Fred Moreau spent the afternoon reading about the wedding party the Marines crashed in western Iraq, and about the Marine general who commands those forces. It's the stuff of tragedy, ready-made for some modern Euripides....
THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
By Fred Moreau
** "I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men." **
United for Peace of Pierce County
May 21, 2004
Lying on the ground at Mukaradeeb, in western Iraq, are the shattered remains two tabla drums, a violin, a flute, two organs, and a tambourine. But Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis never got to hear their music.
The name of Maj. Gen. Mattis was in all the world's papers on Friday.
It appeared that Mattis's Marines had attacked and decimated an Iraqi wedding party in the western desert instead of the way station for foreign fighters that they were hoping to destroy, with between 40 and 50 civilians, most of them women and children, dying in the incident.[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]
Only one of the wedding musicians survived the attack.[3,4]
The place it happened is unlikely to be remembered by Americans, most of whom are unlikely even to see its name -- Mukaradeeb, Makr al Dib, or Mogr el-Deeb, depending on which account you read.[2, 5, 1]
But they some of them may remember the attitude of Maj. Gen. Jim Mattis: unrepentent.
"How many people go to the middle of the desert ... to hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilisation?" Apparently the general has never heard of Las Vegas.
"These were more than two dozen military-age males," he went on, digging in deeper, like a good Marine. "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."
To the world press, Maj. Gen. Mattis's remarks exemplified the callous disregard for Iraqi lives that has turned Iraqis against Americans.
Here's how the Tehran Times described what he said: "The arrogance and contempt of the US military toward ordinary Iraqis was summed up in the remarks of Major General James Mattis, commander of the US 1st Marine Division, whose troops were involved in the attack. 'Ten miles from the Syrian border and 80 miles from [the] nearest city and a wedding party? Donít be naÔve. Plus they had 30 males of military age with them,' he said. The comments unwittingly reveal more than Mattis perhaps intended: that any gathering of Iraqis, particularly if it involves men of military age, is considered suspect and thus a legitimate target for the overwhelming use of force. He provided no explanation of the TV footage of dead women and children, declaring dismissively: 'I have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars. I donít have to apologise for the conduct of my men.' "
Maj. Gen. Mattis joined the Marines just out of high school, and an admiring classmate posted pictures of what he looked like back then. Jim Mattis, class of '68 at Columbia HS in Richland, WA, was the team manager of junior varsity and varsity basketball teams. He didn't play, because he's only "average-sized," as the Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco, WA) put it in an admiring article on Dec. 29, 2001.
The article gives a few insights into the private life of a hardbitten Marine. His elder brother, Tom, reported how he read a book about the life of Marines entitled Follow Me. "My brother and I lived in that book. When it came time to enter military service, there was no question where we would go." (His brother also became a Marine, and now lives in Salem, Oregon.)
The Tri-City Herald reported: "Jim Mattis chose the Marines for a life partner. He isn't married and other than keeping close to his extended family, has no one else in his confidence. A feature article published in the San Diego Union Tribune described him as a voracious reader of military books who reportedly doesn't own a television, a true nomadic warrior one author recently tabbed 'The Desert Fox.' "
Too bad this "true nomadic warrior" wasn't aware of how real nomads live these days.
The Associated Press reported: "But members of the Bou Fahad tribe say they consider the border area part of their territory and follow their goats, sheep and cattle there to graze. They leave spacious homes in Ramadi and roam the desert, as far as 250 miles to the west, in the springtime. Smuggling livestock into Syria is also part of a herdsman's life -- although no one in the tribe admitted to that."
Nevertheless, the military felt that the very presence of these Iraqis in that place at that time was sufficient "cause" to attack. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said: "We had significant intelligence which caused us to conduct a military operation into the middle of the desert, 85 kilometers south of Husaybah, al Qaim, and 25 kilometers inside from the Syrian border. Relatively barren area. We had a group of people there, not Bedouin. They were -- would appear to have been town dwellers. You saw 4x4s, jewelry. This is one of those routes that we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country.
