Not According to the Way the US Compensates Victims
Question: How much is an Iraqi life worth? Answer: A lot less than
an American or British life, according to the amount of compensation paid to
the relatives of victims.
It's hard to get definitive data on compensation for Iraqi victims. However,
it is clear that the precise sum of money paid is often done so at the whim
of the commanding officer.
This compensation is channeled through a discretionary fund that is given to
the field commanders, and the criteria for disbursement are subjective at best.
In the early months of the invasion, the United States paid Iraqis $106,000
for 176 claims - averaging about $600 per claim.
During the siege of Fallujah, where US soldiers killed 18 people and wounded
78 during an April 2004 firefight, the American military commander in the area
paid $1,500 for each fatality and $500 for each injury.
More recently the US paid $38,000 for Haditha victims' family members. That
comes up to less than $1,600 per person killed. What a bargain.
The most any Iraqi has received to date for injury or property damage is $15,000.
By comparison, the Libyan government recently settled a lawsuit for victims
of Pan Am 103, which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Libyans
paid $2.7 billion for 270 passengers with an average payment of $10 million
per death. Shortly after the war with Iraq, the Bush administration pressed
for legislation to double the death benefits paid to the families of soldiers
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to $500,000.
Last year a Seattle woman was awarded $45,000 for the wrongful death of her
For Iraqis to get a claim paid is harder than getting a rebate on your iPod.
First you must have all your documents in order - birth certificates, witness
accounts, proof of identity, etc. Most witnesses are afraid to come forward
for fear of retribution. Obtaining birth certificates and proof of identity
for some is nearly impossible, due to displacement or other mitigating circumstances.
Then, you must get "proof of negligence of US soldier from a US soldier
That's a task that is virtually impossible, being that US soldiers are instructed
not to assume blame. The claim must be filed within 30 days of the death along
with a phone number for contact, making it out of the question since the overwhelming
majority of Iraqis do not have phones.
Furthermore, the loopholes are so complicated that for most Iraqis it is nearly
impossible to get a claim filed, let alone paid.
When payments are made, liability is never acknowledged and oftentimes family
members are asked to sign waivers to exempt US personnel from any legal action.
Beyond the initial payments there is little recourse for the families of the
victim. Until today no American soldier has been prosecuted for illegally killing
an Iraqi. Commanders refuse even to count the number of civilians killed or
injured by their soldiers.
Under CPA Order No. 17, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority prior
to its dismantling in 2004, Iraqi courts are banned from hearing any cases filed
against American servicemen or any foreign officials in Iraq.
Those who were allegedly involved in the Haditha massacre are awaiting a trial.
Waleed Mohammed, the attorney representing the victims, told The Washington
Post that he has little hope for a fair outcome: "They are waiting for
an outcome although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for
someone who killed a dog in the United States.... Iraqis have become like dogs
in the eyes of Americans."
Anas Shallal, an Iraqi-American, is a founding member
of Iraqi American Alliance and an analyst with Foreign
Policy In Focus. He lives in northern Virginia.