Support our mission

BAGHDAD — One of the few places open for business during the Muslim holidays following the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) was Akram’s perfume shop. It sold animal- print brassieres. It sold something called “Passion Seaweed Slimming Mud.”

But even with this decadent Western inventory, Akram found a controversial practice of the U.S. military here distasteful. And it wasn’t because it was too Western — rather, to him, it smacked of the days of Saddam Hussein. Akram believes the coalition should not arrest relatives of the wanted in the process of hunting them down.

“If they are dealing in the same methods that Saddam used to use, what have they come here for?” the 35-year-old asked.

U.S. forces recently arrested a woman in Fallujah in an effort to track down her husband; locals protested. Also last month, Americans arrested four members of the clan of current top fugitive Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, former vice president of Iraq. The military has said it believes the men may be helping al-Douri hide and coordinate attacks against its soldiers.

During a news conference, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, defended the arrests.

“The Geneva Convention allows us to detain individuals that might be security risks or may have intelligence value as we continue to execute the task of bringing security and stability to the country,” Sanchez said.

“In this case, my understanding is that that was the reason why we captured the lady,” he said of the Fallujah incident. “And if I’m correct, I believe she was released within a matter of 24 hours.”

A January briefing to the United Nations by Human Rights Watch, however, accused American forces of ignoring the Geneva Convention. It called the detaining of fugitives’ relatives a breach of international law.

“On at least four occasions between mid-November 2003 and early January 2004, U.S. troops demolished homes of relatives of suspected insurgents or former officials in order to punish the families or compel their cooperation,” the report read. “On two of these occasions, U.S. troops took into custody family members not themselves suspected of wrongdoing — in effect, taking hostages, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.”

Sanchez said the only houses his forces have demolished were being used by enemy forces, and as such were no longer homes.

Robin Bhatty, a senior analyst on assignment in Baghdad with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said targeting relatives is not a new method of hunting fugitives.

“It was a tactic that had been used successfully in the past — for example, by the Jordanians, in their fight during the 1980s against the Abu Nidal group,” Bhatty said, referring to an offshoot of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

The Soviet Union also used what Bhatty called “collective punishment” to deter insurgents.

“And the British used a similar technique on the Indian northwest frontier, and here in Iraq; British columns retaliating for Afghan raids on India would level villages, while in Iraq in the 1920s, the Royal Air Force would bomb the villages of offending tribes,” Bhatty said. “In neither case was any effort made to distinguish between tribesmen who actually raided and those who stayed home.”

He said that whatever the pragmatic advantages, similar techniques have been considered immoral and “beyond the pale” by modern Western powers, including the United States.

“Such methods are counterproductive, because they tend to produce an overall escalation in violence by both sides,” he said.

Back in Akram’s shop of purples and pinks and prints from the jungle, those tactics, as well as surprise raids of family homes, leave a bad taste.

Akram said his elderly neighbor was recently detained, allegedly without cause. His younger, brother, Ehssun, said he abandoned plans to work for the U.S. military after being disappointed in its methods. Their home, they said, had also been raided by U.S. troops as part of neighborhood sweeps.

“Even if I hated Saddam very much, I will start to believe Saddam Hussein was better,” Akram said. “Even if I loved the American, I would begin to hate him.”


Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up