Dahr Jamail for the World Crisis Web
Hayda Hakeem grips the wheel of the beat up white and orange Passat he rents to use as a taxi. Inside we talk with him as we head to the CPA for another highly controlled occupation press conference in the CPIC. I notice two of his fingers are stubs, shaking as he grips the steering wheel as we rattle down the street.
He pays the owner of the car a slice of what he makes, as he cannot afford his own vehicle.
Hayda Hakeem continues,
When we arrive at the CPIC I try to give him some extra money on top of the fare we?d negotiated. He doesn?t want to take it, so I thrust it in his hand and quickly shut the door. It isn?t much, but it is better than nothing, as I have heard countless terrible stories of Iraqis just trying get food and stay warm at night.
With the infrastructure still in shambles, the rationed petrol, continuing rising unemployment (over 60% now), and the end of the military occupation nowhere in sight, I continually wonder how Iraqis are getting by.
The stories of people killed, wounded, or disenfranchised in Iraq are endless. Almost every day that I have been here at least one person or family that has found out I am a journalist writing about how the occupation and illegal invasion are effecting Iraqis has approached me, desperate for someone to hear their story. While they hope I can help them, the little act I can do is to simply journal the injustice, and hope that readers will hold their government accountable for the travesty which is occurring in Iraq on a daily basis?and only growing worse with time.
While Mr. Bush speaks of sending Americans to the Moon and Mars, countless Iraqis in the country his military currently occupies are starving and freezing.
Speaking with Hayda Hakeem reminded me of a couple of examples I have investigated of people here being afflicted, directly and/or indirectly, of the wars and illegal sanctions that have tortured Iraq. One of these is a man named Ayad Hashim. He worked as an engineer prior to the Anglo-American Invasion, and now works as a taxi driver in an attempt to feed his family of five. This is the only work he can find now due to the horrendous unemployment situation.
He had been saving money for a long time and was building his first home for his family in the Al Saidia area of Baghdad, which incurred great damaged by USA troops shortly after the Invasion. He knew to contact the CPA and an Iraqi lawyer to handle his claim for destruction of his property.
Mr. Hashim states that he is fully aware that things like this occur during times of war, he is angry at the fact that he has yet to receive one Iraqi Dinar of compensation even though this occurred after George Bush declared major combat operations to be over in Iraq.
The occupiers don’t want achieving justice to be a cake-walk for ‘liberated’ Iraqis.
The actions the Army lists for Iraqis to take in order to properly file their claim are nearly impossible for most Iraqis, particularly those living in more rural areas. It requests exactly the following, which I reprint verbatim from the document:
These claims must then be filed within 30 days of the attack/damages/death. For starters, proof of ownership has become a tricky business with the new CPA. Many people have run into problems as this new administrations isn?t always acknowledging a proof of ownership certificate from Saddam?s regime.
Secondly, most people in Iraq can ill afford to visit a doctor to get a written assessment. Getting written estimates of damages is again a problem because most people cannot afford to have this done, as well as the fact that ?certified? repair shops or ?auto dealers?
are almost non-existent in Iraq.
Phones pose another problem-unless a person is among the very rich select few in Iraq, most people here do not have a phone with which to be contacted, and oftentimes when their homes are destroyed, neither do they have an address where they can be reached as many of these families are now on the street.
Yet Mr. Hashim was able to produce all of which the Army asked for. He presented me with his folder complete with all of the aforementioned requests-documents, titles, certificates, witness statements, photos. He had it all.
A portion of the response he received from his claim is as follows:
Mr. Hashim submitted three different signed testimony papers from witnesses of the destruction of his home by three people. He submitted photos, bills, testimony, certifications of proof and authenticity. Apparently doing everything the CPA asks of you still does not guarantee that you will be compensated.
Photographic evidence, ownership documents, and signed witness statements, won’t get Ayad Hashim compensation from the new invaders of Baghdad.
Perhaps it is the line at the top of the compensation forms which states,
Does this mean that intentional damages are not covered? And which damages that have been caused by the USA military in Iraq, exactly, are NOT related to combat directly or indirectly?
Jasem Hamza Al-Jbure works as a journalist for Alef-Ba Magazine in Baghdad. He and his family live in Al Shahab district in north Baghdad. In the middle of last May, after the ?war? had ended, USA troops broke into his home at 5:30am. The soldiers ordered the family, who were clothed only in underwear, to stand in the garage at gunpoint as the soldiers searched through their home. While this was happening a soldier standing outside the home fired his weapon at the home, breaking several windows and damaging a guardrail near some stairs.
The soldiers left him a scribbled piece of torn paper admitting to damaging his home. Being a prideful man, Mr. Al-Jbure will not go ask the CPA for money.
In Muslim society it is extremely rude to enter someone?s home, even a good friend or relative, without first asking permission. Now, on a daily basis all over Iraq, USA soldiers completely disregard this important custom-many of them are most likely unaware they are even doing so. Yet the damage being caused by this ignorance is being done, and the effects will be more evident as time progresses.
Mr. Al-Jbure went on to tell me that USA soldiers did this throughout his neighborhood. Neither he, nor any of his neighbors know why, as they never knew of any resistance fighters there.
He wanted me to know, as a fellow journalist, that newspapers in Iraq are struggling because fewer and fewer Iraqis read them because they feel it is all CPA propaganda.
Because of the damage to his home, and his feelings about how Iraq is no better off now under USA control, he wants the Americans gone.
The U.S. military has paid out nearly $2 million to Iraqi civilians who have complained to Coalition authorities that their family members were wrongfully killed. But because U.S. forces are immune from prosecution in Iraq courts, “commanders make payments from their discretionary funds, rarely even admitting liability,” according to the UK Guardian. “Payouts average just a few hundred dollars and in some cases families have been asked to sign forms waiving their right to press for further compensation. In one area of south-western Baghdad, controlled by the 82nd Airborne Division, an officer said a total of $106,000 had been paid out to 176 claimants since July.”
The CPA does have an official “human rights” bureau. It’s called the “Office of Human Rights and Transitional Justice.” It’s located behind four heavily fortified military checkpoints, in the basement of the Baghdad convention center right down the hall from Bechtel. Iraqis can go there to file human rights claims. To qualify the abuse had to occur between February 1963 and April 2003, the years of Baath Party rule.
Is this a reflection of the situation concerning compensation for wrongful damages? There is no information about the USA Military or CPA payment of compensation to Iraqis who have had homes or belongings damaged by the occupation forces on any of their websites. Phone calls to the CPA requesting such information have not been returned.
Dahr Jamail, is an independent journalist from Anchorage, Alaska, living and working in Iraq. He reports regularly for the World Crisis Web. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
An original publication for the World Crisis Web.