Those who follow the American occupation of Iraq news may be familiar with a term used in media almost two years ago: The Triangle of Death, an area south of Baghdad, which constitutes three relatively small towns; Yosfiya, Mahmoodiya and Latifiya. Of course it has nothing to do with death; on the contrary it is situated in one of the greenest, most beautiful and peaceful areas of Iraq, full of fruit orchards, vegetable farms where the Tigris and the Euphrates and many smaller canals flow calmly through the rural areas and hundreds of small villages. It also used to be one of the most important industrial areas in central Iraq, especially textiles. But it is branded Triangle of Death by the American troops now, because they face the largest number of attacks on the southern highway there.
The population is a mixture of Shiite and Sunni Arab tribes, as almost everywhere else in Iraq. It never happened in history that this area witnessed any sectarian conflict whatsoever. Directly after the occupation, and through 2004, news of American raids, arrests and big military operations were regular there. This year however, a new (dimension) was added, horrible stories of arrests, torture, and mass killing news were coming out, not only by the American troops, but also by the Iraqi police and Army units. These news rarely, almost never, find their way into the mainstream media, neither Iraqi nor international.
Yosfiya is almost part of southern Baghdad, may be less than 30 kilometers. The biggest and most essential point here is now the Saqr (hawk) American military base, and prison where all detainees from south Baghdad are usually taken, to be moved later into bigger prisons like Abu Greib or Camp Bucca in Um Qasr (near Basra) or other unknown prisons. In the past this huge facility was Scania bus factory. That is why Iraqis call it Scania prison. Mountains of garbage are thrown on both sides of the highway (the driver commented sarcastically that everything went down in Iraq except garbage, it went up), beyond that is the car graveyard, a very big area where damaged vehicles are collected to be sold for the cheapest price in a neighboring country. To make it worse, very long queues of cars stop endlessly here either to get fuel, waiting at many check points, or stopped temporarily to let the American or Iraqi military patrols pass. Expectedly, the way to Yosfiya which normally wouldn’t take more that 15 minutes, takes now at least 1.30 hour.
Our destination was a village called Qaraghool. But the driver explained that it is impossible to reach that village because it is besieged by the Iraqi and American troops for 3 months.
-“This is the point”, we objected , “we want to see how the villagers are surviving there.”
-“Not today please, trust me you cannot go today.” He was firm.
Our first stop was Nasser Shneiter village, on the eastern side. This is no more than 14 houses of farmers from one family: Nasser, a Shiite family from Beni Saad tribe. On the dusty side way, a deserted house was destroyed, the walls split, the windows smashed, the okras left to dry un plucked, so are the cotton trees. The apiary boxes and the animals’ yard were empty and deserted. The driver explained that the house was raided, bombed by sound bombs, two men were arrested, one of them, Nektal Rahman Adaay was killed during the arrest. The family,12, are now living with relatives.
Nasser village looked completely deserted. Nothing could be seen or heard except dogs’ barking. Most of the houses were burnt out. We were filming the first, Hussein’s which was completely destroyed and burnt out except for Imam Ali’s picture, when a young man, covered with dust, appeared from nowhere and asked curiously what we were doing. He was very surprised to see journalists “at last” as he said, and began relating what happened on November 5, 2005, the first day of Ramadan.
The Iraqi police Special Forces, Al-Hussein Brigades, came at dawn. There were around 20 pick ups full of them. They were hit on the highway very badly from a place behind the Yosfiya Water Project, east of the village. Tens of them were killed. Their cars were burnt. Some of them hid inside the village. The battle went on for 3 hours. In the end some of them managed to run away. In the afternoon, the same day, more forces returned back accompanied by the American troops and helicopters. They evacuated their dead, raided the houses, killed and arrested the men, humiliated the families, killed the cows and chickens, destroyed the yards, and set the village on fire.
