I know the area where this massacre was committed. It is a crowded working-class area, a place where it is safe for children to play outdoors. It is near where my two aunts and their extended families lived, where I played as a child with my cousins Ali, Khalid, Ferial and Mohammed. Their offspring still live there.
The Reuters photographer we see being killed so casually in the film, Namir Noor-Eldeen, did not live there, but went to cover a story, risking his life at a time when most western journalists were imbedded with the military. Noor-Eldeen was 22 (he must have felt extremely proud to be working for Reuters) and single. His driver Saeed Chmagh, who is also seen being killed, was 40 and married. He left behind a widow and four children, adding to the millions of Iraqi widows and orphans.
Witnesses to the slaughter reported the harrowing details in 2007, but they had to wait for a western whistleblower to hand over a video before anyone listened. Watching the video, my first impression was, I have no impression. But the total numbness gradually grows into a now familiar anger. I listen to the excited voices of death coming from the sky, enjoying the chase and killing. I whisper: do they think they are God?
“Light ‘em all up!” one shooter says.
“Ah, yeah, look at those dead bastards. Nice,” says another.
“Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids into the battle,” one says when ground troops discover two children among the wounded.
In their Apache helicopter, with their sophisticated killing machinery, US soldiers seem superhuman. The Iraqis, on the ground, appear only as nameless bastards, Hajjis, sandniggers. They seem subhuman — and stripping them of their humanity makes killing them easy.
As I watch, I feel the anger calcify in my heart alongside the rage I still feel over other Anglo-American massacres: Haditha (which has been compared to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war); Ishaqi (where 11 Iraqi civilians were killed in June 2006); Falluja; the rape and killing of A’beer al-Janaby and her family; the British Camp Breadbasket scandal.
We often hear of the traumas US soldiers suffer when they lose one of their ranks, and their eagerness to even the score. We seldom hear from people like the Iraqi widow whose husband was shot, who looked me in the eye last summer, and said: “But we didn’t invade their country.” Unlike this video, the injustice she feels will not fade with time. It is engraved in the collective memory of people, and will be until justice is done.
Haifa Zangana is a novelist and a former prisoner of Saddam Hussein’s regime.