The Wedding Party 2
This article from the Guardian, 'US soldiers started to shoot us, one by one' is the most serious allegation on the wedding incident so far. It has the plethora of detail characteristic of a true story.
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?" ...
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.
It answers many of the questions raised in the earlier The Wedding Party, though not in an entirely satisfactory way. In many ways, it provides confirmation for both the US military and the civilian's stories. The wounded, which the Wedding Party predicted would exist, have emerged. Why are they are they at Ramadi, 250 km away? Because they got initial treatment at al-Qaim first and were transferred to the bigger hospital later. What was attacked? "The Rakat villa and the house next door"
The details of the action are remarkably consistent with a raid, on a long surveilled target, not a mistaken random air strike at "celebratory gunfire".
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."
Armored 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.
The civilians being interviewed were inmates of the Rakat villa, one of the targeted houses.
"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.
A recapitulation of the events based on the Guardian story might fairly be this. Two of twenty five structures in the village of Mukhradeeb by the Syrian border were attacked, by a combination of aerial ordnance, infantry assault and finally demolition charges. A number of civilians appear to have been in the house or the structure beside it at the time and were killed and wounded. The civilian casualties were taken to Qaim (sometimes known as Qusabayah) and later to Ramadi, for subsequent treatment.
From the internal evidence, the "bombs" were probably either 30 mm gunship rounds or 70 mm rockets. Fixed wing ordnance of the 500 pound class would have totally destroyed both the villa and the neighboring structure. There is further corroboration of this supposition in the Guardian account.
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."
Why would Americans shoot at nonuniformed civilians emerging from a target building? Part of the answer can probably be understood from the account of US Army Specialist Jarob Walsh's account of the April 9, 2004 convoy ambush on the Baghdad western highway, the same convoy in which Thomas Hammill was captured.
My company is fuel transportation. We are the Army Reserve 724th Transportation Company. But in Iraq we have civilian contractors Kellogg Brown and Root. They do all the fuel hauling. So we basically become force protection for convoys. Friday, April 9th, about 7 a.m., my platoon started getting ready for a fuel convoy from LSA Anaconda in Balad to Baghdad International Airport (BIOP). We were running security for 21 civilian fuel trucks. We had 26 in the whole serial. I was in the 21st truck with a civilian, riding shotgun (passenger). I had never ridden with a civilian on a convoy before. The American civilians are non-combatants; they do not carry weapons, so I was the only one in the vehicle with a weapon. It made me extremely uncomfortable, because that means no one has my back if we get attacked.
We left the gates of Anaconda in Iraq about 10 a.m. The convoy was going fine and it was almost a regular day in Iraq; there were cars up and down the four lane highways and there were people everywhere in all the towns; it was a normal day. About an hour and a half into the trip, the people and the cars started becoming fewer. Then, the next thing I knew, my LT (lieutenant) - who is in the lead truck - comes on the radio and says, "We are taking rounds - everyone get ready!" then not even a minute later, someone else comes on the radio and says, "The LT’s truck just blew up and I don’t know where to go or what to do!" I looked at my driver and said "Oh sh** it’s about to get bad." Next thing I know, the truck about a hundred meters in front of us blows up right in front of us.
It was unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. We were in the middle of Baghdad on a main highway being attacked; there were buildings all around us, and people in the buildings firing weapons at us. I looked off to the left at a frontage road and I saw nine cars in rows of three. There was a line of women in front of all the cars, and some of them had children with them. I thought they were just watching us get attacked, and then men started popping up behind them firing at us - they were using the women as shields!! It took me a second to realize that. They were standing on the hoods of the cars behind the women and children; it shocked the hell out of me. Then we started getting hit with small arms fire, which sounded like golf balls hitting metal. I started firing back at them but I couldn’t get passed the women; they were all I could hit, and they started falling down. The men turned around and ran back behind the cars to fire. ...
I turned and looked towards the front of the truck, down the bridge. But before I turned my head all the way toward the front, something hit me in the chest. It hit so hard it felt like Sammy Sosa hitting me with a bat. It knocked me off of my feet, back into the truck. As I laid there, I looked down and saw a round (bullet) buried in the vest on my chest smoking. It smelled awful. I pulled it out of my vest and it burnt the hell out of my hand. I pulled myself back up and got out of the truck. I looked down the bridge in front of my truck and saw two little kids on the bridge, about a hundred to a hundred-fifty meters away. They both had AK-47s; one kid was about ten years old and the other was about seven. The seven-year old was holding his weapon upside down by the magazine, and the ten-year old was firing three rounds at a time at me. His first round hit the driver's side windshield on the truck - right next to my head. I turned around to grab my gun, and when I did, he shot me two more times in the back; the rounds went through me and into the cab of the truck. It infuriated me as he kept shooting me. I grabbed my weapon, jumped out, and fired two rounds over their heads; I didn’t want to shoot them - they were just l'il kids. After I fired over their heads, they turned around and ran down the bridge.
