• Iraq
  • October 24, 2010
  • 6 minutes read

Death at a Checkpoint

Death at a Checkpoint

 This is the US military’s record of the death of a pregnant woman shot by its soldiers at checkpoint while on her way to give birth at a maternity hospital.  

Nabiha Jassim was 35 years old when she was killed in the town of Samarra, 110km  north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. She was being rushed to hospital by her brother, Khalid, when their car approached a US military checkpoint and observation post that had recently been set up. It was a journey the family would never complete. 

The Iraq war files reveal that US troops manning the checkpoint believed that Nabiha’s car posed a threat. As the vehicle carrying the family approached the checkpoint, the soldiers opened fire.

Nabiha was killed in the hail of bullets that ripped through the car, shattering the windscreen and leaving Khalid badly cut. Her cousin, Saliha Hassan, 57, was also shot dead in the incident, which left the road covered in blood and broken glass. 

Nabiha’s body was rushed to the hospital in an effort to save her baby, but the unborn child died in her womb. Had she reached the hospital safely, she would have given birth to a boy. 

Her story is just one of the hundreds of human tragedies that are catalogued in the Iraq war logs, which reveal that over the course of the conflict, almost 700 civilians were killed in more than 14000 violent incidents that took place at US military checkpoints.

These so-called "escalation of force" incidents follow a repetitive and deadly pattern. An Iraqi civilian approaches a US checkpoint, fails to understand soldiers’ demands to stop, and is shot dead after being assessed as a threat to the platoon manning the checkpoint.  

Just as repetitive is the US military response to such incidents: they are put down as a sort of collateral damage, seen as part of the inevitable cost of conflict, as victims of the accidents that happen under the fog of war.  

After Nabiha’s death, the military said that the vehicle had entered a "clearly defined prohibited area" when they opened fire on it. 

The war log makes no warning of any warning given to Khalid as he drove his sister and cousin towards their deaths, and he has said none was given.   

"I was driving my car at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped," he told the Associated Press news agency, shortly after the incident. 

A brief statement was issued by military authorities in the aftermath of the incident that said: "US forces killed two women by mistake… when they were heading to a maternity hospital."

At the time of Nabiha’s death, US soldiers in Iraq were facing intense and regular attacks on the country’s roads. Checkpoints had been targeted by gunmen and suicide bombers on a regular basis. There is no suggestion that her killing was anything other than a deadly mistake. 

But for the friends and families of the innocent Iraqis mistakenly killed at US military checkpoints, knowing that their deaths were not intentional is scant consolation when such mistakes were repeated again and again.   

Expressions of regret from the US military, however well-intentioned, are worth little to ordinary Iraqis if no lessons were learned from mistakes that had such devastating consequences.