BAGHDAD — Residents are fleeing Samarra city in the face of fierce fighting between U.S. forces and resistance groups.
New defiance is rising against U.S. forces following military “crimes”, fleeing residents say.
“On Sunday the 26th of August, there was fierce fighting between armed men and American forces in the Armooshiya district, and I saw Americans evacuate many of their soldiers by stretchers,” a man who fled Samarra for Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “As usual, Americans took revenge by bombing the district.”
A woman who also fled Samarra for the capital in recent days, who gave her name as Iman, told IPS that the U.S. military had “committed another crime in the medicine factory residence area” when “they bombed a house there and killed a woman with her seven children.”
The Sunni and anti-occupation Muslim Scholars Association issued a statement confirming these two assaults, and condemning the “ugly crimes” of occupation forces in Samarra. The Association accused the U.S. military of attempting to break the spirit of Iraqis who reject the U.S. occupation.
“They think their crimes would stop Iraqis from demanding their rights for liberty and prosperity, but the results are always different from what the American leaders hope,” Sheikh Taha from the Muslim Scholars’ Association told IPS in Baghdad.
“They are only pushing more Iraqis to be armed against them, and you can see that the facts on the ground are the opposite of what they tell their people. Their soldiers are getting killed every day and they (U.S. military) are losing in Iraq.”
A young man spoke with IPS on condition of anonymity outside a Sunni mosque in Baghdad where refugees from Samarra were arriving.
“We will be the thorn that makes Bush’s life more difficult,” he told IPS. “I am only here to ensure the safety of my family, then I will go back to my city to defend it against all strangers.”
Located 125 km north of Baghdad, Samarra has seen fierce fighting between the Iraqi resistance and U.S. military units since the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003.
The Sunni dominated city of 200,000 has suffered continuing raids by U.S. and Iraqi forces that have hit civilian life hard.
The resistance seems to have grown as the attacks have continued.
“Four years of occupation have caused this city a great deal of damage,” Thul-Faqar Ali, a lawyer and human rights activist who fled Samarra to Baghdad told IPS. “It is true that there was strong resistance to the occupation, but most of those who got killed, injured or detained were innocent civilians. The U.S. occupation forces in Samarra were so brutal that they conducted many executions on site.”
One of the first instances of brutal U.S. military execution of Iraqis in Samarra came in 2004 when eyewitnesses told the press that U.S. soldiers threw two young men into the Tigris River and watched one of them drown.
Marwan Hassoun, the surviving Iraqi, later testified in a U.S. military court that he and his cousin were stopped on their return to Samarra and forced at gunpoint into the Tigris River as U.S. soldiers laughed. The cousin who died was named as 19-year-old Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun.
“I could hear them laughing,” Marwan told a reporter of the Jan. 3, 2004 incident, recalling how U.S. soldiers pushed him and his cousin into the river. “They were behaving like they were watching a comedy on stage.”
A U.S. Army sergeant involved in the incident, Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, 33, was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter but convicted of assault. Many other such instances have been reported since.
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)