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A Hail of Bullets, A Trail of Dead

A human brain lay beside the highway. It was scattered in the sand, blasted from its owner’s head when the Americans ambushed their own Iraqi policemen.

A few inches away were a policeman’s teeth, broken but clean dentures, the teeth of a young man. “I don’t know if they are the teeth of my brother–and I don’t even know if my brother is alive or dead,” Ahmed Mohamed shouted at me. “The Americans took the dead and the wounded away–they won’t tell us anything.”

Ahmed Mohamed was telling the truth. He is also, I should add, an Iraqi policeman working for the Americans.

United States forces in Iraq officially stated–incredibly–that they had “no information” about the killing of the 10 cops and the wounding of five others early yesterday morning. Unfortunately, the Americans are not telling the truth.

Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Divison fired thousands of bullets in the ambush, hundreds of them smashing the wall of a building in the neighbouring Jordanian Hospital compound, setting several rooms on fire.

And if they really need “information”, they have only to look at the 40mm grenade cartridges scattered in the sand near the brains and teeth.

On each is printed the coding “AMM LOT MA-92A170-024”. This is a US code for grenades belt-fired from an American M-19 gun.

And out in Fallujah, where infuriated Iraqi civilians roamed the streets after morning prayers looking for US patrols to stone, it wasn’t difficult to put the story together. The local Americand-trained and American-paid police chief, Qahtan Adnan Hamad–who confirmed that 10 died–described hpow, not long after midnight yesterday morning, gunmen in a BMW car had opened fire on the Mayor’s office in Fallujah.

Two squads of the American-trained and American-paid police force–from the local Fallujah constabulary established by US forces last month and the newly constituted Iraqi national police–set off in pursuit.

Since the Americans will not reveal the truth, let Ahmed Mohamed, whose 28-year-old brother, Walid, was one of the policemen who gave chase, tell his story.

“We have been told that the BMW opened fire o the mayor’s office at 12.30am. The police chased them in two vehicles, a Nissan pick-up and a Honda car and they set off down the old Kandar roads toward Baghdad.

“But the Americans were there in the darkness, outside the Jordanian Hospital, to ambush cars on the road. They let the BMW through and then fired at the police cars.”

One of the policemen who was wounded in the second vehicle said the Americans suddenly appeared on the darkened road. “When they shouted at us, we stopped immediately,” he said. “We tried to tell them we were police. They just kept on shooting.”

The latter is true. I found thousands of brass cartridge cases at the scene, piles of them like autumn leaves glimmering in the sun, along with the dark green grenade cartridges. There were several hundred unfired bullets but–far more disturbing–was the evidence on the walls of a building at the Jordanian Hospital. At least 150 rounds had hit the breeze-block wall and two rooms had burned out, the flames blackening the outside of the building.

And therein lies another mystery that the Americans were yesterday in no hurry to resolve. Several Iraqis said that a Jordanian doctor in the hospital had been killed and five nurses wounded. Yet when I approached the hospital gate, I was confronted by three armed men who said they were Jordanian. To enter hospitals here now, you must obtain permission from the occupation authorities in Baghdad–which is rarely, if ever, forthcoming.

No-one wants journalists prowling round dismal morturaies in “liberated” Iraq. Who knows what they might find.

“The doctors have gone to prayer so you cannot come in,” an unsmiling Jordanian gunman at the gate told me. On the roof of the shattered hospital building, two armed and helmeted guards watched us. They looked to me very like Jordanian troops. And their hospital is opposite a US 3rd Infantry Division base. Are the Jordanians here for the Americans? Or are the Americans guarding the Jordanian Hospital? When I asked if the bodies of the dead policemen were here, the armed man at the gate shrugged his shoulders.

So what happened? Did the Americans shoot down their Iraqi policemen under the mistaken impression that they were “terrorists”–Saddamite or al-Qa’ida, depending on their faith in President George Bush–and then, once their bullets had smashed into the hospital, come under attack from the Jordanian guards on the roof? In any other land the Americans would surely have acknowledged some of the truth.

But all they would speak of yesterday were their own casualties. Two US soldiers were killed and seven wounded in a raid in the neighbouring town of Ramadi when the occupants of a house fired back at them. It gave the impression, of course, that American lives were infinetly more valuable than Iraqi lives.

And had the brains and teeth beside the road outside Fallujah been American brains and teeth, of course, they would have been removed. There were other things beside the highway yesterday.

A torn, blood-stained fragment of an American-supplied Iraqi policeman’s shirt, a primitive tourniquet and medical gauze and lots and lots of dried, blackened blood. The 3rd Infantry Division are tired, so the story goes here. They invaded Iraq in March and haven’t been home since. Their morale is low. Or so they say in Fallujah and Baghdad.

But already the cancer of rumour is beginning to turn this massacre into something far more dangerous. Here are the words of Ahmed, whose brother Sabah was a policeman caught inh the ambush and taken away by the Americans–alive or dead, he dosen’t know–and who turned up to examine the blood and cartridge cases yesterday.

“The Americans were forced to leave Fallujah after much fighting following their killing of 16 demonstrators in April. They were forced to hire a Fallujah police force. But they wanted to return to Fallujah so they arranged the ambush. The BMW ‘gunmen’ who were supposed to show there was no security in Fallujah–so the Americans could return. Our police kept crying out: ‘We are the police–we are the police’. And the Americans went on shooting.”

In vain did I try to explain that the last thing the Americans wanted to do was to return to the Sunni Muslim Saddamite town of Fallujah. Already they have paid “blood money” to the families of local, innocent Iraqis shot down at their checkpoints. They will have to do the same to the tribal leader whose two sons they also killed at another checkpoint near Fallujah on Thursday night.

But why did the Americans kill so many of their own Iraqi policemen? Had they not heard the radio appeals of the dying men? Why–and here the story of the Jordanian Hospital guard’s and the policemen’s relatives were the same–did tjhe Americans go on shooting for an hour and a half? And why did the Americans say that they had “no information” about the slaughter 18 hours after they had gunned down 10 of the very men whom President Bush needs most if he wishes to extricate his army from the Iraqi death trap?

Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s forthcoming book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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