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'US soldiers started to shoot us, one by one'

"I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me. I pretended to be dead so he wouldn't kill me. My youngest child was alive next to me."
...
"I don't have to apologise for the conduct of my men."
--Major General James Mattis
Survivors describe wedding massacre as generals refuse to apologise

Rory McCarthy in Ramadi
Friday May 21, 2004
The Guardian

The wedding feast was finished and the women had just led the young bride and groom away to their marriage tent for the night when Haleema Shihab heard the first sounds of the fighter jets screeching through the sky above.

It was 10.30pm in the remote village of Mukaradeeb by the Syrian border and the guests hurried back to their homes as the party ended. As sister-in-law of the groom, Mrs Shihab, 30, was to sleep with her husband and children in the house of the wedding party, the Rakat family villa. She was one of the few in the house who survived the night.

"The bombing started at 3am," she said yesterday from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one," she said. She ran with her youngest child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her, fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground.

She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. "I left them because they were dead," she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell.

"I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me. I pretended to be dead so he wouldn't kill me. My youngest child was alive next to me."

Mrs Shibab's description, backed by other witnesses, of an attack on a sleeping village is at odds with the American claim that they came under fire while targeting a suspected foreign fighter safe house.

She described how in the hours before dawn she watched as American troops destroyed the Rakat villa and the house next door, reducing the buildings to rubble.

Another relative carried Mrs Shihab and her surviving child to hospital. There she was told her husband Mohammed, the eldest of the Rakat sons, had also died.

As Mrs Shihab spoke she gestured with hands still daubed red-brown with the henna the women had used to decorate themselves for the wedding. Alongside her in the ward yesterday were three badly injured girls from the Rakat family: Khalood Mohammed, aged just a year and struggling for breath, Moaza Rakat, 12, and Iqbal Rakat, 15, whose right foot doctors had already amputated.

By the time the sun rose on Wednesday over the Rakat family house, the raid had claimed 42 lives, according to Hamdi Noor al-Alusi, manager of the al-Qaim general hospital, the nearest to the village.

Among the dead were 27 members of the extended Rakat family, their wedding guests and even the band of musicians hired to play at the ceremony, among them Hussein al-Ali from Ramadi, one of the most popular singers in western Iraq.

Dr Alusi said 11 of the dead were women and 14 were children. "I want to know why the Americans targeted this small village," he said by telephone. "These people are my patients. I know each one of them. What has caused this disaster?"
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Despite the compelling testimony of Mrs Shihab, Dr Alusi and other wedding guests, the US military, faced with appar ent evidence of yet another scandal in Iraq, offered an inexplicably different account of the operation.

The military admitted there had been a raid on the village at 3am on Wednesday but said it had targeted a "suspected foreign fighter safe house".

"During the operation, coalition forces came under hostile fire and close air support was provided," it said in a statement. Soldiers at the scene then recovered weapons, Iraqi dinar and Syrian pounds (worth approximately 800), foreign passports and a "Satcom radio", presumably a satellite telephone.

"We took ground fire and we returned fire," said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US military in Iraq. "We estimate that around 40 were killed. But we operated within our rules of engagement."

Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, was scathing of those who suggested a wedding party had been hit. "How many people go to the middle of the desert ... to hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilisation? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive."

When reporters asked him about footage on Arabic television of a child's body being lowered into a grave, he replied: "I have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars. I don't have to apologise for the conduct of my men."

The celebration at Mukaradeeb was to be one of the biggest events of the year for a small village of just 25 houses. Haji Rakat, the father, had finally arranged a long-negotiated tribal union that would bring together two halves of one large extended family, the Rakats and the Sabahs.

Haji Rakat's second son, Ashad, would marry Rutba, a cousin from the Sabahs. In a second ceremony one of Ashad's female cousins, Sharifa, would marry a young Sabah boy, Munawar.

A large canvas awning had been set up in the garden of the Rakat villa to host the party. A band of musicians was called in, led by Hamid Abdullah, who runs the Music of Arts recording studio in Ramadi, the nearest major town.

He brought his friend Hussein al-Ali, a popular Iraqi singer who performs on Ramadi's own television channel. A handful of other musicians including the singer's brother Mohaned, played the drums and the keyboards.

The ceremonies began on Tuesday morning and stretched through until the late evening. "We were happy because of the wedding. People were dancing and making speeches," said Ma'athi Nawaf, 55, one of the neighbours.