So it is conceivable that American soldiers would shoot at anyone emerging from a targeted structure. Taken as a whole, the Guardian account paints the picture of a raid on the Syrian border on an identified target at which civilian casualties were also inflicted. That is probably what happened. People may judge the event as they will and other details may come to hand to modify this account. Many loose ends remain, principally the identities of the other dead. More than forty deaths were reported at the raid, but only 27 graves are mentioned by the Guardian and not all of them children. But we are a little closer to finding out what happened that night.
More details on the 'wedding party' attack from CNN:
A senior coalition military spokesman said Saturday that dozens of people killed in a U.S. attack in the Iraqi desert early Wednesday were attending a high-level meeting of foreign fighters, not a wedding. Photos shown to reporters in Baghdad support that contention.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said six women were among the dead, but he said there was no evidence any children died in the raid near the Syrian border. Coalition officials have said as many as 40 people were killed. Kimmitt said video showing dead children killed was actually recorded in Ramadi, far from the attack scene.
"There may have been some kind of celebration," Kimmitt said. "Bad people have celebrations too. Bad people have parties too." Kimmitt said troops did not find anything -- such as a wedding tent, gifts, musical instruments, decorations or leftover food -- that would indicate a wedding had been held.
Most of the men there were of military age, and there were no elders present to indicate a family event, he said. What was found, he said, indicated the building was used as a way station for foreign fighters crossing into Iraq from Syria to battle the coalition.
"The building seemed to be somewhat of a dormitory," Kimmitt said. "You had over 300 sets of bedding gear in it. You had a tremendous number of pre-packaged clothing -- apparently about a hundred sets of pre-packaged clothing. "[It is] expected that when foreign fighters come in from other countries, they come to this location, they change their clothes into typical Iraqi clothing sets."
At Saturday's briefing for reporters in Baghdad, Kimmitt showed photos of what he said were binoculars designed for adjusting artillery fire, battery packs suitable for makeshift bombs, several terrorist training manuals, medical gear, fake ID cards and ID card-making machines, passports and telephone numbers to other countries, including Afghanistan and Sudan. None of the men killed in the raid carried ID cards or wallets, he said. "We feel that that was an indicator that this was a high risk meeting of high-level anti-coalition forces," Kimmitt said. "There was a tremendous number of incriminating pocket litter, a lot of telephone numbers to foreign countries, Afghanistan, Sudan and a number of others."
Now we have the beginning of a convergence in this story, and some contradictory details. First, there is agreement that a particular set of buildings was raided while a group of people were present and that "six women were among the dead". It has been established by common account that there was no mistaken bombing raid on celebratory gunfire from 40,000 feet. It was an attack on a set of buildings, including an infantry assault.
But there is a divergence with regard to the purposes of the targeted building. The Guardian account portrays it as a normal innocent residence. Kimmitt categorically identifies it as something else. "The building seemed to be somewhat of a dormitory," Kimmitt said. "You had over 300 sets of bedding gear in it. You had a tremendous number of pre-packaged clothing -- apparently about a hundred sets of pre-packaged clothing. "[It is] expected that when foreign fighters come in from other countries, they come to this location, they change their clothes into typical Iraqi clothing sets."
At this point, either of two things can happen. The press can begin to divide on the credibility of the witnesses. The Guardian may prefer to believe Mrs. Shihab and others prefer to believe General Kimmitt, or it can seek further facts. The problem is that certain sets of facts might turn out to be both true. One possible way to solve the problem of the essential character of the gathering, though not of the house is to examine the dead. Recall that there are 27 graves in Ramadi, some said to contain more than one set of remains said to belong to the victims. At least 25 of them were in identifiable condition. We know from the Guardian article that "Dr Alusi (of Al Qaim hospital) 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?" So we would expect nearly all the graves in Ramadi to belong to women and children if Mrs. Shihab's story were true. On the other hand, we would expect to find a lot of buried military age males if it were not.