What happened in the village of Abu Sifa, in the rural Al-Isahaqi district north of Baghdad, on the Ides of March? The murk of war – the natural blur of unbuckled event, and its artificial augmentation by professional massagers – shrouds the details of the actual operation. But here is what we know.
We know that U.S. forces conducted a raid on a house in the village on March 15. We know that the Pentagon said the American troops were "targeting an individual suspected of supporting foreign fighters for the al-Qaeda in Iraq terror network," when their team came under fire, and that the troops "returned fire, utilizing both air and ground assets." We know that the Pentagon said that "only" one man, two women and one child were killed in the raid, which destroyed a house in the village.
We know from photographic evidence that the corpses of two men, four shrouded figures (women, according to the villagers), and five children – all of them apparently under the age of five, one as young as seven months – were pulled from the rubble of the house and laid out for burial beneath the bright, blank desert sky. We know that an Associated Press reporter on the scene saw the ruined house, and a photographer for Agence France Presse took the pictures of the bodies.
We know that two Iraqi police officials, Major Ali Ahmed and Colonel Farouq Hussein – both employed by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government – told Reuters that the 11 occupants of the house, including the five children, had been bound and shot in the head before the house was blown up. We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police told Reuters that an American helicopter landed on the roof in the early hours of the morning, then the house was blown up, and then the victims were discovered. We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police said that an autopsy performed on the bodies found that "all the victims had gunshot wounds to the head." We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police said they found "spent American-issue cartridges in the rubble."
We know that a Knight-Ridder reporter later saw a preliminary police report indicating that the 11 victims had multiple wounds. This was presented in American papers as a possible contradiction of the original Iraqi police statements, which Knight-Ridder said spoke of victims suffering "a single gunshot to the head." However, in all of the original reports, the Iraqi police were quoted as saying the victims were shot in the head; they did not say whether there were other wounds as well.
We know that Ahmed Khalaf, brother of house's owner, told AP that nine of the victims were family members and two were visitors, adding, "the killed family was not part of the resistance, they were women and children. The Americans have promised us a better life, but we get only death."
We know from the photographs that one child, the youngest, the baby, has a gaping wound in his forehead. We can see that one other child, a girl with a pink ribbon in her hair, is lying on her side and has blood oozing from the back of her head. The faces of the other children are turned upwards toward the sun; if they were shot, they were shot in the back of the head and their wounds are not evident. But we can see that their bodies, though covered with dust from the rubble, are otherwise whole; they were evidently not crushed in the collapse of the house. They died in some other fashion.
We know from the photographs that two of the children – two girls, still in their pajamas – are lying with their dead eyes open. We can see that the light and tenderness that animate the eyes of every young child have vanished; nothing remains but the brute stare of nothingness into nothingness. We can see that the other three children have their eyes closed; two are limp, but the baby has one stiffened arm raised to his cheek, as if trying to ward off the blow that gashed and pulped his face so terribly.
These facts are what we know from American officials, American-backed Iraqi officials and reporters for Western press associations on the scene. This is probably all we will ever know for certain about what happened in Isahaqi on March 15. The rest will remain obscured by the murk instigated by U.S. military spokesmen, who are evidently not telling the truth about the body count of the raid, and by the natural confusion that must attend the villagers' description of an attack that struck without warning in the middle of the night. But beyond this cloud of unknowing, there are a few other facts relevant to the case that can be clearly established.
For instance, we know that the American troops who caused the deaths of these children – either by tying them up and shooting them, an unspeakable atrocity, or else "merely" by storming or bombing a house full of civilians in a night raid "with both air and ground assets" – were sent to Iraq on a demonstrably false mission to "disarm" weapons that did not exist and take revenge for 9/11 on a nation that had nothing to do with the attack. And we now know that the White House – and George W. Bush specifically – knew all along that the intelligence did not and could not support the public case he had made for the war.
We know that the only reason that this dead baby has his arm frozen to his lifeless face is that three years ago this week, George W. Bush gave the order to begin the unprovoked, unjust and unnecessary invasion of Iraq. He hasn't fired a single shot or launched a single missile; he hasn't tortured or killed any prisoners; he hasn't kidnapped or beheaded civilians or planted bombs along roadsides, in mosques or marketplaces. Yet every single atrocity of the war – on both sides – and every single death caused by the war, and every act of religious repression perpetrated by the extremist sects empowered by the war, is the direct result of the decision made by George W. Bush three years ago. Nothing he says can change this fact; nothing he does, or causes to be done, for good or ill, can wash the blood of these children – and the tens of thousands of other innocent civilians killed in the war – from his hands.
And anyone who knows these facts, who sees these facts, and fails to cry out against them – if only in your own heart – will be forever tainted by this same blood.
*Our webmaster, Rich Kastelein, has provided his usual sterling service in finding all the available photos of the Isahaqi victims and piecing them together with the stories on the case. You can find that package here.*
UPDATE FROM RICHARD: I have also created a Flash presentation with Chris's writing, images of the war crime which is set to music from Peter Gabriel. Click on the banner to the left or here.
Warning: graphic photographs in this movie; mostly not suitable for children or those of a sensitive nature.
Mike Whitney has written an excellent article on the subject at the SF Bay View which has been making its way around the Net.
UPDATE FROM CHRIS: Time Magazine has a story on another murk-enshrouded incident in another village that left 15 unarmed Iraqis dead, including seven women and three children: One Morning in Haditha.