The Haditha massacre: "Democracy assassinated the family that was here"

On the morning of November 19, 2005 US Marines killed 24 civilians, including women, children and even infants in Haditha, Iraq. The massacre was covered up until January, when evidence of the massacre could no longer be denied. The US government has announced that the Marines involved will stand trial for murder. The full impact of Haditha is yet to be revealed, but similar to the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War, it could represent the beginning of the end for the US occupation of Iraq

"Democracy assassinated the family that was here". Those are the words graffitied on the house of one of the families massacred by US soldiers in Haditha on November 19, 2005 - biting words that accurately reflect the bitter resentment of the Iraqi people at the occupation of their country.

Undoubtedly, many Iraqis adopted a wait and see approach, even if through gritted teeth, as US and British forces began the assault on their country. No one was prepared to defend the regime of Saddam Hussein. Just a few years later, the Iraqi people have not received anything promised to them by the forces of occupation. The massacre at Haditha may well be the event that turns the tide against the occupation and eventually drives the imperialists out of Iraq.

Democracy through massacre

Many people probably believed, even if faintly, in the American and British promises of the "freedom" and "democracy" that would be delivered by the armies of "liberation". But it wasn't long before those hopes and dreams lay in ruins. The Iraqi people could only stand by and watch as their country was bombed and smashed as the armies of occupation steamrolled the country in an attempt to secure Iraq's oilfields and other important points of production.

The so-called liberators promised a kinder, gentler machine gun hand in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people - and we must not forget those of the population back home.

But after the exposure of the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the actions of the British in Basra and the south of the country, the massacre at Fallujah (the extent of which is yet to be revealed), and now the terrible massacre in Haditha at the end of last year, one would have to be incredibly naive to believe in the lies and hypocrisy of the imperialists.

The Iraqis have patiently waited for "democracy" to arrive. But what does this so-called "democracy" look like? Elections held on the point of bayonets, sectarian squabbling and back room deal-making over the Constitution, heavy-handed tactics of the imperialists over the choice of president, internecine fighting and a growing civil war - and of course the brutal tactics of the imperialists to "pacify" the country in order to defend their interests. This is what "democracy" looks like to the Iraqi people - the words inscribed on that house in Haditha say it all - "democracy" assassinated those families in Haditha.

Reversal of Fortunes

The true interests of the imperialists have been laid bare for all to see. All the reasons and justifications for the war have been exposed as lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction and the Hussein regime had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.

The US and British have no interest in establishing "democracy" in Iraq. The argument was that by bringing "democracy" to the Iraq, the tactics of the imperialists would be seen as a shining example for all to see in the Middle East, paving the way for the establishment of "democracy" throughout the region.

By smashing Iraq and occupying the country, the imperialists wanted to establish a strategic stronghold in the region. With the threat of invasion hanging over any country or regime that did not comply with the imperialists, the US and British hoped that they could terrify the region into submission, thereby guaranteeing their economic and political interests in the region. And this wouldn't have been simply a perceived threat - if anyone doubted the seriousness of the intentions of the imperialists, one just had to look across the desert at the smouldering rubble of Iraq.

The armies of imperialism were never armies of liberation, no matter how many times they tried to tell us this. They were always armies of occupation. Any new regime established in Iraq would be established with the support of US and British bayonets. For any regime to survive the mess after the war, it would have to rely totally and completely on the armies of occupation for support. Without this support, the present regime would not last five minutes.

In order to establish a compliant regime, the imperialists engaged in the age-old tactic of "divide and rule". The imperialists played the Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds off one another in an attempt to weaken them all, ensuring the domination of the imperialists. But this plan had one drawback. By fostering these divisions the imperialists unleashed a firestorm - the present insurgency and civil war (see: Iraq - Opening the Gates of Hell). Sure, the imperialists may dominate at the present time, but the instability they have created in Iraq threatens to engulf not only the country itself but the entire region, and reverse any gains that the imperialists may have made.

Massacre at Haditha

Haditha is a small farm town along the Euphrates - a place where US and Iraqi forces have fought the insurgency for most of the war. On November 19, 2005 a Marine supply convoy was passing through the city when a roadside bomb exploded on one of the main streets of the town, killing one soldier, Lance-Corporal Miguel Terrazas, and injuring two others. The bomb had been planted between two vacant lots in order to avoid killing, and further alienating, civilians (this is in the words of residents of Haditha).

After recovering from their initial shock, the Marines began searching nearby houses. There are unconfirmed reports that air support was called in and that bombs were dropped - although it is unclear where they fell.

