Global Policy Forum

Atrocities and Criminal Homicides in Iraq


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US-led occupation forces have committed numerous atrocities in Iraq since the invasion of 2003. Haditha, Hamandiya, Sadr City, Samarra and Ishaqi have become synonymous with murder, rape and the multiple killing of civilians.

While some cases have been brought before military hearings, the Pentagon has covered up most of these cases and exonerated the soldiers involved. Rather than pursuing high officials and senior officers, military prosecutors have pursued only a few low- ranking soldiers. With few exceptions, most cases have yielded relatively light punishments, while the majority has seen original charges of murder downgraded to lighter charges or even dismissed completely. The United States has repeatedly insisted that these atrocities were committed by "few bad apples," obscuring  the fact that troops are regularly committing such crimes under a system of unrestrained violence attributable to those at the top. Under the doctrine of "command responsibility," applied by the US in the post-World War II war crimes trials, high officials and senior officers must assume responsibility for grave violations of international law, even if they did not give direct orders for such violations to take place. A truly independent investigation should investigate the killings and cover-ups, to end this climate of impunity.


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GPF Report on Iraq: Killing of Civilians, Murder and Atrocities (June 2007)

US military commanders have established permissive "rules of engagement," allowing troops to use "deadly force" against virtually any perceived threat. As a consequence, the US and its allies regularly kill Iraqi civilians at checkpoints and during military operations, on the basis of the merest suspicion. US Coalition forces also kill many Iraqi non-combatants during military operations and air strikes. In this environment of permissive violence, some soldiers have committed pre-meditated murder, and several shocking atrocities, such as the Haditha massacre, have come to light.


Soldier's Shocking Allegation: Troops Ordered to Engage in "360 Rotational Fire" (June 21, 2010)

Former US Army Specialist Ethan McCord has revealed that orders for "360 rotational fire" against civilians were issued in Iraq at battalion level as a new standard operating procedure in response to improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. If true, the claim amounts to evidence for mass execution of civilians: an egregious war crime. Such mass execution of civilians has been prosecuted in the past under international law in the cases of Germany 1944, Nanking 1937, Hankow 1938 and the German invasion of Poland 1939. McCord is one of the soldiers visible in the Wikileaks video helping wounded children after the attack. He, along with a former colleague, has also written an Open Letter of Reconciliation and Responsibility to the Iraqi People and joined the growing ranks of US soldiers who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (

US Soldiers on Baghdad Massacre: "Not out of the Ordinary in Iraq (April 23, 2010)

Iraq war veteran Josh Stieber, whose company is seen in the infamous Wikileaks "collateral murder" video shooting civilians in Baghdad, stressed that the massacre "should not be seen as an abnormality" and that such acts in Iraq occurred on a daily basis. Stieber, who left the US Army in 2009 as a conscientious objector, believes that such shootings are the product of the rules of engagement set by the US military, the deliberate dehumanizing training of US soldiers and the "very nature of the colonial-style war and occupation in Iraq." (

US Soldiers from Wikileaks 'Collateral Murder' Video Apologize (April 19, 2010)

Josh Steiber and Ethan Mccord, two former soldiers from the Army Unit responsible for the Wikileaks "Collateral Murder" attack in July 2007 in which US forces wounded two children and killed over a dozen people, have written an open letter of "Reconciliation and Responsibility." Mccord was on the ground at the scene of the shooting and is seen on the video assisting one of the injured children. Steiber, was not involved, but says that similar attacks happened throughout his 14-month tour in Iraq, "the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences." (Countercurrents)

Wikileaks Reveals Video Showing US Air Crew Shooting Down Iraqi Civilians (April 5, 2010)

"Hahaha. I hit 'em" and "oh yeah, look at those dead bastards" -  the reaction of two  US military personnel on the morning of July 12, 2007 when their Apache helicopter, using 30mm cannon fire, killed a dozen civilians in Iraq. Initially the US military claimed that the helicopters had "reacted to an active firefight" and that the dead were insurgents. However, graphic video released by Wikileaks shows that there was no shooting or even the pointing of weapons by civilians on the ground before they were attacked by US forces. (Guardian)




US Military Violated Security Agreement Twice in 2 Weeks, Iraqi Leaders Say (February 7, 2009)

