Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets in Afghanistan yesterday after US forces were involved in a panicked shooting which left 16 civilians dead and 23 injured.
Local people as well as a number of Afghan officials accused the American marines of opening fire indiscriminately following a suicide bomb attack on their convoy in Nangarhar province.
With protests continuing to grow, and the police coming under attack from stone- throwing crowds, the US military maintained that the casualties were the victims of a "complex ambush" in which gunmen had carried out a synchronised attack following the blast in which a marine was injured.
But Mohammad Khan Katawazi, the district chief of Shinwar district, where the deaths took place, insisted that they "treated every car and person along the highway as a potential attacker" as they attempted to speed away from the scene of the explosion.
Abdul Ghafour and Noor Agha Zwak, speaking on behalf of the Nangarhar police and government, and Zemeri Bashary, the Interior Ministry spokesman in Kabul, also claimed the deaths and injuries were due to American fire.
BAGHDAD, Monday, March 5 — Iraqi special forces and British troops stormed the offices of an Iraqi government intelligence agency in the southern city of Basra on Sunday, and British officials said they discovered about 30 prisoners, some showing signs of torture.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a conservative Shiite, condemned the raid in Basra. He publicly said nothing about the evidence of torture.
“The prime minister has ordered an immediate investigation into the incident of breaking into the security compound in Basra and stressed the need to punish those who have carried out this illegal and irresponsible act,” said the full text of a statement issued late Sunday by his office.
It remained unclear why he sought to pursue the raiding force aggressively rather than the accusations of prisoner abuse. Efforts to reach officials in his office were unsuccessful.
The civilian deaths in Afghanistan will obviously be the subject of an investigation resulting in the usual conflicting reports.
The raid in Basra and al-Maliki's response to it however ought to be raising some serious red flags for those who have gushed about how cooperative and compliant he's been. This situation, coupled with his terse dismissal of an alleged rape perpetrated by Iraqi security officials in February, shows a man who is far too devoted to sectarian interests to be an effective leader of a country in grave turmoil at a time when bridges need to be built between the warring religious factions.
The discovery of prisoners in the Basra offices, which the British described as the headquarters of Iraq’s government intelligence agency, echoed other recent cases in which American or British forces stumbled onto a government-run detention center that held people showing signs of torture.
As recently as December, a combined force of British and Iraqi troops assaulted a police station in Basra and rescued 127 prisoners from fetid conditions. Some of the prisoners had been tortured.
The most significant recent case involved a secret Baghdad prison run by the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry, known as Site 4 and discovered by American and Iraqi troops last year, where more than 1,400 prisoners were discovered and where some had been subjected to systematic abuse.
al-Maliki has promised a cabinet shuffle within the next couple of weeks in an attempt, he says, to root out corruption. That certainly remains to be seen, especially if he continues to come to the defence of forces that are torturing and raping people. I have a feeling he won't be around much longer - nor should he be - unless the US decides to continue to prop him up so they can get their oil deals sealed.
Related: Media Censorship by the US Military in Afghanistan following the suicide bombing.