Explosion, then deaths of Iraqi civilians


BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq-- --The killing began shortly after sunrise on a November day in Haditha. As a U.S. patrol rolled through the sleepy riverside city, a homemade bomb exploded beneath the belly of a Humvee, rocking the town.

"The Americans who were in the first vehicle came back to the damaged car. They started to scream and shout," said a portly shopkeeper with gray hair who would give his name as only Abu Mukkaram. He said he watched the aftermath from his bedroom window. "After some minutes, everything was quiet. During this quiet, no bullets were shot. They were moments of expectation."

Ten minutes passed in silence. Then Abu Mukkaram heard the crack of the first bullets.

Planted by insurgents at the edge of the road, the bomb had killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, a 20-year-old Marine from El Paso, Texas. According to Haditha residents, survivors and witnesses, Terrazas' death drove some of the troops into a murderous rage.

Survivors say furious Marines rampaged through a quiet street, bursting into homes and gunning down Iraqi civilians - including children, women and an old man in a wheelchair. Their account appears to match details emerging from a military investigation into the 24 Iraqi civilians killed under disputed circumstances the morning of Nov 19.

Here in Iraq, word of the deaths has spread slowly out of Haditha these past months, blurring into the steady background noise of daily horrors. To an Iraqi public that's been psychologically scarred by more than three years of civilian death and maiming, news of two dozen more lost lives has grabbed few headlines.

But that November morning is emerging as a turning point in the war - a moment when the dreary years of thinning patience and mutual mistrust between American forces and Iraqi civilians may have crystallized into a burst of bloodshed.

Sliced in half by the waters of the Tigris, Haditha is a quiet, lush community nestled in groves of date palms, oranges and apples. A verdant spot against the backdrop of barren western desert, the town is home to 90,000 people.

This account comes from eyewitness and survivor interviews conducted by Iraqi reporters for the Los Angeles Times in Baghdad and Haditha. The Iraqi reporter who traveled to Haditha cannot be named for security reasons.

The Marines arrived first at the door of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, an 89-year-old retiree who had been using a wheelchair ever since his left leg was amputated, surviving family members said. The troops shot him dead, then turned their guns on his three grown sons and their families.

Waleed Abdul Hameed, a 48-year-old worker in the Anbar religious affairs office, was among the first to be gunned down. His 9-year-old daughter, Eman, who survived, said she was still wearing her pajamas when the Marines arrived. Her 7-year-old brother, Abdul Rahman, also survived, and said he hid his face with a blanket when his father was shot.

A few minutes later, the boy saw his mother fall to the ground, dying.

"I saw her while she was crying," he said. "She fell down on the floor bleeding. She was suffering without the help of anyone." Speaking days ago in Haditha, months after the attacks, the boy broke down crying, covered his eyes with his hands and began to mutter to himself. At his side, his older sister began to speak again. She described how the two siblings waited for help, the bodies of their dead family members sprawled on the floor.

"We were scared, not able to move for two hours," she said. "I tried to hide under the bed. I was injured, with some shrapnel in my legs." Seven of their family members died in the shootout: Ali and his wife, their three sons and one daughter-in-law, and their 5-year-old grandson. Only one of the household's adults lived through that morning.

In the first moments of shooting, Hibba Abdullah snatched her 5-month-old niece off the floor - the baby's mother had dropped her there in shock after seeing her husband gunned down - and scampered out of the house. She and the baby girl, Asia, survived.

The baby's mother "completely collapsed when they killed her husband in front of her," she said. "I ran away carrying Asia outside the house, but when the Americans returned they killed Asma, the mother of the child." Abdullah's 39-year-old husband also slipped out of the house and ran to warn his nearby cousins about the killings. But he crossed paths with the American troops on his way back home; he died of gunshot wounds to the shoulder and head, his wife said.

The Marines stopped next at the home of customs official Younis Salim Nusaif, 45, and his wife, Aida Yassin, 42. Yassin, a mother of six, was lying in bed that morning, recovering from a recent operation. While she recuperated, her sister had come to stay with the family and help with the housework.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.