those interviewed did not know each other, but they provided nearly identical accounts of the incident. (source: Washington Post, “Troops Accused of Killing in Mosul” by Kevin Sullivan, Saturday, July 26, 2003; Page A13)
Further evidence indicates that shots were fired away from the building where the Hussein brothers were trapped, and toward an area far from the fighting, where the crowd had gathered. One witness, Bashar Ghanim Hamoodi, was able to retrieve Hamed’s body and take it to a physician who noted two fatal gunshots.
A shopkeeper, Ashad Akram Ahmad, showed reporters two bullet holes in the facade of his shop. Their location was directly behind the spot where witnesses say Hamad was shot down. (Source of these two paragraphs is the same Kevin Sullivan/Washington Post article cited above)
However much we want to defend our young U.S. soldiers as being uninformed victims of the administration now running our country, can we truly feel pride in the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division and the 200 men who shot a 14-year old to death?
And however much some want to demonize any Muslim or any Iraqi who is not willing to kneel at the invaders’ feet, can they truly not be touched at the story, if it is accurate, of a child fighting to the death against all odds?
Some see the event differently. Top civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer said of the killings: “It certainly is good news for the Iraqi people.” Ahman Chalabi, <U.S.-picked> delegate speaking at the United Nations, reported: “This will contribute significantly to reducing attacks on coalition soldiers.” (Source: WBZ 4 News, July 22, 2003 9:20 pm)
But the facts belie such expectations. Ten U.S. soldiers have died in the five days following the Mosul killings, causing some to claim that it is not only Iraqis who are the victims of the heavy-handed attack. And despite U.S. administration claims that this was done for the benefit of the Iraqi people, Andrea Stone of USA Today reported on July 23rd that many people are now claiming to have “loved” the Hussein brothers. She examples Arfan Khalid, a 28-year old shopkeeper who made this threat. “Those who reported their hideout to the Americans, I will slaughter them with my bare hands.”
The person who betrayed the Hussein brothers and Mustafa has not been clearly identified, but the U.S. has confirmed that he will receive the 30 million dollar bounty that led them to the villa. The Iraqi people have never once turned in the snipers who are increasingly killing U.S. soldiers. It appears that a large payoff is required.
At last word, the army would not return the bodies of Oday and Qusay to their appropriate tribe for correct Islamic burial procedures but, instead, said that Saddam himself must claim the bodies. One wonders whether Mustafa’s mother has been refused the body of her young son for burial according to his religion.
If this story is placed in the general “We v. Them” context, it must surely be accepted that “we” have no heroes here. “They” have one, one so potentially explosive that it could draw millions of neutral Iraqis into the resistance.
This one renders the biblical story of David vs. Goliath small.
May one more Iraqi child rest in peace, Insha Allah.
LISA WALSH THOMAS is a lifelong writer of poetry, fiction, arts reviews, and political essays. Her second book, “The Girl with Yellow Flowers in Her Hair,” is available through Pitchfork Publishing . Lisa invites comments at firstname.lastname@example.org