10 Unsettling Cases Of American Brutality During The Iraq War

The Iraq War was a bloody mess. We’ll never know the true extent of atrocities committed on both sides during its span. Collateral damage was through the roof. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died. Here, we detail some of the worst incidents of unnecessary civilian loss and heavy-handedness towards Iraqi detainees.

#10. The Fallujah Killings of April 2003


On April 28th, 2003, hundreds of Iraqi civilians marched through the streets of Fallujah, to protest the U.S. Military’s occupation of residential areas. Specifically, the 82nd Airborne Division had occupied a school and the locals wanted to be able to use it once more for its intended purpose.

As the Iraqis marched towards the school, they passed the Ba’ath party headquarters, which also had soldiers positioned in it. At this point, U.S. military informed the crowd that they were in violation of an imposed curfew and would have to leave the area immediately.

Map of Iraq with Fallujah in red. / Courtesy WikiMedia

The details of what happened next are spotty. The Mayor of Fallujah, Taha Bedaiwi al-Alwani, who was present at the headquarters has said, “They started to throw rocks at the U.S. and our building.” The official U.S. story is that a warning shot was then fired above the mass of Iraqi citizens, causing them to disperse.

A smaller regrouping of 100 to 250 people marched towards the school, once again. Iraqi witnesses and demonstrators that were interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that none of the demonstrators had firearms. In contrast, as soon as they reached the school, they were shot at by American forces.

At least 13 people died and another 75 suffered injury. The U.S. military claim that they were responding with “precision fire” against armed members of the crowd, who had shot at them. However, no U.S. soldiers were injured and the school in which they were stationed had no conclusive bullet damage either. Bullet damage to the surrounding area was vast, indicating that U.S. target choices were not particularly precise.

The Fallujah school. / Courtesy Time

#9. The Mahmudiya Rape And Killings


Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi was 14 at the time of her death. Her parents were concerned by U.S. occupation to such an extent that they didn’t believe it was safe for her to go to school. Instead, she spent most of her time at home—meaning that U.S. soldiers could see her from their checkpoint, tending to the family’s garden.

Abeer, aged 7. / Courtesy WikiMedia

Steven Green and his fellow soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment would excessively search Abeer’s house. One time, Green ran his finger down the girl’s cheek. As a result of such incidents, Abeer’s family decided it would be safer for her to spend nights at her uncle’s house.

During the day of March 12th, 2006, Green finalised drunken plans to rape Abeer, with colleagues Paul Cortez, James Barker, Jesse Spielman, and Brian Howard.  They entered her home, separating Abeer from her family. Green then shot and killed Abeer’s mother, father, and younger sister, while his colleagues raped Abeer in another room.

Green then emerged and told his colleagues, “I just killed them. All are dead.” He then proceeded to rape Abeer, before shooting her in the head. The house was then set on fire.

Green playing with a shotgun. / Courtesy WikiMedia

Fortunately, the resulting smoke was noticed before the crime scene was totally destroyed. Green and his colleagues initially told the Iraqi soldiers that arrived on the scene that Sunni insurgents were to blame. This meant that the truth didn’t become clear until shortly before Green’s arrest, four months after the incident.

#8. The Ishaqi Incident


On March 15th, 2006, U.S. and Multinational Forces raided a house in the village of Ishaqi. The official U.S. report for the incident states that an Al-Qaeda operative was visiting the location. In the ensuing carnage, supported by helicopter gunships, at least 11 Iraqi civilians were killed. This included five children, ranging in age from six months to five years old.

An Iraqi police report at the time stated, “The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people. […] Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed animals.” However, the initial U.S. Army reports simply stated, “Four people killed – a woman and two children and an enemy.”

Ishaqi boy, standing in front of bombed house. / Courtesy NBC

A U.S. investigation into the raid was closed in June 2006 and all soldiers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing. As a result, the Iraqi government immediately opened up their own investigation. An aide to the Iraqi Prime Minister at the time said that the U.S. report “was not fair for the Iraqi people and the children who were killed.”

The investigation fizzled out—only to regain momentum in September 2011, following a cable released by Wikileaks, written by United Nations inspector Philip Alston, which states, “It would appear that when the M.N.F. (multinational forces) approached the house, shots were fired from it and a confrontation ensued for some 25 minutes. The M.N.F. troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them. After the initial M.N.F. intervention, a US air raid ensued that destroyed the house.”

Prayers during the funeral of victims of the incident. / Courtesy NBC

Within this narrative, the air raid would most logically have taken place in an attempt to obliterate all inhabitants of the home, in order to cover up the true circumstances of their demise.

