As U.S. attacks intensified this week against continuing armed resistance in Iraq, reports also grew of civilian outrage at sweeps, house searches and mass detentions conducted by the U.S. troops.

U.S. military activity has focused on a region north of Baghdad, including Fallujah and other communities considered to be centers of armed insurgency.

The U.S. military command launched the intensified campaign, called “Operation Desert Scorpion,” after at least 11 soldiers had been killed during the first two weeks in June. Initial claims that combat had ended have given way to open acknowledgement by military officials that combat will continue for a prolonged period. “It’s still a combat operation, but it takes on, as you can imagine, a significantly different nature than the decisive combat operations which have ended,” Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of ground forces in Iraq, told the Guardian of London this week.

In an effort to neutralize the opposition of Iraqi civilians to the U.S. campaign, Operation Desert Scorpion also features humanitarian aid, with soldiers bringing food, medicine, school books and toys to residents, while authorities promise to repair the infrastructure. But many civilians are unconvinced. “The Americans come here just to provoke,” Hamed Kalouf, whose neighbors’ house had just been raided, told The New York Times. “This can only cause more trouble.”

An example of the U.S. attacks’ tragic consequences to civilians occurred June 13 in Elheer, a mud-brick village north of Baghdad, whose residents initially supported the U.S. and British drive to remove Saddam Hussein. Following a middle-of-the-night attack on a U.S. convoy, villagers were warned by shouts that U.S. troops were approaching. Men, women and children fleeing into nearby fields of wheat stubble were caught in machine gun fire from an armored personnel carrier, which also set the wheat stubble ablaze. When the firing stopped, village patriarch Ali Jassim al-Khazraki was dead, along with three of his sons and his grandson. Relatives and fellow villagers told journalists the tragedy had turned them against the occupation forces. “This is our fortune,” said Rassaq Ali Jassim, who lost his father and three brothers. “First we were persecuted by Saddam Hussein, and now by the Americans.”

Also arousing civilian opposition are the detentions of whole groups of civilians. In Duluiyah, also north of Baghdad, some 400 people were arrested in a sweep ostensibly against “terrorist elements.” But within days all but 60 had been let go without charges. Said 82-year-old Khalaf Abid Shabibh, held for 10 days with his four sons after a raid in Fallujah, “Under our law you are innocent until proved guilty, but the Americans punish us before we are found guilty.”

Meanwhile, the New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged June 17 that the U.S. military gave an incorrect account of how 20 Iraqis died in two protests in April, and called for an independent investigation. HRW took issue with the military’s claim that soldiers were directly fired on in incidents April 28 and 30.

The organization also disputed the claim that troops used “precision fire” against presumed Iraqi gunmen. HRW based its 18-page report, “Violent Response: The U.S. Army in Al-Fallujah,” on interviews with soldiers, officers, townspeople and other witnesses, as well as ballistic evidence at the scene. Its report charges that the military responded with excessive and possibly indiscriminate fire.

Giving added weight to concerns over civilian deaths, Iraq Body Count – a group of volunteer U.S. and British academics and researchers – has compiled statistics on civilian casualties showing between 5,000 and 7,000 civilians may have been killed during the invasion of Iraq. The group said that as more evidence is collected, the total could rise as high as 10,000.

On June 16, the BBC published a survey of over 11,000 people in 11 countries, that it said showed 57 percent of respondents having “a very unfavorable or fairly unfavorable attitude toward the American president,” though attitudes were less negative toward the U.S. as a country. In five of the 11 countries, a majority of respondents called the U.S. more dangerous than Iran and North Korea – countries the Bush administration has named as part of an “axis of evil.”

The author can be reached at cpusainternat@mindspring.com

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