View Full Version : 'Even prophet Abraham didn't have to kill his son'

08-02-03, 01:34 AM
'Even prophet Abraham didn't have to kill his son'

Four Iraqis died in US raid after a tip-off; the informer's father was told he must be shot

Anthony Shadid in Thuluya, Iraq
Saturday August 2, 2003
The Guardian

Two hours before the dawn call to prayer, in a village still shrouded in silence, Sabah Kerbul's executioners arrived: his father carried an AK-47 assault rifle, as did his brother, Salah.
With barely a word spoken, they led the man accused by the village of working as an informer for the Americans behind a house girded with fig trees, vineyards and orange groves. His father raised his rifle and aimed it at his oldest son.

"Sabah didn't try to escape," said Abdullah Ali, a villager. "He knew he was facing his fate."

The story of what followed is based on interviews with Kerbul's father, brother and five other villagers who said witnesses told them of the events. One shot hit Kerbul's leg, another his torso, the villagers said. He fell to the ground still breathing, his blood soaking the parched earth near the banks of the Tigris.

His father could go no further and, according to some accounts, he collapsed. His other son then fired three times, the villagers said, at least once at his brother's head. Kerbul, a tall, husky 28-year-old, died. "It wasn't an easy thing to kill him," his brother Salah said.

In his home of cement and cinder blocks, the father, Salem, nervously thumbed black prayer beads this week as he recalled a warning from villagers earlier this month. He insisted his son was not an informer, but he said his protests meant little to a village seething with anger. He recalled that their threat was clear: either he kill his son, or villagers would resort to tribal justice and kill the rest of his family in retaliation for Kerbul's role in a US operation in the village in June, in which four people were killed.

"I have the heart of a father, and he's my son," Salem said. "Even the prophet Abraham didn't have to kill his son." He dragged on a cigarette. His eyes glimmered with the faint trace of tears. "There was no choice."

In the guerrilla war along the Tigris, US officials say they have received a deluge of tips from informants, the intelligence growing since US forces killed Saddam Hussein's sons last week. Acting on the intelligence, soldiers have uncovered weapons and explosives, shut down Ba'ath party safe houses, and ferreted out associates of the fallen president.

A shadowy response has emerged, a less-publicised but no less deadly theatre of violence.

US officials and residents say informers have been killed, shot and attacked with grenades. They offer no numbers, but anecdotal evidence suggests the campaign is widespread in a region long known to be a source of support for Saddam's government. The officials declined to discuss individual informers and would not say whether Kerbul was one.

Lists of informers circulated in at least two northern cities, and remnants of Saddam's Fedayeen militia have vowed in videotaped warnings broadcast on Arab satellite networks that they will fight informers "before we fight the Americans".

The surge of informants has also provoked anger in Sunni towns along the Tigris. Some residents say informants are drawn to US field commanders' rewards of as little as $20 and as much as $2,500. The informants are occasionally interested in settling their own feuds and grudges with the help of soldiers, the residents said. Others contend that the informers are exploiting access to US officials in order to emerge as power-brokers in the vacuum that has followed the fall of the government on April 9.

In Saniya, where slogans still declare "Long Live Saddam Hussein", Abdel-Hamid Ahmed sat in a well-to-do house. He proudly described himself as the first person to greet the Americans, and ticked off the help he has offered since they arrived - most notably information on saboteurs of electric power lines.

Since then, he said, he had met US soldiers at his house at least once a week, usually for no more than 15 minutes.

"I'm not an informer, but I help explain to the Americans the situation here," he said in a living room with a new Toshiba TV, a stereo, karaoke machine, and 15 vases of plastic flowers. Ahmed, who works in the mayor's office, was on two lists of informers in the village and in the nearby city of Baiji, 120 miles north-west of Baghdad. Under the heading "In the name of God, the most merciful and compassionate", each list had 20 names and, over the past month, the leaflets were left before dawn on doorsteps and pinned on posts. On the first list, he was ranked 10th; on the second, he said, he was fourth. He said he told the Americans of two men who distributed the list, and they were arrested.

In the street, some have heckled him as an agent - "a grave word", he said. He has not been threatened, but a grenade was thrown at another on the list, Kamil Hatroush, although neither he nor his family was hurt. Ahmed has a 9mm pistol, not the almost standard AK-47s of most Iraqis in the countryside. "I'm not scared," he said. "If someone wants to kill you, why would they give you a warning first?"

In 1983 he was kicked out of Baghdad's national security college, the training ground for the intelligence services. He said the disappointment led him to alcoholism, then part-time work, most recently at the mayor's office, where he earned the equivalent of $2 a month.

"If the Americans offered me a job in security, I would work with them," he said. "Every person has to plan for the future."

Residents of Thuluya said they had no doubt about Kerbul. After the operation in the village, dubbed Peninsula Strike, a force of 4,000 soldiers rounded up 400 residents and detained them at an air base seven miles north. An informer dressed in desert camouflage with a bag over his head had fingered at least 15 prisoners as they sat under a sweltering sun, their hands bound with plastic. Villagers said they recognised his right thumb, severed above the joint in an accident.

"We started yelling and shouting, 'That's Sabah! That's Sabah!'" said Mohammed Abu Dhua, who was held at the base for seven days and whose brother died of a heart attack during the operation. "We asked his father, 'Why is Sabah doing these things?'"

Masked man

In the raid, three men and a 15-year-old boy were killed, all believed by villagers to have been innocent. Many focused their anger on Kerbul, who had served a year in prison for impersonating a government official and was believed to have worked as an informer after release. Children in the street recited a rhyme: "Masked man, your face is the face of the devil". Calls for revenge, tempered by the fear of tribal bloodletting getting out of hand, were heard in many conversations.

Kerbul's family said US forces took him to Tikrit; then three weeks later, he went to stay with relatives across the Tigris in the village of Alim. As soon as word of his release spread, his brother Salah and an uncle went there to bring him back.

"We sent a message to his family," said Ali, a retired colonel whose brother was among those killed in the operation. "You have to kill your son. If you don't kill him, we will act against your family." His father appealed, Ali recalled, saying he needed permission from US forces. "We told him we're not responsible for this," Ali said. "We told him you must kill your son."

Kerbul's body was buried hours after the shooting, his father said, carried to the cemetery in a white Toyota pickup. He accompanied the corpse. Salah, his son who fired the fatal shots, said he stayed home.

US military officials in Thuluya and Tikrit said they were aware of the killing.

"It's justice," said Abu Dhua, sitting at his home near a bend in the Tigris. "In my opinion, he deserves worse than death."