#7. The Camp Liberty Killings


The Camp Liberty Killings happened on May 11th, 2009 and was one of the worst instances of U.S. soldier-on-soldier violence during the Iraq War.

In the lead-up to the attack, Sergeant John Russell had been behaving erratically. Communications back home to his wife reveal the hopelessness that he felt at the time. He believed he was being forced out of the army and had no other way to pay his substantial mortgage. According to Russell’s father, he told his wife “My life is over. To hell with it. I’m going to get even with ‘em.”

John Russell, in seemingly happier times. / Courtesy USA Today

Russell had been forced by his higher-ups to visit the Camp Liberty Combat Stress Clinic on three previous occasions to the incident. During his fourth trip, Russell got into a big argument with the clinicians. On the way back to his unit, Russell overpowered his armed escort, took his M16 rifle and drove right back to the clinic. There, he shot and killed five U.S. Military personnel.

The incident opened up a fresh debate about combat fatigue and whether enough was being done to help soldiers suffering from mental illness. Several people had witnessed Russell crying and talking about self-harm. He had also attempted to surrender himself to military police, fearing that he might hurt himself or others.

Although the death penalty was sought, in the end Russell received life imprisonment.    

Soldier approaching Camp Liberty Combat Stress Clinic. / Courtesy LA Times

#6. The Mukaradeeb Wedding Party Massacre


The Mukaradeeb Wedding Party Massacre took place on May 19th, 2004. It resulted in the deaths of between 42 and 45 civilians—15 of which are believed to have been children.

Male wedding guests, relaxing with a child. / Courtesy Europa.com

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the U.S. Military in Iraq, had identified the target as a “suspected foreign fighter safe house”. In the aftermath of the operation, Kimmitt further stated that, “There was no evidence of a wedding: no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food … one would expect from a wedding celebration.”

Contradicting this account is footage recorded by the wedding’s hired videographer, Yasser Abdullah, who died in the attack. The tape documents several hours of very ordinary celebrations, including all the usual trimmings associated with a wedding. The wedding singer and an electric organ player, who are shown in the footage, also lost their lives. Furthermore, footage shot the following day by an Associated Press cameraman shows remnants of musical instruments, pots and pans (presumably for food), and the brightly coloured cushions that guests had been sitting on 24 hours earlier.

One of the wedding’s hired musicians. / Courtesy Europa.com

United States Marine Corps general James “Mad Dog” Mattis also stated his disbelief that this was a regular wedding, saying, ”How many people go to the middle of the desert … to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let’s not be naïve.” He would later state that it took him all of 30 seconds to decide to bomb the target.

#5. The Nisour Square Massacre


The Nisour Square Massacre took place on September 16th, 2007 and was perpetrated by members of the private military company Blackwater. In total, 17 civilians were killed and 20 injured.

A woman, inspecting the car of a victim of the Nisour Square Massacre. / Courtesy Getty

The incident was triggered by a bomb blast that happened around midday. A U.S. official was visiting the area at the time and had to be escorted back to a designated safe zone by two Blackwater teams.

Meanwhile, another team was dispatched to the scene of the bombing, in order to deal with the aftermath. The official report at the time stated that they were ambushed when they reached Nisour Square. One of the teams that had transported the official back to the safe zone was then re-deployed to help colleagues at Nisour Square. However, they got jammed up at one of the square’s intersections, resulting in a confrontation with both the Iraqi police and army.

Eyewitness accounts dramatically differ from those of Blackwater guards. Uniformly, they state that people within Nisoor Square were fired at indiscriminately as they attempted to flee.

The day after the incident, Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq was temporarily revoked. Later, the U.S. State Department said that “innocent life was lost” during the incident. Blackwater, however, backed its guards, stating that they had, “acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack”.

Participants in the shooting were investigated by the U.S. government. It emerged that a Blackwater guard had had to draw his weapon on a colleague and scream “stop shooting” to bring the incident to a close.

On October 22nd, 2014, after years of legal rigmarole, Blackwater guard Nick Slatten was convicted of murder and three of his colleagues were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. On August 4th, 2017, the convictions were thrown out in a federal appeals court and re-sentencing has been ordered.

The four messily tried Blackwater employees. / Courtesy Associated Press

#4. The Baghdad Canal Killings


In 2007, First Sergeant John Hatley and his unit, while on patrol in Al-Rashid, Baghdad came under enemy fire and ended up capturing what was believed to be four enemy combatants.