US soldiers have violated a bi-lateral security agreement, signed back in November 2008, by refusing to coordinate with Iraqi security officials. Military personal continue to raid homes without consulting Iraqi authorities and in February 2009, US soldiers entered an Iraqi home and opened fire, making this the second fatal incident this month. A police chief in the city of Hawija stated he had not been warned of the raid and that when his officers tried to enter, US soldiers stopped them. (New York Times)




US Still the Villain in Iraq's Former Rebel Bastion (November 2, 2008)

The devastating US-UK assault on Fallujah in 2004, which left thousands of Iraqi's dead, remains unforgotten by the city's population. Under the US occupation, the economy in Fallujah suffers and the US continues to carry out illegal arrests within the city. Mayor of Fallujah, Saad Awwad Rasid, demands an immediate US withdrawal from Iraq, citing the US policy of detentions as a main source of resentment towards the occupation. (Associated Press)

US Assault Kills 8 Civilians, Iraq Asserts (September 20, 2008)

US soldiers killed eight Iraqi civilians during a raid and air strike in Dawr, north of Baghdad on September 19, 2008. The US military claim that troops were legitimately targeting Sunni extremists, but senior Iraqi politicians have instead called the US attack criminal and they demand an inquiry be launched into the killings. (Washington Post)

<US Officers Killed Blindfolded Iraqis, Statements Say (August 27, 2008)

In March 2007, three noncommissioned US army officials blindfolded and handcuffed four Iraqi prisoners and then shot them. All three men confessed to the killings and gave evidence at an army evidentiary hearing in Germany in January 2008 but a US court has not yet charged the officers with murder. At the hearing in Germany, one soldier admitted, ""I'm ashamed of what I've done. When I did it, I thought I was doing it for my family. Now I realize that I'm hurting my family more now than if I wouldn't have done it." (International Herald Tribune)

Iraq Criticizes Attacks by American Troops (June 30, 2008)

As the US and Iraq negotiate a long-term security agreement, US troops killed a number of Iraqi civilians in two different incidents. The shootings happened in a delicate time because the White House is requesting free access to conduct military operations and detain suspects in Iraq, all while retaining immunity of US soldiers. However, the shootings may prompt the Iraqi government to demand that the coalition arrests their employees and yield to Iraqi law. (New York Times)

Sunni Volunteers Angry over Civilian Deaths (February 18, 2008)

US forces killed Iraqi civilian security guards assigned to checkpoints by the US-allied group, the Sons of Iraq, making this the third incident in two weeks. The regional security of Iraq often depends on the support of these civilian fighters but now, many of the guards have deserted in defiance of "careless US behavior." The US military claims it fired after sensing a threat, however, Mohammed Ghrairi, a tribal leader of Babil province, said US troops were unfamiliar with the positioning of Sons of Iraq checkpoints in the area.(Los Angeles Times)



US Marines on Trial for Iraq Atrocity (October 21, 2007)

Two marines face court martial over the massacre of 24 Iraqis in Haditha in 2005. The commanding officer of the unit involved in the killings, Lieutenant Colonel Chessani, is the highest ranking official to be court marshaled since the Vietnam War. While official reports claim the incident was "lawful combat" and the deaths were "collateral damage," a video of the incident disproves claims by the marines that they were aiming at militants. However, charges against other marines implicated in the massacre have been dropped or downgraded. This raises the question whether anyone will be held accountable for the massacre. (Independent)

Lawyers Take MoD to Court Over Iraqi Mutilation Claims (October 18, 2007)

Lawyers acting for relatives of Iraqi detainees who died while in British custody ask the High Court to order an independent investigation. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) refuses to launch an investigation into the allegations and denies that British soldiers abused Iraqi detainees. Lawyers for the families point to witness statements, death certificates and videos of Iraqis with serious injuries including genital mutilation, gouged-out eyes and bruises consistent with being punched and kicked. They argue that the British government has a duty to investigate claims of deliberate wrongdoing. (Guardian)

Documents Show Troops Disregarding Rules (September 4, 2007)

The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained documents from legal proceedings against US military officers charged with committing crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents reveal that troops believe their actions are "appropriate, approved, standard and lawful." The 22 incidents include the drowning of an Iraqi man who was pushed from a bridge after breaking curfew and the suffocation of a former Iraqi general during an interrogation using an "approved technique." The documents shed light on war crimes in Iraq that are typically kept from public knowledge. (Associated Press)

The Abu Ghraib Cases: Not Yet Over (August 29, 2007)

