An Iraqi everyman

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Aug 11 07:03:13 MDT 2003

A Villager Attacks U.S. Troops, but Why?
Iraqi's Life and Death Provide Cautionary Tale
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 11, 2003; Page A01

ALBU ALWAN, Iraq -- On a sun-drenched plain along a bluff of barren
cliffs, a cheap headstone made of cement marks the grave of Omar Ibrahim
Khalaf. His name was hastily scrawled in white chalk. Underneath is a
religious invocation that begins, "In the name of God, the most merciful
and compassionate." It is followed simply by the date of his death,
Friday, Aug. 1.

But one word on the marker distinguishes Khalaf's resting place. His
epitaph declares him a shahid, a martyr.

In a 15-minute battle so intense that villagers called it a glimpse of
hell, U.S. forces killed Khalaf as he tried to fire rocket-propelled
grenades at a convoy. A .50-caliber round tore off his skull.
Machine-gun fire almost detached his left arm and ankle, which were left
dangling from a corpse riddled with bullets and smeared with blood and
the powdery dirt of the Euphrates River valley.

Beyond Khalaf's home of Albu Alwan, his death has been little more than
a footnote in a simmering guerrilla war that has claimed the lives of 56
U.S. soldiers since major combat operations were declared over May 1.
But in the mystery that still shrouds the dozen or so attacks carried
out daily against U.S. troops occupying the country, Khalaf's life
provides a cautionary tale about today's Iraq -- and where the
combustible mix of poverty, anger and resentment can lead.

American officials contend that the vast majority of the attacks are
driven by remnants of former president Saddam Hussein's government and
the Baath Party he used for 35 years to hold power. Men like Khalaf,
they say, are the foot soldiers lured by bounties that run as high as
$5,000, perhaps motivated by loyalty to the fallen government, or by
fear from threats to their family if they refuse to fight.

But the portrait of Khalaf that emerged from interviews last week
suggests a more complicated figure.

A 32-year-old father of six, he was an army deserter who, villagers say,
had nothing to do with the Baath Party. He prayed at the mosque on
Fridays, although he was not a fervently religious man. His hardscrabble
life was shaped by the grinding poverty of his village, whose burdens
have mounted since the government's fall on April 9. In the end, many
here speculated he was changed irrevocably by the perceived day-to-day
humiliations of occupation.

To some of his friends and family, he represents an Iraqi everyman, a
recruit whose very commonality does not bode well for U.S. troops
battling a four-month guerrilla campaign in northern and western Iraq
that few in Albu Alwan seem to believe will end soon.



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