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News ::
03 Sep 2003
[Geert Van Moorter, a doctor in the Belgian organization Medicine for
the Third World who was in Baghdad during the U.S. bombing in April,
returned to Baghdad from the beginning of July to mid-August to find
witnesses for war-crimes charges against U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks. He was interviewed in the Belgian weekly newspaper, Solidaire, on Aug. 20.]
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Sept. 4, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


[Geert Van Moorter, a doctor in the Belgian organization Medicine for
the Third World who was in Baghdad during the U.S. bombing in April,
returned to Baghdad from the beginning of July to mid-August to find
witnesses for war-crimes charges against U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks. He was interviewed in the Belgian weekly newspaper, Solidaire, on Aug. 20.]

By Pol De Vos

Geert Van Moorter: At first one had the impression that everything is
going more or less OK. Life goes on, numerous stores are stocked with
goods. Only the U.S. jeeps disturb the peace. But as soon as night
falls, all this illusion disappears. Before the war, the city woke up
at nightfall. Until 1 or 2 a.m., groups of people would be talking and
joking around in the streets.

Now, at night, Baghdad is a dead city. Besides, the U.S. command
decreed a curfew that begins at 11 p.m., so no one can go out.

I quickly noticed that the population was still suffering terribly from the consequences of the war. The Iraqis can't understand how it could be that four months after the official end of the conflict there are still only a few hours of electricity available each day.

There are still enormous problems with drinking water. The gas supply
is still gravely disrupted. Many people told me that after the
devastating first Gulf War, in 1991, when most of the country remained
in the control of the Iraqi government, all these problems were
resolved in less than two months. Now, the entire administrative
structure of the country is topsy-turvy.

Most public services and ministries are still closed down. The state
enterprises are shut. There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who
lost their jobs and are more or less running in place. How do they stay alive? I have no idea. They cannot still have savings, after two wars and 12 years of sanctions.

By good luck, the "oil for food" program functions more or less. About
80 percent of the distribution structure put in place by the prior
regime seems to still exist. Considering what it is, naturally, it is a pitiful consolation.

De Vos: But they have still installed a "provisional government," no?
Hasn't that succeeded in resolving the problems?

Van Moorter: Everyone I've spoken to has expressed only contempt for
this council of 25 who today claim to lead the country. "In the past we had ONE Saddam, today we have 25," joked someone. "The majority are
profiteers who have been abroad for years. They entered Baghdad with
the American tanks." It is the U.S. forces who pull the strings. The
so-called "ministers" have in reality nothing to say.

De Vos: Have the people succeeded in forgetting the war? Can they put
aside the anxiety and tension of those days?

Van Moorter: Too many people are still confronted daily with the
consequences of the bombings. For example, I was able to see Mohammed
Ali Sarhan again. During the war, he had lost both his legs. On April
7, he was accompanying in an ambulance his wife, who was in the final
stage of pregnancy, and another woman on the verge of giving birth.
Then they became the target of a U.S. tank.

Mohammed was blown out of the ambulance, the two women and the babies
about to be born were burned to death. When witnesses at the event
wanted to come to Mohammed's aid, they were shot down.

Later, I was able to round up other witnesses, the father and the
sister of the other pregnant woman. They were also in the ambulance.
The sister is still recovering from her grave burns and has a serious
fracture. They confirmed the story: U.S. troops had fired on the
ambulance without reason.

De Vos: How do the people experience the presence of the U.S.

Van Moorter: An interpreter told me: "I feel like a foreigner in my
own country. Each time that I see the Americans, I'm overcome with

She told me how earlier she had led a varied social life. But today she doesn't go out in the evening. She doesn't even dare travel by auto. The U.S. soldiers are arrogant. Those Iraqis who had a neutral or a somewhat positive attitude toward the U.S. because they got rid of Saddam Hussein know today that the U.S. Army did not come to help them.

At the international airport in Baghdad, thousands of people are being
held. Everyone "suspect" is arrested and often even beaten without
explanation. I went to see a young lad--10 years old--who was shot down at a control post. His shoulder was completely smashed up and he will be disabled for life. But this boy has nowhere to go.

The U.S. Military Police, who are assigned to punish crimes committed
by the troops, won't raise their little finger to stop these abuses of
power and the assaults committed by the U.S. military. When I asked one of them how they would react if they received complaints from the
Iraqis, his reaction was: "It's war, man!"

De Vos: What do the U.S. soldiers think now about their presence in

Van Moorter: A soldier told me that they could not eat any of the local food or drink any local drinks. Only their own rations. It is obviously untenable.

I had one friendly conversation with a soldier in a jeep. He was
wearing a heavy helmet and a thick flak jacket. It was more than 104
degrees F. I was there in a T-shirt. I signaled him that I was very hot and asked if he wasn't suffocating under his outfit. His answer: "And it's not only that. I feel like I'm a prisoner. We can't leave our Jeep, we're not safe anywhere."

De Vos: What have you noticed of the resistance?

Van Moorter: Naturally, there are many protest actions and
demonstrations. Those are organized for many different reasons. The
unemployed, the families of people who have been arrested without
reason, the inhabitants who demand water and electricity, the soldiers
that have not been paid for months.

Then there is the armed resistance. I heard explosions regularly, often during the day. In the beginning of July, I was at the Hotel Palestine when, from the other side of the Tigris, in the presidential
neighborhood, a bomb went off. I heard the rumble, saw the clouds of
smoke rising.

Quite soon, helicopters were coming and going, as well as trucks. I was also able to see a U.S. Army truck burned up. About three hours after the attack, I was there. You have to be fast to see anything, because as quickly as possible the U.S. forces get rid of all traces of the attacks.

It's a secret for no one that the official number of U.S. victims is
always understated. In just the first two weeks in Iraq, at the first
half of July, I learned from witnesses that 16 U.S. troops had been

De Vos: Could one say that the resistance is intensifying?

Van Moorter: I had the impression that it is getting better and better organized. The actions have grown in size, which require more
preparation. I was told of military training organized by officers and
generals of the former army.

In certain regions, money is openly collected to support the
resistance. I have seen many printed fliers opposing the U.S.
occupation. The political opposition grows stronger and demonstrates
with sharper demands. At the end of July, the colonial authority closed down three newspapers because they criticized the U.S. forces and because they wrote of the success of the resistance.

De Vos: You are one of the initiators of the charges against Gen.
[Tommy] Franks. What is your point of view regarding this after your
visit to occupied Iraq?

Van Moorter: One of the goals of my visit was precisely to collect
supplementary information regarding war crimes. I succeeded. In
addition, I even gathered another series of new charges and, indeed,
all concerning serious war crimes.

The case in Belgium against Gen. Franks aims at obtaining an
independent investigation of these crimes. But it is exactly at this
time that the Belgian government has chosen to eliminate the law of
universal competence. That is something that the Iraqis are unable to

- END -

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