A US Military Court has convicted the sole US military officer to face charges for crimes relating to Abu Ghraib prison abuse. The officer was convicted of failing to obey an order after he was acquitted of more serious charges relating to cruelty and maltreatment of prisoners. Legal experts and human rights activists argue the case demonstrates the failings of the US military in prosecuting officers in the war's "most prominent abuse scandal." While two private contractors who worked in the prison may face prosecution for their role in abuse, the US government has charged only low-ranking soldiers – with a total of 11 soldiers being convicted. The Pentagon insists that none of the senior officers at Abu Ghraib were involved in the abuse of prisoners. (Time)

Marine Says Officers Ordered To "Crank Up" Violence in Iraq (July 15, 2007)

A group of US Marines and a Navy corpsman attempted to cover up the April 2006 murder of an Iraqi man by planting a weapon on him "to make it appear he had been killed in a shootout." In their defense, the Marines revealed that officers had instructed them to step up the violence against suspected insurgents. The incident suggests that the pervasive culture of cruelty among US servicemen in Iraq may originate from further up the military chain of command. (Associated Press)

The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness (July 9, 2007)

The Nation details a pattern of US troops' brutality towards Iraqi civilians and apparent disregard for Iraqi lives. In this report, a number of US soldiers who served in the war describe incidents of gross misconduct by colleagues during raids, at checkpoints and in detention centers. These accounts from within the military itself reflect the devastating toll that the war has taken on ordinary Iraqis – a reality of the war that the Bush administration and other high-ranking officials repeatedly downplay.

Media Silence about the Carnage in Iraq (July 5, 2007)

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died violently at the hands of coalition forces. Yet mainstream media reports of the daily fighting in Iraq often only include "brief accounts of several different operations, none of them presented as major events." This CounterPunch article warns that such coverage grossly understates the rate of non-combatant fatalities – a statistic that will likely escalate as the US military presence in Iraq expands.

Civilian Casualties Rise in Iraq (June 18, 2007)

According to this Los Angeles Times article, US military officials concede that President George W. Bush's plan for a US troop build-up in Iraq has led to "greater chances" of civilian casualties. Some attribute the soldiers' killings of noncombatants to stress from the conflict and vengeance for the deaths of fellow servicemen. The escalating violence attests to the chaos resulting from the prolonged presence of US troops in Iraq.

Stress on Troops Adds to US Hurdles in Iraq (May 6, 2007)

The Pentagon released a survey showing that the number of US soldiers who suffer from stress in Iraq is growing. According to the research, escalating anger increases the likelihood that soldiers will disregard military ethics and attack civilians. More than a third of the troops surveyed said they endorse torture in some situations and that they would not turn in fellow service members for mistreating Iraqis. Among the soldiers who had high levels of anger, forty percent reported insulting noncombatants and seven percent reported having hit a civilian. Since 2003, the US forces have committed numerous atrocities in Iraq, but most of these crimes remain unpunished. (New York Times)

Fallujah Fears a "Genocidal Strategy" (March 30, 2007)

This Inter Press Service article points out that the US and Iraqi forces are carrying out a "genocidal strategy" in Fallujah, killing people seized during house-searches and patrols. According to Yasse, a resident of Fallujah, "seventeen young men were found executed after they were arrested by US troops and Fallujah police." Further, other residents reported that US forces allow Shia militias to raid Sunni neighborhoods, fueling the sectarian violence. With the deterioration of the security situation and the increase of the US backed-violence, most Iraqis now support attacks against the occupation forces.

Accounts Differ on Raid in Baghdad (March 21, 2007)

The US military, Iraqi government officials and witnesses have given contradictory accounts of what happened in a raid in Baghdad, where several people were killed. US officials claim they were attacked by insurgents after conducting a search in the mosque and shot them in retaliation. However, according to eyewitness testimony, while Iraqis were commemorating the anniversary of the death of the prophet Muhammad, the US soldiers started to shoot indiscriminately, killing at least six civilians. This incident shows the fragile nature of the Baghdad Security Plan in which US soldiers usually use excessive violence while patrolling neighborhoods where the insurgents are mixed with civilians. (Washington Post)

US Soldiers Accused of Shooting Civilians in Sadr City (March 10, 2007)

US soldiers allegedly shot civilians in a car carrying a family in the Baghdad district of Sadr City, killing a man and his two young daughters and wounding his son. According to the Iraqi police and the man's wife, who were at the scene, the car had just turned onto the main street when US soldiers opened fire. (New York Times)

