Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Wedding Party 3

Reader WEH sends this email from an American acquaintance in Iraq dated May 21, which may bear upon the story of the Wedding Party video.

I can’t be absolutely sure what happened out there but if you know a few things about Iraq it doesn’t sound so outlandish. These people are members of a clan well known in Anbar province. They are supposedly "shepherds" but they are really more like livestock owners. The herds are large and the business is profitable. After the spring rains end, and they just did, these people and other clans like them follow the herds through the desert. They pick that time because the grazing is better. Along the way they have small houses in oases which serve as something between camps and residences.

They are also into smuggling. Mainly they smuggle livestock into Syria where the prices are better. Do they bring back guns and people? Probably. And it can’t be ruled out they may have been hired to slip some Syrians into the country. Whole families join this migration. And they do get married.

This afternoon a very popular Baghdad wedding singer was buried -- his family and the survivors say he was entertaining at the wedding. The reason so many women and children died is that as is tradition, the women and children sleep together, the men apart often in tents watching the stock.

Some of the people there had traveled from Ramadi for the wedding just as people travel to attend weddings anywhere. There's a romance in Arab culture about the desert. Some Americans get married by lakes or in mountains. The reason they returned to Ramadi, 250 miles away, is because that's the clan's base. And having been out there, there's very little between Ramadi and the Syrian-Jordanian border except a mosque-rest stop and Rutba. The US had Rutba sealed off.

They weren’t seeking medical attention. They brought the victims home to bury them in their version of [our family] cemetery. Ramadi is the "home" of all members of the Bou Fahad clan, which is the one of all the victims. There were at least a dozen children killed. One was decapitated. One little girl about [my granddaughter]'s age had holes all over her legs...and in her chest. One boy was missing half his face. Quite a place, Iraq.

If the wedding party victims are lying, they may be failing to mention that XXX-number of Syrian fighters were camped 100 meters down the road, or that they had rented the place to fighters two days before or something like that. My experience in these things has been that people wouldn’t be faking the deaths of their wives and children. The fact that there was a high proportion of women and children killed adds credence -- the kids sleep with the women and the men sleep separately.

This may start to explain the wonderment of some Belmont Club readers who have written to remark how the Associated Press account of the wedding video contrasts so strikingly General Kimmitt's version of events. One reader said, "they might be talking of two separate places". Or are they talking of one place and two separate buildings?

'Massacre Account" 'Syrian Fighter Safehouse Account'
A videotape has been broadcast which purports to show before-and-after footage of a wedding which Iraqis say the US bombed, killing about 40. The film, released by a US news agency, combines a wedding home movie with video of the aftermath of the attack, which the US says targeted militants. Some victims and survivors appear to be present in the wedding video. ...

Associated Press Television News says it cannot confirm the authenticity of the video of the celebrations in Makr al-Deeb, a desert hamlet near the town of Qaim.  ...

AP says a reporter and a photographer who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video. It also says its footage of the aftermath shows remnants of musical instruments, pots and pans, and festive brightly coloured bedding.



BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military introduced more photographs Monday to bolster its contention that American aircraft attacked a safehouse for foreign fighters near the Syrian border -- not a wedding party, as claimed by Iraqi survivors and police and suggested by footage from the scene.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy chief of staff for operations in Iraq (news - web sites), introduced several new photographs Monday — those of a house and white powder he said was being tested for drugs.

Kimmitt again showed pictures of items the military said it found at the attack site, including machine guns, rounds of ammunition, a Sudan Airways plane ticket, medical gear, a Sudanese passport and battery packs associated with improvised explosive devises.

"These are pictures that are somewhat inconsistent in my mind with a wedding party," Kimmitt said. "One could say, yes, it is true that out in the desert you need to have a rifle to protect yourself against Ali Baba but the necessity for rocket-propelled launchers, rocket launchers in the bottom, special machine guns may be a little much for Ali Baba out there."

"What we found on the ground and our post-strike analysis suggests that what we had was a significant foreign fighter smuggler way-station in the middle of the desert that was bringing people into this country for the sole purpose of attacking to kill the people of Iraq," he said.

The working assumption of Wedding Party 2 was that two sites, the Rakat villa and the adjacent structure or tent were struck, largely on the basis of Mrs. Shahib's account in the Guardian. In the light of this new information, it seems the men were in the tent and the women and children in the villa with Mrs. Shahib. First, an earlier AP report claimed finding debris marked 'ATU-35'. "Footage that APTN shot a day after the attack shows bits of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly colored beddings scattered around a bombed out tent. It also shows fragments of what appear to be ordnance, one marked 'ATU-35,' similar to markings on U.S. bombs." Reader RIG points out that this appears to be related to the tail unit of a Mk 82 500 pound bomb. Mrs. Shahib would not have survived to rush out of the house during the infantry attack described in Wedding Party 2 had it been struck by a Mk 82 bomb. Her narrative describes the impact of 'shells'. But since the musical instruments of the male band were near the ATU-35 debris, and if it is true that the women and children sleep in one place and men in another, then the bomb hit the tent with the men. The women and children may have been killed in or as they emerged from the villa which was the subject of an infantry assault.

But where are the dead men? The Associated Press wedding video shows mostly men, yet the Guardian report claims that 11 of the dead were women and 14 were children.

The singing and dancing seems to go on forever at the all-male tent set up in the garden of the host, Rikad Nayef, for the wedding of his son, Azhad, and the bride Rutbah Sabah. The men later move to the porch when darkness falls, apparently taking advantage of the cool night weather. Children, mainly boys, sit on their fathers' laps; men smoke an Arab water pipe, finger worry beads and chat with one another. It looks like a typical, gender-segregated tribal desert wedding.

As expected, women are out of sight - but according to survivors, they danced to the music of Hussein al-Ali, a popular Baghdad wedding singer hired for the festivities. Al-Ali was buried in Baghdad on Thursday.

Prominently displayed on the videotape was a stocky man with close-cropped hair playing an electric organ. Another tape, filmed a day later in Ramadi and obtained by APTN, showed the musician lying dead in a burial shroud — his face clearly visible and wearing the same tan shirt as he wore when he performed.

As the musicians played, young men milled about, most dressed in traditional white robes. Young men swayed in tribal dances to the monotonous tones of traditional Arabic music. Two children — a boy and a girl — held hands, dancing and smiling. Women are rarely filmed at such occasions, and they appear only in distant glimpses.

The AP video shows a dead band member almost without a facial mark, peaceful and almost resting. (The very popular Baghdad singer?) Was he the only one killed? If the bomb hit the musician's tent, as indicated by the debris of musical instruments, where are the other dead men? Was there a third structure attacked, the figurative 100 Syrian fighters 'down the road'? Or were there just the two structures?  It would be interesting to compare the AP video with the photographs supplied by General Kimmitt. I don't have the facilities but if anyone could do a frame by frame of the videos and the CENTCOM photos it might be possible to tell if they were the same place.