Late in the evening the guests heard the sound of jets overhead. Then in the distance they saw the headlights of what appeared to be a military convoy heading their way across the desert.

The party ended at around 10.30pm and the neighbours left for their homes. At 3am the bombing began. "The first thing they bombed was the tent for the ceremony," said Mr Nawaf. "We saw the family running out of the house. The bombs were falling, destroying the whole area."

Armoured military vehicles then drove into the village, firing machine guns and supported by attack helicopters. "They started to shoot at the house and the people outside the house," he said.

Before dawn two large Chinook helicopters descended and offloaded dozens of troops. They appeared to set explosives in the Rakat house and the building next door and minutes later, just after the Chinooks left again, they exploded into rubble.

"I saw something that nobody ever saw in this world," said Mr Nawaf. "There were children's bodies cut into pieces, women cut into pieces, men cut into pieces."

Among the dead was his daughter Fatima Ma'athi, 25, and her two young boys, Raad, four, and Raed, six. "I found Raad dead in her arms. The other boy was lying beside her. I found only his head," he said. His sister Simoya, the wife of Haji Rakat, was also killed with her two daughters. "The Americans call these people foreign fighters. It is a lie. I just want one piece of evidence of what they are saying."

Remarkably among the survivors were the two married couples, who had been staying in tents away from the main house, and Haji Rakat himself, an elderly man who had gone to bed early in a nearby house.

From the mosques of Ramadi volunteers had been called to dig at the graveyard of the tribe, on the southern outskirts of the city.

There lay 27 graves: mounds of dirt each marked with a single square of crudely cut marble, a name scribbled in black paint. Some gave more than one name, and one, belonging to a woman Hamda Suleman, the briefest of explanations: "The American bombing."

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1221658,00.html
40 people dead isn't as shocking as Nick Berg. 21.May.2004 10:07

Desto

"She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. "I left them because they were dead," she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell."

Guess it's o.k. when we decapitate kids when we can always claim they wer the enemy.

don't believe everything your hear 21.May.2004 17:23

FedUp

Gawd, please don't believe everything you hear! You are just as stupid to trust that article speaks of the truth, if you were to trust the report from the US Government. Please people, let's learn to form and gather our own opinions, and trust that both sides could be telling us LIES!!!!

don't believe everything your hear 21.May.2004 17:26

FedUp

Gawd, please don't believe everything you hear! You are just as stupid to trust that article speaks of the truth, if you were to trust the report from the US Government. Please people, let's learn to form and gather our own opinions, and trust that both sides could be telling us LIES!!!!

I don't believe everything I hear. 21.May.2004 19:15

Desto

"You are just as stupid to trust that article speaks of the truth, if you were to trust the report from the US Government."

I think I understand what you are trying to say, but your sentence is poorly constructed. It makes you seems stupid and although I don't believe everything I readm I'll just trust that perhaps you have problems writing your thoughts down. GOD!

I do however think that the numerous photos of dead children that are seen with this story at most news outlets less FOX & CNN do lend credence to the above story being true. The complete lack of any evidence whatsoever from the U.S. military other that the ol' 'trust us' bit would seem to lend further credence to the above story being true. Finally, the above story quotes a general as asking, "How many people go to the middle of the desert ... to hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilisation?". If you bothered to look on a detailed map of Iraq and look anywhere near the alleged location of the incident, you might notice that there is no area anywhere around the location where civilization is not clearly present. It's painfully obvious that this incident did not occur in the middle of the desert, you can look at the numerous photos and come to that conclusion.

Lastly, as I've quite a bit of experience working with retarded ant mentally ill people, I know it can be easy for some to become "fed up" with things they wish were true, but are not. I suggest you get yourself one of those squeeze balls and squeeze it. Never fear, CNN and FOX arn't showing the pictures yet ( YET ).

GOD!
p.s. Do you spell "God" as "Gawd" because you are a Christian? ha ha ha ha

GOD!
A girl in the wedding party
A girl in the wedding party
Middle of the desert no civilization in sight
Middle of the desert no civilization in sight
You're right, don't believe everything you hear.
You're right, don't believe everything you hear.

"Trust Us" 21.May.2004 19:24

Desto

"We took ground fire and we returned fire," said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US military in Iraq. "We estimate that around 40 were killed. But we operated within our rules of engagement."

Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, was scathing of those who suggested a wedding party had been hit. "How many people go to the middle of the desert ... to hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilisation? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive."
...
When reporters asked him about footage on Arabic television of a child's body being lowered into a grave, he replied: "I have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars. I don't have to apologise for the conduct of my men."

No asshole you don't "have to" apologize. We wouldn't expect a scum like you to even make an attempt.
Not the tipped over amp, the report says a local singer was killed
Not the tipped over amp, the report says a local singer was killed

I like the part... 21.May.2004 22:00

-

I like the part where he says that they found jewelry in the houses, so these were obviously city-dwellers and not Bedouins.

Can you think of a time when jewelry is most present, especially in cultures like this??? A wedding perhaps? The time in a woman's life when she collects the most jewelry, sometimes passed down from generations... so she can start her new life out well?

Is he saying it's more likely there will be jewelry in a camp of insurgents, than at a wedding party with lots of women in attendance?

And the part about 20 military aged men in attendance... can you think of a time when something like that would occur? A wedding perhaps? When all members of two large families gather to celebrate for a (usually) young (of military age) couple? When else do all the cousins of extended families get together? Well, we know the ones that are left are together now for that other time they usually gather: funerals.

Analysis a "wedding party" at 2:45AM? 22.May.2004 14:20

pall

With SATCOMs, arms, wads of currency, and foreign passports?
Wretchard has some actual analysis:
Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Wedding Party
It's an imaginary scene from World War 2, though it could have happened. Battalion headquarters gets a report over the phone from a front line sector. 'Armor moving to our front, 300 yards out bearing 75 degrees.' The information is plotted in grease pencil on a 1:10,000 map with an an acetate overlay. The position of the platoon reporting is known on the map. A protractor marks out the bearing and ruler paces off the distance. A symbol for enemy armor is drawn on the acetate. Ten minutes later, more details come in. 'Armor is three tanks'. A number is written in beside the enemy armor symbol. Battalion asks the platoon commander if someone can get a better look at the armor. Twenty minutes later, another update is phoned in. 'Sir, I don't know what they are doing there, but the armor is ours.' The map plot is amended, and the symbol for enemy armor is changed to reflect friendly armor.

Sixty years later a reader browsing internet news stories gets breaking news that an American helicopter has killed forty persons at a wedding. But story goes on after he closes the browser.

Link Time Text
U.S. Helicopter Fires on Iraqi Wedding May 19, 2004 18:16 Zulu By Scheherezade Faramarzi
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A U.S. helicopter fired on a wedding party before dawn Wednesday in western Iraq, killing more than 40 people, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said it could not confirm the report and was investigating.

Lt. Col Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, said between 42 and 45 people were killed in the attack, which took place about 2:45 a.m. in a remote desert area near the border with Syria and Jordan. He said the dead included 15 children and 10 women.

Dr. Salah al-Ani, who works at a hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45.

Associated Press Television News obtained videotape showing a truck containing bodies of people who were allegedly killed in the incident. Most of the bodies were wrapped in blankets and other cloths, but the footage showed at least eight uncovered, bloody bodies, several of them children. One of the children was headless.

US helicopter attacks Iraqi wedding May 19, 2004 20:07 Zulu A US helicopter fired on a wedding party in western Iraq, killing more than 40 people, Iraqi officials said.
The US military said it could not confirm the report and was investigating.

Lieutenant Colonel Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, said between 42 and 45 people were killed in the attack, which took place about 2:45am (0845 AEST) in a remote desert area near the border with Syria and Jordan. He said the dead included 15 children and 10 women.

Salah al-Ani, a doctor working at a hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45.

Associated Press Television News obtained videotape showing a truck containing bodies of people who were allegedly killed in the incident. Most of the bodies were wrapped in blankets and other cloths, but the footage showed at least eight uncovered, bloody bodies, several of them children. One of the children was headless.

Iraqis interviewed on the videotape said partygoers were firing in the air in traditional wedding celebration. American troops have sometimes mistaken celebratory gunfire for hostile fire.

U.S. Aircraft Reportedly Kills 40 Iraqis May 19, 2004 20:46 Zulu By Scheherezade Faramarzi
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A U.S. aircraft fired on a house in the desert near the Syrian border Wednesday, and Iraqi officials said more than 40 people were killed, including children. The U.S. military said the target was a suspected safehouse for foreign fighters from Syria, but Iraqis said a helicopter had attacked a wedding party. ...