Official Lies Over Najaf Battle Exposed (January 31, 2007)

Iraqi authorities have given contradictory statements about what happened in Najaf on January 28, 2007, where 200 people were killed. Most officials claim victims were Shia extremists supported by foreign powers planning to kill senior Shia clerics. But according to eyewitness testimony, the victims were mostly civilian pilgrims shot by Iraqi, British and US forces while participating in the Shia holy Ashura Festival. Tribal members believe the attack was launched by the Iraqi government to undermine the growing unity between Sunnis and Shias in this area. (Inter Press Service)



Iraq Massacre: US Marines 'Will Point the Finger of Blame at Senior Officers' (December 24, 2006)

The defense team of eight marines charged for their role in the November 2005 massacre of Iraqi civilians in Haditha said their clients were merely following official policy on the rules of engagement. Further, the defendants allege the senior officers were well aware of what happened but only condemned the incident and decided to investigate the case after the killings became public. This incident raises widespread criticism over the permissive "rules of engagement" and the lack of accountability of US servicemen in Iraq, which allows crimes to go unpunished. (Independent)

Did American Fire on Iraqis for Sport? (December 22, 2006)

NBC News investigates the sacking of US security contractors after they reported that their supervisor shot at Iraqi civilians without provocation. The company, Triple Canopy, denies it fired the employees in retaliation for exposing the criminal activity. Although Triple Canopy claims it investigated the incident, no government agency has followed-up on the case. Similar allegations have involved other companies. Yet, not a single security contractor in Iraq has faced charges for attacking civilians, and such crimes continue to go unpunished.

Final Report of the Mental Health Advisory Team (November 17, 2006)

A Pentagon report compiled by the Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) reveals the worsening behavioral health condition of US soldiers. Crippling illnesses like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder afflict soldiers, but this consequently affects Iraqi civilians. The survey revealed that more than a third of the troops condone the torturing of Iraqis, less than half believe Iraqi civilians deserve dignified treatment which adds up to a vast number of humanitarian breaches.

US Soldier Admits Killing Family after Raping Girl (November 16, 2006)

A US soldier has pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of a 14-year old Iraqi girl, and the killing of three of her family members – agreeing to testify against the three other accused soldiers to avoid the death penalty. The killings have been the most provocative in a series of war crimes that have tarnished the reputation of US armed forces in Iraq. The uncle of the adolescent victim tells the Guardian

that he has "little faith in the US justice system," echoing widespread criticism about the lack of accountability and the culture of impunity that exists within the US military.

Rules of Engagement: What Were They at Haditha? (October 10, 2006)

US marines accused of massacring 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November 2005 continue to await charges for their alleged crimes. Defense lawyers argue that the soldiers merely followed the "rules of engagement," which tell troops when they can apply force. These rules have come under intense scrutiny since the US-led occupation in Iraq due to numerous criminal atrocities committed by US troops against civilians. Human rights activists claim that US military leaders fail to properly instruct troops on the laws of war which forbid the harming of unarmed civilians and prohibit the use of force except in response to an "imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm." (Christian Science Monitor)

Corpsman Who Failed to Halt Killing of Iraqi Receives Prison Sentence (October 7, 2006)

A US Navy Petty Officer who watched seven members of his Marine squad repeatedly shoot an unarmed Iraqi civilian has received a one year prison sentence after striking a plea agreement with prosecutors to testify against his fellow squad members. Despite this conviction, a large number of criminal atrocities committed by the multinational forces against Iraqis continue to go unpunished. Such impunity reveals to Iraqi citizens that the rule of law has ceased to exist in their country. (New York Times)

The US Military and Its Cult of Cruelty (September 16, 2006)

This Independent opinion piece analyzes recent changes to the US Army "Soldier's Creed," a pledge that military recruits undertake. The author suggests that the revised pledge encourages troops to commit human rights abuses due to its rhetoric of "destroying" rather than "defeating" the enemy. It contains no references to "following orders, obeying laws or showing restraint," and eliminates elements of the previous pledge that encourage troops to refrain from committing atrocities.

Homicide Charges Rare in Iraq War (August 28, 2006)

Though US forces have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians, the military has only prosecuted a small fraction of accused service members. According to the Washington Post, these statistics illustrate the reluctance of commanders' to "investigate and hold troops accountable when they take the lives of civilians." The homicide data have also caused concern among some human rights advocates who say the low conviction rate and lenient punishments "send the wrong signal, both to US troops and to the Iraqi people."

