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U.S. Soldiers Fire on Iraqi Family; 4 Die

There was no warning, a survivor says. Military states that the incident is under investigation.

August 12, 2003|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The Kawaz family had just dropped off Grandmother and were heading home in their small white car, well in advance of the city's 11 p.m. curfew. No one saw that U.S. soldiers had set up a checkpoint at the intersection ahead.

As their car rolled toward the checkpoint, a hail of bullets from U.S. soldiers ripped through their vehicle, killing Adel Kawaz, 44, and three of his children, ages 18, 16 and 8. His wife, Anwaar, survived, as did the couple's 13-year-old daughter.

Although major combat operations may be over in Iraq, the Kawaz family's experience illustrates anew the danger civilians face under the U.S.-led military occupation. With resistance forces attacking troops daily -- another U.S. soldier died Sunday in a blast in Baqubah -- soldiers are on high alert. In this tense and broiling-hot capital patrolled by some 36,000 U.S. troops, trigger fingers are at the ready.

The shooting of the Kawaz family happened about 9:15 p.m. Friday. The Army has not released details. Acknowledging that a family had been hit by U.S. gunfire, as first reported by Associated Press, a military spokesman said Monday that the incident was under investigation.

U.S. officials also said they were looking into the apparent shooting of two Iraqi policemen by U.S. soldiers Saturday. The plainclothes officers were in a speeding car pursuing crime suspects when they were fired on.

In an interview Monday, the surviving Kawaz daughter, Hadeel, said the soldiers who fired on her family car gave no warning. There had been an explosion in the neighborhood that night, possibly from a faulty electricity transformer or generator. The family, concerned that the blast would attract U.S. soldiers, decided to return home early. But unknown to them, U.S. soldiers had set up a checkpoint about half a mile from the grandmother's house in the Slaykh section of the capital.

After the firing on their car stopped, Hadeel said, her father and 8-year-old sister, Marvet, lay in the car for an hour without receiving medical attention. Soldiers eventually removed them from the vehicle, and they died at a hospital. Her brother Haider, 18, and older sister, Oulah, 16, died at the scene.

Hadeel calmly explained how before the tragedy, she had taken a liking to the Americans. She and her siblings would interrupt their video games to give the GIs water when they patrolled in the heat near their house.

"And now this happens to us," said Hadeel, who escaped with scalp and arm wounds from flying glass.

Her father, a former member of the Iraqi air force, had just received a $60 check, which the U.S. government issued to ex-Iraqi servicemen. He planned to put it toward opening a satellite TV dish shop; until then, he was driving a taxi.

After the firing began, Hadeel's mother, who is eight months pregnant, screamed for the soldiers to stop, apparently to no avail.

Hadeel's uncle, Jamal Khathem, said that the killings were God's will and that his sister-in-law has no intention of seeking restitution from the Americans. Still, it has surprised him that no one from the U.S. government has come to their house to investigate, check on Hadeel's condition or offer an apology.

A coalition spokesman said Monday that it was up to victims to apply for restitution after alleged wrongful-death incidents, as well as to provide proof, including photos of the scene and victims.

But Khathem said nothing could make up for what occurred.

"What has happened, happened. What could they offer us that would bring our family back to life?" he asked.

Although she expressed similar fatalism about losing her three siblings and father, Hadeel said she could not understand how an army from a nation with so much sophisticated military equipment could not have seen "there were girls and a family in the car that night."

"It is tragic," she said, "that their famous technology failed them."

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