The Marines divided into "fire teams" and began conducting house-to-house raids. Four university students returning home for the weekend inadvertently came down the street in a taxi. All of them, including the driver, were shot dead in the vehicle as they tried to leave the scene. It is unclear whether this occurred before or after the house raids.

Three houses were raided. In each case the Marines broke down the door and entered the homes shooting. Grenades were tossed into kitchens. They then grouped the families together and executed them. The people killed included old men and women, children and even infants. One man tried to escape the carnage and was shot dead.

In all 18 people were killed in the house raids. Including the man trying to escape and the five in the taxi the total murdered is 24. Those in the houses were shot at close range - point-blank in the upper body, execution style. (more details on the massacre can be found here: and here

Several children survived the massacre, including 8-year old Iman Rahman and 5-year old Abdul Rahman in the first house and 13-year old Safa Younis in the second house. Iman and Abdul watched the Marines shoot their grandparents in the head, and then were shielded by their parents as the family was huddled together to be executed.

After the massacre more Marines arrived. There was confusion and shouting amongst the troops. The Marines cordoned off the block and began filing in and out of the houses. Nobody was allowed into the area until the next morning.

Eventually, although it is unclear when, the Marines rounded up the dead bodies and dropped them off in the garden of a local hospital and left without explanation. Some reports indicate that some of the bodies had been burnt.

After receiving complaints, the Marines eventually paid between $1,500 and $2,500 in compensation for the 15 men women and children killed in the first two houses (is this the price of a life?). They have refused to pay for the other 9 men killed, claiming that they were insurgents.

The Cover Up

Following the massacre, the Marines reported that they had been hit by a roadside bomb and then come under attack by insurgents from nearby houses. The Marines reported the next day that one US Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the blast. After coming under fire from insurgents, they reported, they returned fire killing eight enemy combatants and wounding another.

After the killings the mayor of Haditha led an angry delegation to the Marine camp. The mayor says, "The captain admitted that his men had made a mistake. He said that his men thought there were terrorists near the houses, and he didn't give any other reason."

However, the military stuck to its story. Shortly after the attack another military unit arrived on the scene to investigate and photograph the scene and the bodies. This is routine after such an incident. They must have noticed the discrepancies between the evidence and the reports of the Marines. Still nothing was done.

In fact nothing was done and the military stuck to its story until January. One day after the incident a journalism student videotaped the scene at the morgue and in the houses where the massacre took place. Several human rights organisations obtained the tape and shared it with Time magazine. The tape shows that many of the women and children were in their nightclothes when they were killed. Video shots from inside the homes show the walls pockmarked with bullet holes and covered in blood. Significantly, the video does not show any bullet holes on the outside of any of the houses - which would indicate that the Marines did not come under any insurgent fire and that there was no gunfight.

In January, Time presented military officials in Baghdad with the video evidence and accounts of the Marine's actions taken from interviews with Haditha residents. The US military launched a probe into the incident and two separate bodies are investigating.

The investigations have determined that the civilians were not killed by the roadside bomb but by the Marines. The military and government have confirmed that the Marines involved in the massacre will stand trial for murder.

The fallout and the beginning of the end

Those responsible for the massacre should stand trial for the massacre. If found guilty, they should be punished for this crime. But as with the Abu Ghraib trials, it seems that the US military would like to contain the charges to the troops and protect their commanding officers from any legal proceedings or punishment.

One important aspect to the incident is the question of airstrikes. Some reports indicate that the Marines burnt houses in Haditha on the day of the massacre, but some reports indicate that warplanes dropped bombs on them. Airstrikes must be approved by senior commanders. If they did approve airstrikes that day, it would indicate that senior officers were paying attention to the events of that day.

Why would the military and the Bush administration be interested in protecting senior officers? If senior officers are convicted of war crimes this would open the road to legal challenges for high-ranking officials in the Bush administration. As long as the administration blames all war crimes and atrocities on rank and file soldiers, they can try to argue that these actions are isolated incidents - not systemic to the war. If responsibility moves up the chain of command this would put the whole war and the military into question. The entire military would be tainted with the blood of the massacre. This will only give strength to the calls for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Responsibility for the Haditha massacre - for all massacres in Iraq and Afghanistan - goes right to the top of the Bush administration, including the president. In a brutal war of occupation, where soldiers face a growing insurgency and a hostile population, atrocities and massacres are bound to happen. In the Korean War US soldiers killed hundreds of refugees in the 1950 No Gun Ri massacre, which was also covered-up and not revealed publicly until 1999. In Vietnam there was the 1968 My Lai massacre of 500 civilians, which turned the tide of public opinion against the war.

