How Can the US Ever Win
When Iraqi Children Die Like This?
by Robert Fisk
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
Saturday, August 13, 2005 -- There's the wreckage of a car bomb that
killed seven Americans on the corner of a neighboring street. Close by
stands the shuttered shop of a phone supplier who put pictures of
Saddam on a donkey on his mobiles. He was shot three days ago, along
with two other men who had committed the same sin. In the al-Jamia
neighbourhood, a US Humvee was purring up the road, so we gingerly
backed off and took a side street. In this part of Baghdad, you avoid
both the insurgents and the Americans -- if you are lucky.
Yassin al-Sammerai was not. On 14 July, the second grade schoolboy had
gone to spend the night with two college friends and -- this being a
city without electricity in the hottest month of the year -- they
decided to spend the night sleeping in the front garden. Let his
broken 65 year-old father Selim take up the story, for he's the one who
still cannot believe his son is dead -- or what the Americans told him
"It was three-thirty in the morning and they were all asleep, Yassin
and his friends Fahed and Walid Khaled. There was an American patrol
outside and then suddenly, a Bradley armored vehicle burst through the
gate and wall and drove over Yassin. You know how heavy these things
are. He died instantly. But the Americans didn't know what they'd
done. He was lying crushed under the vehicle for 17 minutes. Um
Khaled, his friends' mother, kept shouting in Arabic: "There is a boy
under this vehicle."
According to Selim al-Sammerai, the Americans' first reaction was to
put handcuffs on the two other boys. But a Lebanese Arabic interpreter
working for the Americans arrived to explain that it was all a mistake.
"We don't have anything against you,''she said. The Americans
produced a laminated paper in English and Arabic entitled "Iraqi Claims
Pocket Card" which tells them how to claim compensation.
The unit whose Bradley drove over Yassin is listed as "256 BCT A/156
AR, Mortars". Under "Type of Incident", an American had written: "Raid
destroyed gate and doors." No one told the family there had been a
raid. And nowhere -- but nowhere -- on the form does it suggest that
the "raid'' destroyed the life of the football-loving Yassin
Inside Yassin's father's home yesterday, Selim shakes with anger and
then weeps softly, wiping his eyes. "He is surely in heaven," one of
his surviving seven sons replies. And the old man looks at me and
says: "He liked swimming too."
A former technical manager at the Baghdad University college of arts,
Selim is now just a shadow. He is half bent over on his seat, his face
sallow and his cheeks drawn in. This is a Sunni household in a Sunni
area. This is "insurgent country" for the Americans, which is why they
crash into these narrow streets at night. Several days ago, a
collaborator gave away the location of a group of Sunni guerrillas and
US troops surrounded the house. A two-hour gun-battle followed until
an Apache helicopter came barrelling out of the darkness and dropped a
bomb on the building, killing all inside.
There is much muttering around the room about the Americans and the
West, and I pick up on this quickly and say how grateful I am that they
have let a Westerner come to their home after what has happened. Selim
turns and shakes me by the hand. "You are welcome here," he says.
"Please tell people what happened to us." Outside, my driver is
watching the road; it's the usual story. Any car with three men inside
or a man with a mobile phone means "get out". The sun bakes down. It
is a Friday. "These guys take Fridays off," the driver offers by way
"The Americans came back with an officer two days later," Selim
al-Sammerai continues. "They offered us compensation. I refused. I
lost my son, I told the officer. 'I don't want the money -- I don't
think the money will bring back my son.' That's what I told the
American." There is a long silence in the room. But Selim, who is still
crying, insists on speaking again.
"I told the American officer: 'You have killed the innocent, and such
things will lead the people to destroy you, and the people will make a
revolution against you. You said you had come to liberate us from the
previous regime. But you are destroying our walls and doors.'"
I suddenly realise that Selim al-Sammerai has straightened up on his
seat and his voice is rising in strength. "Do you know what the
American said to me? He said, 'This is fate.' I looked at him, and I
said, 'I am very faithful in the fate of God -- but not in the fate of
which you speak.'"
Then one of Yassin's brothers says that he took a photograph of the
dead boy as he lay on the ground, a picture taken on his mobile phone,
and he printed a picture of it and when the Americans returned on the
second day they asked to see it. "They asked me why I had taken the
picture, and I said it was so people here could see what the Americans
had done to my brother. They asked if they could borrow it and bring it
back. I gave it to them but they didn't bring it back. But I still kept
the image on my mobile and I was able to print another." And suddenly
it is in my hands, an obscene and terrible snapshot of Yassin's head
crushed flat as if an elephant had stood upon it, blood pouring from
what had been the back of his brains. "So now, you see," the brother
explains, "the people can still see what the Americans have done."
In the heat, we slunk out of al-Jamia yesterday, the place of
insurgents and Americans and grief and revenge. "When the car bomb blew
up over there," my driver says, "the US Humvees went on burning for
three hours and the bodies were still there. The Americans took three
hours to reach them. Al the people gathered round and watched." And I
look at the carbonized car that still lies on the road, and realise it
has now become a little icon of resistance. How, I ask myself again,
can the Americans ever win?