- BAGHDAD -- Even to the Amariya
bunker they came. So determined - or desperate - are the Americans to staunch
the killing of their soldiers in Iraq that they even turned up at the weekend
at the ruins of the air-raid shelter in which more than 400 civilians were
killed by US missiles in the 1991 war, to search for weapons.
- "They wouldn't let us go with them," said Mohamed
Naimi, who works at the offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party next to what
has become a shrine. "They went in alone and when we asked them if
they knew who killed all the civilians inside, one of the officers said,
'We didn't take part in that war'."
- After the killing of another US soldier near Hillah yesterday
morning, bringing to five the number of troops killed in just 24 hours,
and the number killed in this war to 163, the Americans are in no mood
to heed the sensitivities of the people they claimed to be liberating less
than four months ago. All across Iraq yesterday, the American army was
storming on to farms, raiding refugee houses, even, according to Arab reports,
trying to enter the Shrine of the Imam Hussain in Karbala. However inaccurate
this may be, one of the shrine's guards was shot dead by the Americans
and bullet holes were later filmed in a marble wall beside the mosque.
- The claims of potential victory may have been intended
to obscure the near-total opposition to the Americans which is now becoming
apparent across all but Kurdish areas.
- Saddam Hussein was only 24 hours from being caught by
soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division after they raided three farmhouses
near the former leader's home city of Tikrit and arrested 25 occupants.
Or so officers of the unit said. Another of Saddam's senior bodyguards
just escaped. Or so the American officers said. But Saddam was not there
and all 25 prisoners were later freed.
- At the Amariya bunker, too, the Americans found nothing.
They walked through the blackened interior with its photographs of the
hundreds of slaughtered civilian dead, its wreaths, its scorched iron doors
and its glass-covered walls of burnt skin. Then they left. The Americans
were said to have been polite, but not their Iraqi interpreters. It's a
familiar story. If the Americans are not offensive in word or deed, their
interpreters, usually Iraqi exiles who have spent years in the United States,
are often rude or arrogant, say the thousands of Iraqis who have had their
- Late on Saturday night, it was the turn of the refugee
poor who live in the broken houses of the old secret police headquarters
in Mansur Street. Here, hundreds of Iraqi Shias from the super-heated slums
of Sadr City - formerly Saddam City - were woken by a raiding party of
US troops who seized guns and rifles from their makeshift homes amid the
sinister ruins of Saddam's most frightful intelligence organisation.
- "They tied up all the men with plastic and steel
cuffs around their wrists and took all our guns," one of the residents
complained. "A soldier pointed his rifle at this child here and his
Iraqi translator said in Arabic that they'd count to 10 to be told where
our guns were. Yes, of course we have guns: we have to defend ourselves
from thieves who come in the night. Everyone in Baghdad has a gun now because
there is so much robbery and killing."
- The guns were taken but, according to a middle-aged woman
in a black abaya, the men were left handcuffed when the soldiers departed.
"We had to find knives to cut them free," she said.
- Again, it's becoming a familiar pattern, these stories
of mistreatment and abuse. Even if only 10 per cent were true - and this
does not mean the percentage may not be much higher - the American military
is acquiring a cursed reputation in Iraq. One of the men in the old intelligence
compound complained that an American soldier had stolen money from him.
Again, this may be a lie - all questions about such claims are routinely
dismissed by the military - but far too many reports are now coming in
of identical theft in other American raids for them all to be dismissed
- Nor should one be romantic about the behaviour of all
Iraqi civilians. If the Americans were dismissive of the mass killing at
Amariya when they visited the underground bunker at the weekend, Iraqi
looters had stormed into the Baathist-constructed shrine after the "liberation"
of Baghdad in April and stole the gold rings of the victims which had been
stored in glass cases in the neighbouring exhibition hall.
- As for the Americans, their death toll is rising. US
forces have lost 11 men since the deaths of Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay,
the latest a soldier attached to the Marine Expeditionary Unit based south
of Baghdad. And, since they are so keen to kill or capture Saddam, one
can only guess how high the statistics of American deaths will climb if
they are successful.