Claims by foreign citizens against the U.S. military are normally processed under the Foreign Claims Act. But that law, which allows for payments in negligence cases, excludes any claim arising from combat.
The condolence payments offer a way around the law, said Capt. Darren Pohlmann, a contract law attorney with the 3rd Infantry Division.
"Liability or negligence does not come into play," he said. "It's a combat situation, there's a war going on out there, and unfortunately sometimes people are caught in the crossfire."
Not all disbursements are made for losses arising from U.S. actions. Schiffer said a payment was made to the widow of an Iraqi worker at a U.S. base who was killed by insurgents. And in Muqdadiya in north-central Iraq, Lt. Col. Roger Cloutier said he intended to pay the widow of an assassinated Iraqi army sergeant major.
The payments are approved by local commanders after review by legal officers. The money comes from the Commanders' Emergency Response Program, which officials use to pay for local projects.
Dhia Mohammed, a 24-year-old college student, arrived at Camp Warhorse on Feb. 16 to complain that his 1993 Hyundai sedan had been damaged by a U.S. Humvee on Christmas Day. Mohammed provided an impressive level of detailed evidence -- more than most claimants, Moore said, and more than in even some death claims.
Mohammed had an Iraqi police report with sketches. He had six color photos of the dented bumper and smashed rear window. And a damage estimate from a local mechanic for $893 -- with copies in Arabic and baroque English lettering.
The documents explained that "we send to your excellency the witness, Ali Mamduah, mechanic, hoping to approve his sayings judicially and issue the proper decision."
Like all claims, Moore said, Mohammed's would be checked against military records to verify that U.S. troops had conducted operations at the specified time and place. Soldiers are required to report all cases of civilian death, injury or property loss.
The investigation does not approach the rigor of a damages claim in U.S. courts, said Moore, who was a criminal defense lawyer before joining the military.
"These are wartime conditions," he said. "We can't go down to Abdullah's garage to make sure his damage estimate isn't wildly inflated."
Every other Saturday, Moore said, his staff makes the dangerous trip from the base to an office in downtown Baqubah to make payments -- a total of $10,000 to $25,000 on a typical day. In a few cases, usually involving deaths, payments are made at a claimant's home in order to show sympathy and respect, Schiffer said.
In the case of Dhia Mohammed's wrecked Hyundai, Moore said a payment would probably be approved, if the incident was verified.
"But he won't be getting his $893," Moore said. "I'd say $200 to $300 is more like it."