The attack happened about 2:45 a.m. in a desert region near the border with Syria and Jordan, according to Lt. Col. Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, the provincial capital about 250 miles to the east. He said 42 to 45 people died, including 15 children and 10 women. Dr. Salah al-Ani, who works at a hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45.

The area, a desolate region populated only by shepherds, is popular with smugglers, including weapons smugglers, and the U.S. military suspects militants use it as a route to slip in from Syria to fight the Americans. It is under constant surveillance by American forces.

In a statement, the U.S. Central Command said coalition forces conducted a military operation at 3 a.m. against a ``suspected foreign fighter safe house'' in the open desert, about 50 miles southwest of Husaybah and 15 miles from the Syrian border.

The coalition troops came under hostile fire and ``close air support was provided,'' the statement said. The troops recovered weapons, Iraqi and Syrian currency, some passports and some satellite communications gear, it said.

US disputes 40 killed Iraqis were wedding party May 20, 2004 01:00 Zulu BAGHDAD - The US army said on Thursday it killed around 40 people in an attack on suspected foreign fighters in Iraq near the Syrian border, but disputed reports that the victims were members of a wedding party. ...
"At 0300 (11pm NZT Wednesday) we conducted an operation about 85km southwest of al-Qaim...against suspected foreign fighters in a safe house," Kimmitt said. "We took ground fire and we returned fire."

Kimmitt said there were no indications that the victims of the attack were part of a wedding party. He said a large amount of money, Syrian passports and satellite communications equipment had been found at the site after the attack.

But Dubai-based Al Arabiya television, quoting eyewitnesses, said the raid on the village of Makr al-Deeb before dawn had targeted people celebrating a wedding and had killed at least 41 civilians.

"We received about 40 martyrs today, mainly women and children below the age of 12," Hamdy al-Lousy, the director of Qaim hospital, told Al Arabiya. "We also have 11 people wounded, most of them in critical condition."

Arabiya showed pictures of several shrouded bodies lined up on a dirt road. Men were shown digging graves and lowering bodies, one of a child, into the pits while relatives wept.

"The US planes dropped more than 100 bombs on us," an unidentified man who said he was from the village said on Al Arabiya. "They hit two homes where the wedding was being held and then they levelled the whole village. No bullets were fired by us, nothing was happening," he added.

U.S. airstrike along Syria border in Iraq reportedly kills more than 40; Iraqis say wedding party attacked May 20, 2004 09:36 Zulu By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) A U.S. air strike near the Syrian border killed more than 40 people, Iraqi officials said, and while the U.S. military said the target was a suspected safehouse for foreign fighters from Syria, Iraqis said a helicopter had attacked a wedding party.

The attack Wednesday happened about 2:45 a.m. in a desert region near the border with Syria and Jordan, according to Lt. Col. Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, the provincial capital about 250 miles to the east. He said 42 to 45 people died, including 15 children and 10 women. Dr. Salah al-Ani, who works at a hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45.

The strike came before American soldiers clashed Wednesday with Shiite militiamen in two cities south of the capital, killing at least eight of them, U.S. officials said. Mortars and rockets fell on widely scattered areas of the Iraqi capital.


One of the challenges facing intellectuals at a time when the political and cultural dimensions of war have grown in relation to the purely military is how to make sense of information acquired through the public intelligence system: the news media. Because modern American warfare now involves only a very small percentage of the population it has become a kind of spectator sport where the plays are actually called from the stands. One would hope on good information. Yet a news industry whose techniques were adequate to cover traffic accidents, murders or cumbrous wars in which armies moved a few hundred yards a day must now must cover events whose complexion can alter in hours. The difference is that this time there is no low-tech acetate overlay, maps, or timeline in battalion notebook. Battlefield events are still reported like isolated traffic accidents, conveying no sense of spatial location, temporal development or continuity. To the extent that any symbols are plotted on the public mental map, they remain there, hours or days after the information has been updated. Long after it became clear that the attack may not have been an attack on a wedding party at all, the original accusation soldiered on. On May 20, 2004 at 09:30 Zulu, after the last entry in the table above, the International Committee of the Red Cross "condemned Thursday an 'excessive' use of force by the US military." The story went on to say that "US troops faced further embarrassment amid claims they killed dozens of people at a wedding celebration in a remote western Iraqi town, at a time when the occupation forces are already reeling from a prison abuse scandal." A reaction based on old news had taken twelve hours to work its way through the Red Cross and emerged to spawn further accusations on its own power.

