An innocent old man, yet they shot him
Sunday May 6, 2007
So far US forces in Iraq have paid out $32m for ‘wrongful deaths’. Karzan Sherabayani went back to Kirkuk to ask why his uncle had to die
One cold London morning in January, I received a phone call from one of my brothers. Uncle Kakarash was dead, killed by American soldiers at a checkpoint. He was my mother’s brother, 75, and like most Kurds had suffered greatly under Saddam and welcomed the Americans as liberators.
Civilians in Iraq face everyday hazards beyond the snipers and the insurgents’ bombs – hundreds have been run over by tanks or hit by stray bullets or shot at checkpoints. There are no records kept of the numbers of civilians killed during the war or by coalition troops.
Figures released last month after a request from the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that the US army has paid out $32m to Iraqi civilians in compensation for ‘wrongful deaths’ and injuries. That does not include condolence payments which can be made at the discretion of commanders on the scene.
I had been back to Iraq several times since the war, reporting for More4 News. But this time I had a personal mission to return to Kurdistan, the homeland I fled 27 years ago.
My cousin Sabah took me to the checkpoint where his father died, not far from his home on the outskirts of Kirkuk. Kakarash had gone out first thing in the morning, before breakfast, to get petrol before the queues built up. As luck would have it, I found several eyewitnesses who had seen the whole incident.
One of them was an Iraqi soldier who had been on duty at the checkpoint. ‘When the Americans are here we have to stop all the cars, but your uncle was distracted and kept driving,’ he told me. ‘The Americans shot a bullet into the ground to warn him – he didn’t stop but tried to turn away and the Americans started shooting at him, thinking he might be a suicide car bomb.’
A group of local men, clearly distressed by what they had seen, told me the soldiers kept on firing after my uncle had turned around and tried to get away. ‘They obviously shot to kill him,’ one man told me. ‘If not, they could have stopped after the first shot, they could have given him a chance to see what was he going to do next, but they just shot him dead.’
I went to see the car in a local garage. I counted 86 bullet holes. The rear windscreen had been shot out – the front windscreen was intact. The doctor who had certified my uncle’s death, Dr Ahmed Mansur, told me there were three entry wounds in his body – two in his back and one in the palm of his hand as it gripped the steering wheel. All three came from the back. ‘We call these high-velocity missile injuries’, he said. ‘Their entry is small but the exit makes a big hole and inside it tears apart all the tissues … even if you try to save the victims they still die.’
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