Mazin Jumaa's Story

By Dr. David Hilfiker

[From, January 11, 2004]

"Tuesday morning we visited the Iraq Organization for Human Rights, an Iraqi non-governmental organization (NGO) that examines human rights abuses under both the former and present government. We listened to a family tell about the shooting of Abd Wahab abd Razaq on July 13, 2003. Actually an Iraqi translator,

Mazin Jumaa, who was at the time working for the CPA, told most of the story.

On July 13, Mazin was with an American patrol that had just set up a new checkpoint in what he thought was an unsuitable place on the road. The checkpoint allowed only one lane of traffic through at a time, so a queue formed. Abd Wahab drove his white Peugot at the high rate of speed normal for the road and could not stop in time without hitting the cars in the queue so he swerved to the right. (There's some uncertainty about why he didn't slow down more: he may not have realized there was a checkpoint, witnesses thought it might have been bad brakes, but it's not clear.) About a hundred meters from the checkpoint, the soldiers opened up with automatic fire; Mazin didn't notice any warnings being given, but it's not clear there would have been time for the soldiers to do that. Abd Wahab died in a hail of bullets. A man from another car was shot in the eye and killed instantly by a stray bullet.

The lieutenant in charge of the patrol went over to the car and told the victim to get out of the car. Mazin told the lieutenant that the man was dying. The lieutenant pulled Abd Wahab from the car and, according to Mazin, dragged him by his collar 20 -- 25 meters across the street. Two other soldiers came and guarded the man. Mazin said the soldiers were talking about the victim and "laughing." (I asked later whether he meant "laughing" or "smiling" and he seemed unclear about the difference in English.)

"I asked them why they were pointing their weapons at a dying man. An Iraqi policeman was with us, but they sent him away so that he couldn't be a witness. There was also a journalist present from [a local newspaper], and he had a camera, but the soldiers didn't allow the pictures to be taken. The journalist told me that he couldn't take pictures or they would shoot him. During the incident the lieutenant allowed me to talk to the journalist but told me not to say everything to him. But I 'left nothing up my sleeve' [i.e. told him everything, anyway]."

As far as Mazin knew, the story never appeared in the paper.

The soldiers left Abd Wahab lying on the ground for 45 minutes while they searched the car, where they didn't find any weapons or anything else suspicious. During this time Mazin checked the victim's pockets and found his ID card in his breast pocket. There was a bullet hole in the ID, which obscured the full name. He put the ID on the dashboard of the car and they pushed the car to a sports club nearby. A witness from the sports club later told the family that they saw one of the soldiers take the ID out of the car and tear it up.

After the soldiers had finished searching the car, they tied Abd Wahab to the hood of the Humvee and took him to a small hospital near a US military base. The soldiers told the people at the hospital that the identity of the man was unknown even though Mazin had told them [who he was].

Mazin was very upset by the incident and couldn't go to work the next day. The following day he went to the office and resigned on the spot. "They treated Abd Wahab like an animal, and that was not right." On his way out, another lieutenant came up to him and said that he heard the victim was drunk. Mazin told him he was not drunk. (The family said Abd Wahab had never drunk alcohol.)

The family finally retraced Abd Wahab's route and found the shot-up car, but it took them over three months to locate the body.

During this entire time Abd Wahab's father and sister sat impassively listening, occasionally adding something in Arabic. But Abd Wahab's brother-in-law, Dr Muhammad, was quite vocal, upset enough about the incident to be willing to tell the story to us, who could do nothing except tell the story back home.

Dr Muhammad, it turns out, is an orthopedic surgeon and was one of the first doctors to treat Jessica Lynch when she was first brought to his small hospital.

"She received six liters of blood (Iraqi blood is filled with humanity) and had a surgical reduction of the fractures. If we had not treated her she would have died. We treated her because she was another human being and we must love one another. My brother did not get the same treatment."

Reflecting on the story, I had a number of reactions. While the family was certainly upset about the shooting itself, they seemed much more angry about the treatment that they believe he received afterward. The felt that Abd Wahab had been treated with ultimate disrespect, and this was the real offense.

I tried to listen dispassionately to the story, and I certainly don't know the complete truth of it (although as I listened to his story, Mazin spoke slowly, clearly, and carefully, and I'm quite certain that he was telling the truth as he knew it). I find it difficult to believe that the soldiers were actually laughing at Abd Wahab or that they deliberately destroyed his identification. I find it much easier to believe that the soldiers were still quite emotionally shook up by the perceived threat, scared about what was going to happen next, and disturbed about just having killed someone; Mazin does not speak English perfectly, and I can easily believe that he misread their emotional reactions. It's easy to see how witnesses from the street could misinterpret what they saw; in fact, I can't see how they could know that the soldiers intentionally ripped up the identification. But regardless of the details, it certainly seems important, given the 60% unemployment rate in Iraq, that Mazin was incensed enough about Abd Wahab's mistreatment -- being dragged across the street, not getting immediate medical treatment, being tied to the hood of the Humvee, and not being identified so that the family could know immediately what happened -- that he gave up what must have been for him a lucrative position.

As a CPT team, we listened to the story because we had been told it was one of egregious abuse, which may still turn out to be the case. We will research the story further by conducting some more interviews. But even supposing that the story can be told without vilifying anyone (young, scared soldiers shooting a vehicle bearing down on them that they feared was a suicide bomber; soldiers trying to get the victim out quickly and away from the automobile so they could deactivate a possible bomb; soldiers not getting an Arabic name straight in the confusion, etc), this is a disturbing story of what happens in war: soldiers stationed in civilian areas where (because of fear of suicide bombers) they must respond in milliseconds; miscommunication because no Americans speak Arabic; no dialog between members of occupying forces and loved ones of victims. It is incidents like these that create animosity and germinate resistance fighters."