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How Many Iraqis I Know Are Dead?

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How many Iraqis I know are dead?

Last Thursday, the BBC broadcast gruesome footage from Ishaqi, a small community about 60 miles North of Baghdad. The Pentagon has already dismissed allegations of a massacre there, but the video tells the story clearly enough. Bodies of 11 Iraqi civilians are riddled with bullet holes, among them a 75 year old grandmother and a 6 month old baby shot in the head and stomach.

Watching the video now from the comfort of California, I realize that I have been to this small town.

The district is called Ishaqi but the raid was in a small farming village is called Abu Sifa. When I visited in March 2004, cattle grazed on the side of the road and date palms sway in the wind. The mighty Tigris flowed near-by.

Even then the community was outraged - about a raid that occurred the previous Summer. One of the women of the village, Rejan Mohammed Hassen, stood in front of the rubble that was her house and recalled when the US military took her sons to prison and destroyed her home.

"Early in the morning they took us from the home and asked us to stand around," she recalled. "When we questioned them, the Americans started to beat the women. After that, two tanks came to our house and started to shoot using the machine gun on top of the tank and then two missiles from the head of the tank."

By the time the US Army left Abu Siffa an hour later -- 83 men from the village had been rounded up including all four of Rejan Mohammed Hassen's sons. Villagers told me the Americans didn't find the arms caches they were looking for, but the soldiers did confiscate several trucks and large sums of cash. Nine months later, 15 year old Ahmed Itar Hassen was one of only two villagers have emerged from custody.

"For the first six days we all staying in open field surrounded by razor wire," he told me. "There was no tent and no mat under us and we were exposed to the sun and the rain."

He said the soldiers provided no toilet facilities leaving the men to relieve themselves in the open.

"It was impossible to sleep," he said. "Every night the American soldiers threw pebbles at us all night long."

Eventually, Ahmed said he was transferred to Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. There, he was held in solitary confinement -- in a 3 foot by 4 foot cell -- the same cell used to keep political prisoner prisoners during the reign of Saddam Hussein. He said he was not allowed outside to exercise. He says he was not allowed to see his family and not allowed to see a lawyer.

"At night they threw a dog in the cell to frighten me," he said. "We call it a wolf-dog, the big police dog. A soldier just put in my cell every night. Every night a different soldier."

Ahmed says the dog went away after he complained to a Red Cross observer who came to his cell. After nine months in prison, the American military released Ahmed Itar Hassen -- never charging him with any crime.

In March 2004, Rejan Mohammed Hassen waited in the wreckage of her home for her sons to return from prison. She hadn't been able to see them since the US military took them away and had no idea when they'll return.

"It's just an occupation," she said. "There's no freedom. Everything they say about democracy and human rights it's all a lie."

After watching the video of 11 civilians dead in Ishaqi, I wonder if she is still alive. Because they live in a small village, I don't have a phone number to call. Perhaps she is dead.

Pacifica radio network reporter Aaron Glantz is author of the new book " How America Lost Iraq" (Tarcher/Penguin). More information at
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Pacifica radio network reporter Aaron Glantz is author of the new book " How America Lost Iraq" (Tarcher/Penguin). More information at
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How Many Iraqis I Know Are Dead?

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