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Killing the News in Iraq

Reuters may be “satisfied” with the Pentagon’s investigation concluding that US troops were “justified” in their slaying of the news organization’s working journalist Waleed Khaled back in 2005, but the rest of us shouldn’t be.

Khaled and his driver were killed by US troops when they came on a firefight involving US troops and Iraqi police who were allegedly under attack. The Pentagon report into the incident concluded that the two men came onto the scene, and American forces, seeing Khaled’s videocam and tripod, thought it was a rocket launcher. They reportedly fired warning shots. When Khaled’s driver did the logical thing, backing slowly from the scene, US troops “assumed it was an insurgent tactic” and fired to “disable” the vehicle, killing the two men.

First of all, let’s note that Khaled is not the only journalist to have been killed by US forces in Iraq. There has been a pattern that makes it clear that journalists who step outside the controlled bubble of the embedded propagandist traveling with the troops are fair game, which explains why we in America know so little about the reality of the US assault on the people of Iraq.

But beyond this journalistic issue, what this story tells us, besides the fact that an innocent reporter and his innocent driver, just doing their jobs, were murdered by overly aggressive US soldiers (whose initial response, and that of Pentagon “investigators,” appears to have been to cover up their actions) is that any innocent parties who stumble into a battle zone are liable to be slaughtered by US forces in Iraq.

The only thing that distinguishes this tragic incident from hundreds of others like it that occur routinely in Iraq is that Khaled was a journalist employed by a major Western news organization with the clout and prominence to demand a real, and public, investigation into the case.

For Iraqis killed under similar circumstances, not only is there no investigation; there is simply no report of their deaths. As US commanders have famously and disgustingly said, “We don’t do bodycounts.”

There is a reason why ordinary Iraqis are almost unanimously opposed to the neo-colonial “deal” the Bush is trying to force their puppet regime to approve, granting US forces legal immunity and a free rein in Iraq to attack and arrest anyone they choose, and to be protected from arrest by Iraqi authorities for any of their actions in that country. Iraqis daily see the US behaving like Nazi stormtroopers, killing their countrymen with impunity, and they want it to stop.

Anyone who thinks that running this kind of brutal occupation is going to end any way but disastrously is delusional. Imagine if we had Iraqi troops running around the US blowing up innocent drivers without fear of any consequence. We’d have an army of vigilantes taking action—which is just what is happening in Iraq.

The situation in Iraq for ordinary Iraqis has actually been getting worse, as the Pentagon turns increasingly to aerial bombardment and even the use of remote-controlled Predator drones, run by video jockeys back in the US, to conduct its attacks on “suspected insurgents,” instead of sending ground troops. This approach may reduce US casualties, but it inevitably increases the number and the percentage of so-called “collateral damage” deaths of innocent non-combatants.

Khaled’s murder by American troops is a personal tragedy for his colleagues and his family, but at least it serves to demonstrate, if anyone is paying attention, the wretched reality of the Bush/Cheney/Democratic Congress war and occupation of Iraq.

Returning veterans of the war who have joined Iraq Veterans Against the War IVAW), have been bravely speaking out against this ongoing horror. They tell of soldiers and marines so brutalized and frustrated by their repeated deployments to Iraq that all they want to do is survive and get home. They tell of troops who hate all Iraqis, calling them “hajjis” and “ragheads,” who are doped up and sent out on patrol with diminished judgment—a sure recipe for the kind of thing that happened to Khaled and his driver. One IVAW member, Camilo Mejia, who refused redeployment and was sentenced to a year in the brig for desertion, in an excellent book titled “Road from ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilio Mejia, an Iraq War Memoir” (Haymarket Books), also writes of how US commanders push their troops into pointless confrontations at which civilians are often the victims, because they want to go home with combat badges on their chests.

Just ask yourself for a moment, what should Khaled and his driver have done, when they came on the scene of the firefight?  If they had simply stopped their car, having already been fired on (and no doubt not knowing who was doing the firing)? Sitting still was clearly a bad option. Going forward was suicide. So they did the only logical thing: they backed up slowly—surely the least threatening option available. But the US troops saw that action as “a typical insurgent tactic,” and opened fire on them.

If retreat is seen as an enemy “tactic,” then there is really no hope for some innocent person caught up in a firefight.

No wonder over a million Iraqis have died in this criminal war, most of them victims of American weaponry!

No wonder Iraqis overwhelmingly want the US out of their country!

No wonder even the puppet regime established by the US is opposed to the Bush/Cheney effort to establish a permanent occupation, with legal immunity for US forces, with 58 permanent bases around the country, and with the US getting control of the air and the right to bomb at will!

The story of Khaled’s murder—and the fact that the Pentagon can call it “justified”–should make it crystal clear that the only answer to the ongoing crisis in Iraq is for the US to leave the country immediately.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based investigative journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

 

 

 

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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