On September 8, the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq topped 1,000. That same day, several residents of the Washington, D.C. area inexplicably reported seeing what they described as recently killed Iraqis, walking around the nation’s capital, window shopping, lined up at the Department of Motor Vehicles and registering to vote.
In the Dupont Circle area, a young man, appearing to be of Middle Eastern decent, approached Troy Burns, a 39-year-old Washingtonian. “He had on this long, dirty tunic-thing, and there were five or six small black holes in his chest,” remembered Burns. “I write for ‘Six Feet Under,’ so I immediately guessed what was up.” The youth, whom Burns called “dazed, yet determined,” asked Burns politely for directions to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. “I was getting creeped out,” said Burns, “so I went home. I knew the answer had to be on TV.”
Upon returning to his apartment, Burns switched on his television and saw, live on C-SPAN, an older Middle Eastern gentleman, addressing an audience of reporters at a National Press Club luncheon. “You say 1,000 of your soldiers have died,” proclaimed the man, whom the TV caption described as an unidentified Arab who had suddenly materialized at the podium. “We are sorry you have lost children. Please know, however, that for every American soldier dead in battle, your country has killed, at minimum, ten of our civilians. These people are among you today to claim the freedom and democracy your president promised us.”
The man was later identified as Faisal Ahmed, a 66-year-old Iraqi grandfather of eight, who died in Najaf of an apparent heart attack when American troops put a bag over his head to detain him. According to pamphlets found scattered around the Beltway and major Washington tourist sites, Ahmed is a spokesperson for the New Operation Of Iraqi Liberation (NO-OIL), an organization formed to demand human rights for the several thousand civilians killed in Iraq by American forces and its allies over the past 18 months.
Although there are no reliable figures, the Associated Press reports that various authorities estimate anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Amnesty International, for instance, calculates that over 10,000 Iraqi civilians died in the first year of conflict, alone.
But for at least one day, death did not appear to stop these Iraqis from being seen—and heard—by some in the area.
“This typical Muslim woman in a head scarf comes in looking for her daughter,” said Alice Johnson, who works at the Department of Missing Persons for D.C.’s Third District. “I ask the usual, ‘Age? Distinguishing characteristics?’ She says, ‘Iraqi, black hair, brown eyes. My daughter was almost four years old when I died.’
“I freeze—I mean, I have a son stationed over there. She goes on: ‘I saw my daughter in the lap of an American soldier right before your bomb went off. You find her for me. My daughter’s going to be five soon. You people promised us a new life.’ Ever since, I’ve been sitting here, just staring out this window.”
Not every encounter with the Iraqi dead has been without incident, however. “These camel jockeys just barge into my house and start carting everything out,” gasped Norman Phelps, ex-marine and homeowner in the exclusive neighborhood of Chevy Chase. “They dump my stuff on the lawn and announce they’re moving in. They were talking about ‘reparations.’ Said we invaded their country, now we’re going to see how it feels.”
Such militant tactics, say NO-OIL pamphlets, belong to the extremist fringe, and do not represent the organization as a whole. The Iraqi literature also explains that most NO-OIL members were killed accidentally, and seek now, through non-violent means, to return to their families and live in peace. Anonymous sources, however, have indicated that the group has targeted for “liberation” several jails and detention centers that for months have held Middle Eastern immigrants on minor immigration violations. But when reporters tried to verify these rumors, Mr. Ahmed could not be found for comment.
Nor could any of the other Iraqi deceased. Indeed, it appears that suddenly, after only some 24 hours, the Iraqis have quietly vanished. “They were never here to begin with,” stated Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one of several Bush administration higher-ups who continue to disavow the existence of the Iraqi dead. “Or they were faking it. In either case, this is further proof that we should stay in Iraq and finish the job. In the name of peace, we may have to kill some of these people twice.”
Following this line of thought, Pres. George W. Bush has ordered Homeland Security to develop a new surveillance system that can detect the dead. Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, whose support for a U.S. military presence in Iraq is comparable to that of Bush’s, has called Americans claiming to have seen Iraqi dead “sensitive girlie-men,” adding that, even if recently deceased Iraqis were proven to exist, they could not be granted protection under the Constitution.
Television writer Troy Burns, on the other hand, declares he is proud to be a girlie-man. “Queer people complain about being invisible—at least we’re alive,” Burns said. “I hope the Iraqis come back. I need help with my treatment for an HBO pilot—‘Six Thousand Feet Under.’ It’s about typical Iraqis and how they might have lived out their lives if we hadn’t killed them. You think anybody will watch it?