Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Adil Alami – a legal representative for Iraq’s Human Rights Organisation – says the majority of his case load involves civilians seeking compensation for lost property and cash.
“It’s a huge problem, almost everyone has something to say about gold, money and other valuables going missing and they don’t believe they’ll ever get them back.”
Over the past 14 months of occupation, US forces have carried out literally thousands of raids on homes across the country, routinely seizing money, jewellery and other property from Iraqis suspected of resistance activities.
The US military says it has had some success in cutting off funding for insurgents via the policy.
But Iraqis say the raids often target the wrong people, are carried out in an aggressive, even destructive manner and complain that lifetime savings, precious jewellery and family heirlooms are regularly stolen in the process.
Last year, Wajiha Daud, an 80-year-old widow, had her house in a middle-class neighbourhood of old Baghdad raided by US troops who said they had “high-level intelligence” that the home was a safe house for Saddam Hussein loyalists.
During the raid, which lasted around 30 minutes, the woman and her family, who live across the street, were kept outside.
“Confiscation and theft during raids is rampant”
“When we went back in, the house was half-destroyed,” said her son Musaddiq Yunus, an English-speaking computer technician.
“All the furniture was slashed with knives, tables and chairs were broken and the windows smashed. They didn’t need to break down the front door – I told them I had the key.”
When Yunus’ sister arrived she immediately rushed upstairs to a small cabinet and found it empty – $5,000 in cash, gold and other jewellery, including her wedding ring, were missing.
The family filed a claim against the US military – a complex process that took nearly three months to get a reply.
In response, the military said the raid was justified and no compensation was owed.
The officer who commanded the raid told Yunus: “My soldiers aren’t thieves.”
Red Cross says 90% of those
But Stewart Vriesinga, a coordinator for Christian Peacemaker Teams, a non-profit group that documents abuses in Iraq, said: “Confiscation and theft during raids is rampant.”
“Soldiers don’t seem to understand the Iraqi custom of not using banks – a lot of people keep fairly substantial sums of money at home.
“A soldier from Kentucky or wherever sees that and thinks the person must be up to no good, so he takes it.
“We don’t know how many Iraqis have died in this war, we don’t know how many are in prison and we sure don’t know how much money has been taken from them … but it’s enough to have serious socio-economic consequences.”
Vriesinga estimates that in nine out of 10 raids, the home owners raided are innocent – but suffer huge consequences.
“If the husband is hauled off as a suspect, the family has lost its breadwinner and often lost its savings and cash as well,” he said, pointing out that a recent Red Cross report quoted said some army officers estimated that up to 90% of Iraqi detainees were innocent.
If Iraqis file complaints, it comes down to a case of the Iraqi suspect’s word against the American soldier’s, he said.
“If there’s any doubt, then it’s assumed the Iraqi is lying – the Americans are creating enemies by the score.”
But a spokesman for the US-led coalition, Captain Mark Doggett, said he was aware of the complaints and said some soldiers had been disciplined for “inappropriate conduct”.
“We’re aware of it … But there’s also the possibility of Iraqis making malicious claims.”