Those responsible must be held accountable. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the men and women who sent the soldiers there in the first place. This was the precedent established after the Second World War and in the Geneva Convention - which as we have already seen with Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of "enemy combatants" (as opposed to Prisoners of War) the US government has done away with.

Haditha, like Abu Ghraib, represents the true face of the war. The true face of the promised democracy is abuse, torture, atrocities, and massacres. This is why the Bush administration and the military were desperate to cover up Abu Ghraib and Haditha. This is why Rumsfeld was angry at those who took photos of the abuse at Abu Ghraib and released them to the public - not at the perpetrators themselves. Every Abu Ghraib, every Haditha - and there are bound to be more - is a nail in the coffin for the occupation of Iraq and for the Bush administration. Undoubtedly, the Haditha massacre is only the tip of the grisly iceberg in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many are comparing the Haditha massacre and the impact it will have with the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war. Some 500 people were slaughtered in the My Lai massacre, which was also covered up. But when the full extent of the atrocity was revealed, it had a profound effect on all aspects of the war. The war tarnished the image of the US Army and fuelled discontent and low morale in the army. Soldiers believed that commanding officers were covering up other such atrocities. It gave strength to Vietnamese forces fighting the Americans, and it strengthened the anti-war movement. Those people who were previously oblivious to the war or not interested, took notice and started to oppose the war. After the Tet offensive and the My Lai massacre President Johnson's approval rating fell to 30 percent (from 80 percent) and approval of his handling of the war fell to 26 percent. This was the beginning of the end for US imperialism in Vietnam - and let us not forget, the US lost the war at home.

The same will happen in Iraq with the Haditha massacre. It will have a massive impact on all aspects of the war. It may very well be the beginning of the end of US imperialism's tragic adventure in Iraq. It could have a massive impact on the home front. Haditha could turn the tide of public opinion against the war. After September 11 Bush had an approval rating of almost 90 percent. A recent poll puts his approval rating at just 29 percent (one of the lowest since polling began). Two-thirds of respondents said they had little or no confidence that Bush could end the war and just 23 percent said that the country was heading in the right direction. This is before the major fallout from the Haditha massacre, which will drive these figures even further down to historic lows. People oblivious to the war will stand up and take notice. The anti-war movement will be strengthened as Haditha reveals all the lies about the war. Calls for the end of the war and the removal of Bush will only be strengthened.

The massacre will drive Iraqis into further opposition to the war and occupation. Upwards of 80 percent of the Iraqi population are against the occupation and support the resistance. Haditha will only drive these figures up. Already the Iraqi authorities in Basra refuse to communicate with the British. Haditha will confirm all the worst fears of the Iraqis about the United States. The massacre will prove that US imperialism cannot be trusted, and will strengthen the calls in Iraq for the imperialists to leave. How long will the Iraqi government be able to withstand the pressure to demand that the US leave?

The massacre will only fuel the insurgency. Already there are reports that insurgents and Al-Qaeda are using video footage of the massacre to recruit more fighters. This will mean a stepping up of the insurgent campaigns against the forces of occupation and will only mean more civilian and military casualties. 2,500 US soldiers and 113 British soldiers have been killed so far. More casualties will have a profound effect on both the military and population back home. As we reported in a previous article morale in the army is low. 72 percent of soldiers in Iraq believe the US should withdraw within the next year. Some 25 percent believe the US should pull out immediately. 70 percent of troops consider their morale low or very low. 75 percent believe their commanding officers display poor leadership and lack concern for the safety and well-being of the troops. The Haditha massacre will drive these figures even higher. As in Vietnam discontent will rise and morale will drop in the army. The doubts of the soldiers about their officers will increase. Many will wonder what else has been covered up. Some may be compelled to expose other such cover-ups and attrocities. Combine this with a growing insurgency and more casualties, and the US military in Iraq could begin falling apart. Haditha may turn out to be the catalyst that leads to the defeat of the US army in Iraq.

The US war effort is in shambles. All the reasons for the war have been exposed as shame-faced lies. All the hypocrisy about bringing democracy to Iraq through the "army of liberation" is exposed for all to see. Shortly after the invasion, the US military pulled down a large statue of Saddam Hussein, claiming this was a symbol of the war - a symbol of freedom and democracy, a symbol of a new era of peace for the Iraqi people. A few years later no one remembers this cheap publicity stunt. The promises of liberty and peace are replaced with images of murdered families in Haditha. As My Lai became the symbol of the Vietnam War, years from now what people will remember about the Iraq war is the Haditha massacre - an atrocity that will become the symbol of the Iraq war for years to come.


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