“They dragged one of the men Abbass Oeid, more than 70 years, and beat him to death. Two other man, were arrested, Karim Motar, 50, and Riyadh Talab Jabr, 20. Their bodies were found three days later in Baghdad. They put police uniform on Karim’s body. Riyadh was naked. Both were savagely tortured, their bones, backs, and arms were smashed”.
“They believed that the village was colluding with the resistance”.
Ali Nasser, another man from the village furiously denied that this is true “some of them were not killed, they managed to run away, they can testify about what happened., actually they hid in our houses and fought from there, we gave them protection, some families served them tea and bread. They say that the Sunnis are fighting them, we are Shiite, so why they burnt our village?”
-Can you answer this question?
-“I can not, I do not know, that is why I ask the government to come here and investigate. We have done nothing wrong, never hurt any body or broken any law. We were punished for a crime that we did not do. We were in the middle of the fire, this is our only fault”
Ali’s house was completely destroyed. The ceilings iron bars were dropping because of the fire. There were childrens beds, traditional Iraqi babies’ swinging beds, babies’ milk cans, smashed plates, all burnt to skeleton. Ali was not hesitant to talk in front of the camera.
-“I want the government to hear my question and answer me: why were we treated like this? The police brigades broke even the electricity converters, we do not have power for 40 days, of course water pumps do not operate and the plants are all dead. Our animals were killed, our women humiliated. They ask the women where did you hide the men, they grabbed the children from their hair and throw them to the ground. Riyadh’s mother was crying and begging them to leave her son; they hit her with the gun’s end, they smashed his head with a brick in front of her eyes, now she is dying. When his body was found it was skinned… Abbass was so old that he could not even walk, how he would be a terrorist!! He was beaten to death on the spot and his body was thrown in the drainage. When they searched the houses they did not find any indication that any of them had any thing to do with terrorism or weapons, so why? The government is working on turning every body against it. It is encouraging ordinary people to resist by treating them so savagely. They have no mercy. We have nothing left now, nothing.”
Ali went to the police with some men to complain. The police accused the villagers of slaughtering the policemen. He tried to explain what he told us, that the village was caught in the middle of the fires, that the policemen bodies were found in the village because they used it as a shelter and were fighting there, that they were hit from the water project, but his attempts were useless. In fact the police threatened to arrest him. 24 people were living in Ali’s house, now they are scattered on five different places.
All Yosfiya men do not sleep in their houses, no matter if they were young, old, armed, or have nothing to do with the resistance; because the police arrest any men around. Women are left alone to face the situation. In Hilal’s house, deeper inside the farms we met Karima, a brave farmer, Hilal’s wife and a mother of many children. Nothing was left in her small house, everything was burnt out, even the flour, the sugar and the rice were destroyed.
“I tried to save something, but I could not, they would not let me. They came in four helicopters and surrounded the whole area. They put the gun on my head and asked where the mojahideen are. They destroyed everything, even my medicines. They said you help the mojahideen with those medicines, and destroyed them. Troops from the police Scorpion brigade were hit in the area the day before, and they believed that we knew about the mojahideen”.
Three beautiful girls were looking at us and smiling. Ghofran was 10, Iman 7, and Ayat, 5. They were the daughters of Hamid, Hilal’s brother, who was arrested almost two years ago. “I could not see, he is in Bucca, they do not let me go to see him,” Ghofran said, pointing to her uncle. Hamid was a school guard; he was arrested because the police believed that the school was used to hide some kidnapped foreigners.
In Abid Ahmad house the same story was repeated. The police forces were hit on the nearest paved road. They raided the house, destroyed the furniture, and burnt everything, including all the family and the land documents. Worst of all they burnt Abid’s new car which he just bought two months ago for 8 million dinars (more than $5000). Abid looks after a family of 18, including his father, mother, sister and 2 brothers apart from his own children. “I have to pay 75.000 dinars just to get them new IDs, you can imagine”
Abid went to the police to complain. The police and the judge decided that he was innocent deserved compensation “but frankly speaking, I do not have any hope that I will get anything”.