Although the news media functions as the civilian intelligence system, collecting raw data, processing it and distributing it to the public, for historical reasons it lacks many of the features which professional intelligence systems have evolved over the years: namely a system of grading information by reliability and existence of analytic cell whose function is to follow the developments and update the results. In the example above, AP writer Scheherezade Faramarzi performed many of the tasks which our fictional battalion intelligence officer undertook. Her stories evolved from a categorical description of an American attack on a wedding party, to a middle stage in which the wedding party attack remained the primary hypothesis disputed by American military officers; and finally to one in which the roles were reversed -- a story of an attack on a militant safe house described by some Iraqis to have been an attack on a wedding party.

But for other media outlets, there was no tracking on a mental acetate overlay, no update. The armor symbols remained marked as hostile long after they were known to be friendly, or suspected to be doubtful, if they were marked at all, almost as if the battalion intelligence officer had done a Rip Van Winkle, gone to sleep or gone home. Yet all the suspicious indicators which prompted our fictional officer to ask the forward platoon to get a better peek of the reported armor were present. If the newspapers had an institutionalized tracking cell to evaluate initial reports they would would spotted the tell-tales and asked the reporter to go forward for a better look.

Why was a wedding party in full swing at 02:45 am in the middle of the desert? A glance at the map would show the area in which the wedding took place was 250 kilometers from "Dr. Salah al-Ani, who works at a hospital in Ramadi," and who "put the death toll at 45." A long way to go for medical treatment or burial when Qusabayah is 50 kilometers away. Under normal circumstances, there are two wounded for every dead. By the normal ratios there should have been at least 90 injured. There was a videotape "showing a truck containing bodies of people who were allegedly killed in the incident. Most of the bodies were wrapped in blankets and other cloths, but the footage showed at least eight uncovered, bloody bodies, several of them children. One of the children was headless." A video of the dead, but where were the wounded?

Nothing to discredit the initial report on the face of it, and Faramarzi was correct in reporting the initial details, but there enough for someone to say 'get in closer for a better look'. Long before we found out about the satcom radios, the weapons and the cash at the "wedding party". In a war where battlefield reality is no longer directly experienced by the majority, the 'closer look' is all the public has to on which to base decisions which may spell national victory or defeat. But sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? If the newspapers have neither tracking cell, nor map, nor ruler, nor calendar to follow events how can the public tell what really happened? At this writing, 24 hours after the initial story, some newspapers are still reporting the incident as an attack on a wedding party while others describe it as a strike against a militant group. Two versions and no closure. Except in the case of individual news threads, like Faramarzi's, whose content has evolved, the reportage as a whole resembles a palimpsest, a word used to describe a sheet of parchment which has been overwritten many times by different symbols until finally the newer cannot be distinguished from the older. We are collectively no nearer to definitively finding out the truth about the "wedding party" than we are to discovering anything definite about the Oil for Food scandal, WMD stockpiles in Iraq, the anthrax letters or what the deal was in Fallujah.

The ideal situation would be to track events in two dimensions, space and time, on a computer screen, and to be able to double click on it to drill down on all the supporting material, rated by reliability, to discover the underlying basis for its plotted position. Additionally, one should be able to follow its connections to other related events, people or places. Husabayah, also known as Al-Qaim, has been in the news before. It was the scene of intense fighting between the US Marines and Syrian infiltrators all of last year, as described by Ron Harris of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which was reported once, like a traffic accident, and then forgotten, deprived of any context. Few readers can make the mental connection between the Marine frontier battles and the "wedding party". But whether software or grease pencil is used, the public and the press needs a better way to make sense of the events which directly affect public policy. Only then can it decide whether this incident was simply an unfortunate accident 'typical' of a 'bumbling' US military or part of a wider largely unreported border war against foreign infiltrators.

P.S.
(Incidentally, I wrote software a few months ago which allows the user to do something very similar to what is described above. It allows the user to define relationships between any arbitrary event, object, person, geographical location or event. The idea was to allow the user to build an unlimited network of connections between any entities so that indirect relationships could be "discovered". The user could then follow the connections or have the whole network displayed from the viewpoint of any chosen node. It took about four days to write and requires Microsoft Access 2000 or better to run. It was the quickest way to prototype the concept. I've sent free evaluation copies to a few bloggers over the last few months. One day I'll do it properly.)