Inquiry Suggests Marines Excised Files on Killings (August 18, 2006)

US marines involved in the killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005 allegedly destroyed, concealed and withheld evidence. A high-level military investigation has revealed that marines tampered with an official company logbook of the unit involved, and failed to give investigators an incriminating video evidence of the attack. In addition, officers in the Second Marine Division did not thoroughly investigate the killings, and had reportedly "created a climate that minimized the importance of Iraqi lives." (New York Times)

Iraqi Medic Tells How He 'Found Family Slaughtered by US Troops' (August 7, 2006)

A military hearing has examined testimony of how three US soldiers raped an Iraqi girl and killed three of her relatives. The hearing, expected to last several days, will decide whether prosecutors can take the case to a court martial, in which the accused could face the death penalty. The case, one of several instances of abuses by US troops, has outraged Iraqis and further tarnished the reputation of the US-led occupation forces. (Independent)

Bad Apples from a Rotten Tree: Military Training and Atrocities (August 5-6, 2006)

This CounterPunch article analyzes the "immoral" military training of US servicemen against the backdrop of atrocities committed since the US-led invasion of Iraq. Retired Sergeant Martin Smith dispels the US administration's argument that these incidents are the acts of a few "bad apples" by exposing the realities of life in the armed forces. Smith questions the nature of the US military institution and the apparent "immunity" of servicemen from international humanitarian law.

Officers Allegedly Pushed 'Kill Counts' (August 3, 2006)

This Los Angeles Times article reveals the deeply troubling behavior of US troops in Iraq. Evidence from military hearings points to a pervasive "culture of racism and unrestrained violence" among Army units. Commanders reportedly issue illegal orders to shoot all military-aged Iraqi men and encourage competition among soldiers to rack up "enemy kills." These allegations indicate that culpability may come from further up the military chain of command.

If Wanton Murder Is Essential to the US Campaign in Iraq, it's Time to Leave (June 26, 2006)

In addition to atrocities committed in Haditha, Balad, Ishaqi and Hamdania, US forces have killed "untold thousands" of Iraqi civilians in conditions considered "insufficiently atrocious" to be worthy of investigation. These incidents are the "natural and inevitable consequence" of the occupation, in which dead women, children and disabled people "are the price you pay for being invaded." As this Guardian article states, those responsible for such acts remain in the White House, while the many embroiled in the conflict are "brutalized or murdered."

Line Between War, Murder Tough to Draw (June 22, 2006)

The US military has charged a number of Marines with the murders of Iraqi civilians and detainees, stirring further criticism of US troops' behavior. This Christian Science Monitorarticle points out these charges are nothing new in Iraq. Only a small proportion of cases have been investigated, but at least 11 US servicemen and eight British soldiers have faced murder charges since the US-led invasion of 2003. With few exceptions, past cases have yielded relatively light punishments, and have largely escaped public notice.

Another US Cover-Up Surfaces in Iraq (June 13, 2006)

In the wake of the Haditha massacre, US troops reportedly killed two women in Samarra and attempted to hide evidence of their responsibility. US snipers shot the two women who were traveling in a car, claiming they failed to stop at a check point. Other reports claim the area was completely unmarked. The US military offered the brother of one of the victims US$5000 in compensation, as part of the US$19 million in total compensation paid to Iraqis – an indication that "these kinds of killings by the Americans happen daily in Iraq." This Inter Press Service article calls for a "truly independent investigation" of the killing and cover-up, "rather than one by the US military."

Return to Ishaqi: The Pentagon's Shaky Self-Exoneration (June 3, 2006)

The Pentagon has released a report exonerating US soldiers for the alleged slaying of civilians in the Iraqi town of Ishaqi, which left 11 people dead, including children. As photographic evidence, testimony of villagers, Iraqi officials and Western new agencies contradict US accounts, Uruknet calls for an independent investigation.

Countless My Lai Massacres in Iraq (May 30, 2006)

US Marines allegedly slaughtered at least 15 civilians in Haditha in November, 2005, including seven women and three children. The mainstream media refer to the Haditha massacre as "Iraq's My Lai", however, this article argues that "trigger-happy American soldiers" in fact slaughter Iraqi civilians daily, under the "shoot first ask questions later" policy. While high-ranking members of the Bush administration blame policy failures on a "few bad apples," they are ultimately responsible for the occupation. (truthout)



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