US is taking liberties with law in Iraq

PILLAGE: Desperate to suppress possible anti-US attacks, reports say soldiers have stormed homes and confiscated money and weapons from some Iraqis

REUTERS , FALLUJA, IRAQ

Mon, Jun 16, 2003 - Page 6

Iraqi multi-millionaire Khalaf Shabib is not used to being manhandled into a tank, blindfolded and being made to wait for six hours with a plastic bag shoved over his head.

With tears rolling down his cheeks, the octogenarian said if US forces continued to treat Iraqis that way they would turn violently against the occupying troops. Shabib, one of the wealthiest businessmen in Iraq, says he feels humiliated.

"I am sad and pained ... because I was humiliated by the Americans. They treated me like an animal," he said.

"We are not their enemies but they are turning us into enemies. My eyes fill with tears when I remember how they treated me ... Now I would be lying if I said I don't want the occupiers out."

Shabib said that on June 6, US tanks surrounded his house at dawn while three helicopters hovered above. American soldiers stormed in, dragged him and his four sons out, tied their hands behind them, blindfolded them and covered their heads for hours.

He does not know what prompted the raid, but he thinks that someone had told the Americans he gave funds to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

"Maybe an Iraqi who hates me whispered in the Americans' ears and lied to them about me, so they came and captured me," he said.

Shabib said he owns several bus and transport companies as well as a number of jewelry stores. He also used to smuggle goods to neighboring Arab states during the UN embargo.

He lives with his children and grandchildren, a total of 32 people, in a luxurious house in Falluja, 70km west of Baghdad. Since the occupation began, Falluja has seethed with hostility to US troops, who have deployed more forces to crack down on the violence in the Sunni Muslim city.

Rough justice

Many Iraqis are increasingly angry about what they say is unjustifiably rough treatment by US soldiers during weapons raids. They say they understand the Coalition Provisional Authority's decision to crack down on possession of weapons, but say it first has to provide them with security.

"They stopped my car, pushed me out, threw me on the ground, tied my hands behind my back and left me in the intolerable heat for four hours. They took away my pistol then let me go," said a 50-year-old teacher who gave his name as Hassan. Like others in the city of 400,000, he says he wants Saddam back.

"They said pistols were not banned. Why did they take it away? They rid us of Saddam and bring us anarchy. Thank you but no, I want Saddam and my sense of security back."

Crime rates reached unprecedented levels in Iraq after the war. Iraqis accuse the US troops of not doing enough to curb the violence and lawlessness, but US officials say security is improving and they are restoring law and order.

A campaign to collect heavy weapons from Iraqis began on June 1, but the US describes the number of guns handed in as "light."

At Shabib's home, the women and children ran away screaming while soldiers charged through the house, breaking doors and valuable vases, his wife said.

She said she fainted when she saw soldiers take her husband and sons away in a tank.

Iyad, Shabib's son who was also detained, said more than US$20,000 were taken by the soldiers, as well as 10 million Iraqi dinars. He said US soldiers also confiscated 18 pistols, hunting guns, and automatic guns.

Illeagal activities?

US military spokesman Colonel Rick Thomas said the army confiscated money only if it suspected it was earned from, or used to fund, illegal activities.

"We're certainly not taking individuals' money. We conduct searches based on information and if we have reason to believe the money was gained through illegal ways or used for illicit activities, it certainly is part of the confiscation, just as in the case of illegal weapons," Thomas said.

US soldiers are on full alert in Falluja where several of their colleagues have been killed since Saddam's removal in April. Iraq's top US administrator Paul Bremer said US troops will defend themselves against attacks in Falluja and use force against the attackers if they have to.

Shabib said he and his sons were put inside a tank, driven around town and thrown into a field until noon in the sweltering heat.

"I am a sick and old man. I asked them to allow me to go to the toilet but they refused and finally when they took me indoors to interrogate me, I began bleeding and collapsed. They took me to hospital," Shabib said.

He said his sons were treated even more badly during their 10-day detention.

Iyad, 32, said he was a soldier in the Iraqi army, but did not fight during the war because he opposed Saddam.

"I refused to fight Saddam's war, and now they put me in jail and accuse me and my family of funding the Baath Party," he said. "What an irony."