Latest News

Few Iraqis reporting civilian deaths

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Muslims typically mourn for three days, but visitors continued to gather Saturday at the home of a 27-year-old Iraqi engineer killed a week ago during an apparent raid by U.S. military forces said to be looking for Saddam Hussein.

A black drape emblazoned with news of Ali Ghazi's death ushered visitors to the garden of the home, where plastic chairs and boxes of tissues awaited neighbors, colleagues and friends.

They came to offer condolences, and to hear how U.S. troops reportedly kicked in the doors, overturned furniture, shot Ghazi and arrested his 73-year-old father in the early hours of July 21.

Ghazi's death is the talk of the exclusive Baghdad neighborhood where his family lives among other Sunnis and several top generals from the former Iraqi army. Yet outside the area, few know of Ghazi or other civilians killed in the increasing number of operations U.S. forces say takes them closer and closer to Saddam. The U.S. military releases little information on civilian casualties and overwhelmed humanitarian groups say they cannot investigate every claim.

So, the Ghazis and an unknown number of other families scrub away blood, patch bullet holes and wonder why their homes were singled out. Out of fear or not knowing where to turn, humanitarian workers said, few report the deaths.

"Usually, we only hear of such incidents from the families, the people who've been victims," said Nada Doumani, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad. "It's upsetting. We know how many soldiers are being killed, but we don't know how many civilians."

Doumani said reports of raids involving arrests or deaths pour into the Red Cross daily, though there are no firm figures available. The ultimate responsibility, she said, lies with "the occupying power." U.S. military officials did not respond to repeated requests for information on civilian deaths during raids or how often those searches turn up valuable information.

At least one Arabic-language television station reported that the Ghazis are related to Saddam. Members of the family acknowledged they are from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, but insist they have no ties to the former leader. They say the man arrested during the raid, Mahmoud Ghazi, retired from the Iraqi army nearly 20 years ago. The U.S. military rarely releases intended targets of its daily operations. The family said troops made it clear they were looking for Saddam.

"They told me they were looking for a special person," said Asma Ghazi, 34, a sister who was home during the incident. "They didn't even have to say the name. I knew who they were talking about."

Ghazi's siblings described their dead brother as a man so religious he risked his life by going to the mosque before dawn rather than miss one of his five daily prayers. Across Iraq, residents dare not leave their homes in the dark for fear of thieves or curfew violations. Ghazi's mother, 55-year-old Victoria Rasheed, called her son a martyr and said her focus now is getting word on her jailed husband.

"When the troops took him away, they told me, `If he's a good man, we'll bring him back,' " she said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.