Iraq War Victims’ Fund
Nearly a year ago, Ali Kadem Hashem watched his wife burn to death and his three children die after an American missile hit his house.
Last week, he got $5,000 from the United States government and an “I’m sorry” from a young captain.
Mr. Hashem sat for a few moments staring at the stack of bills, crisp $100’s.
“Part of me didn’t want to take it,” he said. “It was an insult.”
But the captain, Jonathan Tracy, insisted. “A few thousand dollars isn’t going to bring anybody back,” he explained later. “But right now, it’s all we can do.”
It has been nearly a year since the war in Iraq started but American military commanders are just now reckoning with the volume of civilian casualties streaming in for assistance. Twice a week, at a center in Baghdad, masses of grief-weary Iraqis line up, some on crutches, some disfigured, some clutching photographs of smashed houses and silenced children, all ready to file a claim for money or medical treatment. It is part of a compensation process devised for this war.
Outside the room where the captain was saying he was sorry, a long line of people waited. One was Ayad Bressem, a 12-year-old boy scorched by a cluster bomb. His face is covered by ugly blue freckles. Children call him “Mr. Gunpowder.”
“I just want something,” the burned boy said.
“Come back later,” a guard told him. “You’ll get some money. But we’re busy.”
I’m not sure I like the precedent of paying people who are injured in military action, especially given the pains that our forces take to limit collateral damage. Still, this is likely a prudent gesture in the “hearts and minds” campaign. And, frankly, $5000 is a hell of a lot of money to an Iraqi peasant, even though it seems “insulting” by U.S. standards.