Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Small Town Claims Big Victory

Residents of Buhriz say local fighters defeated American troops, but village sustained civilian casualties.
By Nasr Kadhem

Graffiti adorning the walls of homes, schools, and stores in the village of Buhriz, north-east of Baghdad, proclaims a new legend in the making.

"Long live the heroic mujahedin [holy warriors] of Buhriz,” says one slogan. “Down with spies and traitors - Buhriz is the city of heroes," says another.

A battle between United States forces and insurgents – which reportedly left 13 Iraqis dead and 53 injured – has transformed this impoverished farming community into the latest cause celebre of the anti-Coalition insurgency.

The US military said it suffered no casualties from the fighting on June 16-17, but reported one soldier as killed by small-arms fire in the area on June 18.

As often happens in Iraqi towns, the street fighting left a string of reports of alleged US abuses. Buhriz residents accuse US soldiers of shooting non-combatants, and of using one civilian as a human shield.

IWPR's reporter decided not to approach the local US base for comment, after local people said insurgents would kill him as a spy if he did so.

Buhriz residents said American forces targeted the predominantly Sunni town because it lies near the route to a major US base to the east, and has been the source of attacks on convoys.

According to residents, the fighting began when US troops entered the area on a sweep, arresting a number of young men. US snipers took up positions on rooftops while armoured vehicles were stationed near the cemetery.

Ali Abbas, 16, said troops stormed into his house and used him as a human shield, "The Americans forced me to stay in the house as a hostage, after having told my family to leave, to guarantee that the mujahedin would not attack them."

Ali Abbas' father, Abu Ali, said US soldiers burst into his home while he was having breakfast, and "gave me the biggest shock in my life”.

"I pleaded with them," said Abu Ali said. "I beseeched them to leave the house as my wife was sick. But they refused and stayed there. They asked the accompanying Iraqi translator to tell us to gather in one room because of the possible danger.

"I refused – I made up my mind to leave the house – and they forced my son Ali to stay as a hostage."

His son continued, "They tied my hands behind, then interrogated me. They asked me where the mujahedin were, saying, 'You know where they are, they're nearby.'

"I told them I knew nothing. They said I was lying. A soldier hit me on the shoulder.”

Ali Abbas said the house later came under attack, but that he did not see the fighting as he was confined in another room.

The soldiers at one point offered him a drink, but he declined, thinking it was alcoholic.

The next day, he said, the US troops untied his hands and released him. "I did not expect I would survive the Americans so easily," he said.

Other families claim they had relatives who were killed by the US forces.

Khamees Awad, 39, a farmer, stood in the street receiving people's condolences next to a tent traditionally erected after deaths.

"They killed my wife when trying to shut the outer gate of the house," he said. His wife was the mother of nine children.

"I lost seven million Iraqi dinars [about 5,000 US dollars]," said Wisam Mohammad, 36, a carpenter. "My workshop was set on fire, and I could not extinguish it because of the snipers.

"What will I do? More than 40 people depend on the workshop as they earn their livelihoods."

Kasim Hussein's grocery shop collapsed under gunfire. "I own nothing but that," he said.

Some people fled the area, like farmer Saddam Hussein Sabti, 36.

"I left the house when I heard the Americans were conducting raids and arrest campaigns in the area," said Sabti, one of many Iraqis named after the former president. "I have been arrested by them more than once. Because my name is Saddam Hussein, they suspect me of carrying out demolition operations against them."

After the fighting, residents said the US military spokesman for the area appeared on local Diala television, promising them compensation.

Local police chief Walid Khalid al-Azzawi declared that he would collect the names of those who had lost property, and distribute the money.

But many Buhriz residents are celebrating what they consider a victory.

Leaflets in the name of the "Mujahedin of Buhriz" claim that fighters inflicted 50 deaths and injuries on the Americans, and shot down two observation drone planes.

"You cannot imagine our happiness when we drove the occupier out of our town," said Murtadha Jabbar, 26, who works for the state company for the electrical industry.

"Let the world know that it is not only Fallujah that confronts the Americans,” he said. “There is also heroic Buhriz."

Nasr Kadhem is an IWPR trainee in Bagdad.

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