Iraqi & Pakistani civilians expendable


On 2 January 2006, a US aircraft obliterated a house in Baiji, north of Baghdad, killing up to 14 members of the same family.  This incident got barely a mention in the British media.


On 13 January 2006, US missile strikes from an unmanned Predator aircraft on the village of Damadola in Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan, obliterated three homes and killed 18 civilians.   This incident was widely reported in the British media, not because 18 civilians were killed, but because the target was said to be Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was supposed to have been coming to the village for dinner.  The civilian deaths were mentioned as an afterthought, and without the slightest disapproval that the US military had killed them by remote control.  The story was the (apparently unsuccessful) attack on al-Zawahiri.


Just imagine that, instead of the US killing 18 civilians in Pakistan, al-Qaeda had killed 18 civilians in the US.  It can be guaranteed that the media coverage would be wall-to-wall, and the word terrorist would have been applied relentlessly to those responsible. 


It will be said that, unlike al-Qaeda, the US military didn’t set out to kill civilians in either incident.  But if you set out to destroy three homes in a Pakistani village, you are going to kill Pakistani civilians.  Three homes were struck in the off-chance that al-Zawahiri would be in one of them, and Pakistani civilians got killed.  For the off-chance of eliminating al-Zawahiri, Pakistani civilians were expendable – and barely a voice was raised in the West in protest.


Iraqi civilians are equally expendable in the eyes of the US military.  And in the case of the destruction of the house in Baiji on 2 January 2006, the US military didn’t even have the excuse that they were trying to hit a “high value target”.   According to a statement from the US 101st Airborne Division (see Guardian report of 6 January 2006 [1]), three men were observed from an unmanned reconnaissance drone “as they dug a hole following the common pattern of roadside bomb emplacement”.  The statement continued:


“The individuals were assessed as posing a threat to Iraqi civilians and coalition forces, and the location of the three men was relayed to close air support pilots. The individuals left the road site and were followed from the air to a nearby building. Coalition forces employed precision guided munitions on the structure.”


The statement didn’t say if a roadside bomb had been found at the site or if the US military had bothered to look.  One might have thought that there were other ways of dealing with the “threat” if such there was – by the use of ground forces, for instance.  But this would risk US casualities: far better to strike the house from the safety of ten thousand or more feet, even though Iraqi civilian casualties were virtually certain.


(One might have thought that some of the many (still almost) fully trained Iraqi security forces could be dispatched to deal with this minor incident, but it seems that few members of the Iraqi security forces are willing to risk their lives doing the bidding of the US military – and quite right too.)


Interestingly, the Guardian report went on to point out:


US forces have increasingly been using air power rather than ground troops to attack suspected insurgents. During the first quarter of last year, such airstrikes averaged five a month but had risen to 50 a month by the final quarter.”


The plain fact is that in US eyes Iraqi civilians are expendable, US soldiers are not.



David Morrison

30 January 2006

Labour & Trade Union Review