It was the belief of the American unit that insufficient evidence was in place to convict the four detainees of a crime. Thus ultimately, if transferred to a detention centre, the detainees would likely be released. Hatley saw this as a potential injustice.

Breaking with the chain of command, the unit drove the handcuffed and blindfolded detainees to a nearby canal. There, Hatley himself executed two of the men with pistol shots to their heads. Sergeant Mayo and Sergeant Leahy killed the other two. The detainees’ bodies were then pushed into the canal.

The canal where the murders took place. / Courtesy CNN

Leahy said in a sworn statement, “I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. […] When I did it, I thought I was doing it for my family. Now I realize that I’m hurting my family more now than if I wouldn’t have done it.”

Hatley, Mayo, and Leahy all received prison sentences for their participation in the killings.

L to R: Hatley, Mayo, Leahy / Courtesy CNN

#3. Checkpoint Deaths


There are a huge amount of suicide bombings that take place in Iraq. It’s therefore understandable that U.S. soldiers are weary of vehicles approaching their checkpoints. However, from 2004 to 2010, 680 civilians were killed in checkpoint incidents and over 2,000 were wounded.

A soldier inspecting an Iraqi woman’s car at a checkpoint in Ramadi. / Courtesy Associated Press

A recurring problem seems to have been the use of an “escalation of force” method. Within this protocol, shots are fired as a warning to vehicles’ occupants to stop and wait to be searched. It often triggers panic and confusion. Either in an attempt to flee or not knowing where the bullets are coming from, many cars have proceeded on, in direct violation of the U.S. Army’s imperfect communications.

A notable incident happened at a checkpoint near a U.S. base called Hurricane Point on June 14th, 2005. A vehicle was interpreted to have disregarded hand signals given by marines and thus warning shots were fired. As the vehicle continued to approach the checkpoint, the marines directly shot and killed the driver. When they inspected the vehicle, they found that it contained 11 civilians. Seven of them were dead—two of which were children.

A checkpoint in Mushahada, Iraq. / Courtesy WikiMedia

#2. Abu Ghraib Prison Torture


Abu Ghraib prison is home to some of the most horrific recorded acts of torture during the Iraq War. An army inquiry into the abuses, dated May 2004 and commonly known as the Taguba Report states that, “Between October and December 2003 … numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees.”

Charles Graner punching handcuffed prisoners. / Courtesy WikiMedia

Public outrage was sparked due to the emergence of photographic evidence of torture. The most widely distributed images included Lynndie England dragging prisoners around on dog leads and pointing to their genitals while they were forced to masturbate.

England, dragging a prisoner by a lead. / Courtesy WikiMedia

England was sentenced to three years imprisonment for mistreating detainees. Ten other soldiers were convicted of various charges, including dereliction of duty.

Allegations have been made that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew the methods of torture being employed at Abu Ghraib were illegal under international law, yet still allowed their practice. Rumsfeld has said that he offered to resign twice, during the swirling scandal. Both times, George W. Bush convinced him not to.

#1. The Haditha Massacre


On November 19th, 2005, an improvised explosive device was detonated that destroyed a U.S. Marines Corps Humvee. The driver, Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas was killed.

On the scene, in a heightened state of emotion, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich ordered the occupants of a nearby taxi out of the car where he shot them dead.  Marines then stormed three road adjacent houses, killing 19 civilians.

Frank Wuterich, posing in his uniform. / Courtesy WikiMedia

A U.S.M.C. press release was sent out a day after the massacre, stating, “A U.S. marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another.” The director of the local hospital strongly contradicted the U.S.M.C.’s account of the incident, indicating that there was no evidence of injury inflicted by roadside bombing. The director further stated, “The bullet wounds were very apparent. Most of the victims were shot in the head and chest from close range.”

Further damning evidence came in the form of a video tape, taken by a local student the day after the incident. From inside the home, it showed that the victims’ blood coated the walls, along with grenade shrapnel and bullet holes. However, no bullet holes could be seen from outside the house, contradicting the U.S.M.C. report that a gunfight had ensued after occupants of the houses shot at them.

Following the emergence of the tape and multiple eyewitness accounts, the U.S. launched a formal investigation that concluded the initial report was inaccurate. The civilians had been killed by the U.S.M.C. and not the roadside bombing. Compensation money, to the tune of $2,500 per death, was given to the families of the deceased.

Victims of the massacre. / Courtesy WikiMedia

Eight marines were investigated for their participation in the incident. Six had the charges dropped and one was found not guilty. Staff Sergeant Fran Wuterich was the only marine who was convicted—solely on the count of negligent dereliction of duty. As a result, he was demoted and received a pay cut.