"We have consistently talked inside this forum about the foreign fighter flow. This was clearly, in our -- the intelligence that we had suggested that this was a foreign fighter "rat line," as we call them, one of the way stations. We conducted military operations down there last night. The ground force that swept through the objective found a significant amount of material and intelligence which validated that attack. And we are satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground, and it was not that there was a wedding party going on."
Translation: tough. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Screw the local customs.
They call it "winning hearts and minds."
At this point, things are going so badly that it seems clear the military made a decision that they had enough scandals on their hands. This one, they'd just tough it out.
Americans reading their press could take comfort in the idea that there would be an investigation. They didn't bother to mention what only the Tehran Times pointed out: that the promised investigation won't amount to anything: "In the wake of an outpouring of anger in Iraq and the Middle East over the latest atrocity, General Klimmitt announced an inquiry. 'Because of the interest shown by the media, weíre going to have an investigation. Some of the allegations that have been made would cause us to go back and look at this,' he said. In other words, the real concern of the US military is the publicity, not the deaths of the Iraqi men, women and children. If there had been no reaction, the Pentagon simply would have buried the matter.
"The worthlessness of such an inquiry is highlighted by a similar incident in Afghanistan in July 2002 when US gunships strafed a wedding party in the Afghan village of Kakarak, leaving 48 people dead, mainly women and children, and more than 100 injured. After a two-month investigation, the US Central Command issued an 'unclassified executive summary' that ignored all the Afghan eyewitness accounts, answered none of the obvious questions, provided no evidence for its assertions and completely exonerated the US military."
Meanwhile, lying on the ground at Mukaradeeb are the remains of two tabla drums, a violin, a flute, two organs, and a tambourine.
As for Maj. Gen. Mattis, it was announced on May 6 that George W. Bush has nominated him to be promoted to lieutenant general.
It's unlikely that the Mukaradeeb incident will interfere with his promotion.
Let's not be naÔve.
IRAQIS SAY U.S. ATTACKED WEDDING PARTY
By Scheherezade Faramarzi
May 21, 2004 ñ 4:53 a.m. EDT
RAMADI -- Revelers at the wedding party said they began worrying when they heard aircraft overhead at about 9 p.m. With jets still overhead two hours later, they told the band to stop playing and everyone went to bed.
"We began to expect some kind of catastrophe," said Madhi Nawaf, who lives in the area near Mogr el-Deeb on the Syrian border.
The first bomb hit well after midnight and the barrage didn't stop until nearly sunrise, witnesses told The Associated Press. In the end, up to 45 people were killed in the attack Wednesday, mostly women and children from the Bou Fahad tribe.
"Mothers died with their children in their arms," said Nawaf. One was his daughter. "I found her a few steps from the house, her 2-year-old son Raad in her arms. Her 1-year-old son, Raed, was lying nearby, missing his head."
The United States has insisted the target was a safehouse for infiltrators slipping across the border to fight coalition soldiers in Iraq. In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, coalition deputy chief of operations, repeated that claim Thursday, but said the U.S. military would investigate after Iraqi officials reported the survivors' story.
Kimmitt said several shotguns, handguns, Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns were found at the site. And he said soldiers also found jewelry and vehicles that indicated the people were not wandering Bedouin but "town dwellers."
"Ten miles from the Syrian border and 80 miles from the nearest city and a wedding party? Don't be naive,'' Marine Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis told reporters in Fallujah. "Plus, they had 30 males of military age with them. How many people go to the middle of the desert to have a wedding party?"
Weddings are often marked in Iraq with celebratory gunfire. However, survivors insisted no weapons were fired Wednesday, despite speculation by Iraqi officials that this drew a mistaken American attack.
The survivors insist the Americans were wrong to target them.
"They're lying," Nawaf said. "They have to show us evidence that we fired a shot or were hiding foreign fighters. Where are the foreign fighters then? Why kill and dismember innocent children?"
Nawaf and more than a dozen men from the Bou Fahad tribe transported the dead to Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, which includes Mogr el-Deeb. Twenty-eight graves were dug in the tribe's cemetery outside Ramadi, each containing one to three bodies. A wake was held Thursday at a home in Ramadi.
Nawaf's brother, Taleb, lost his wife, Amal, and two daughters, 2-year-old Anoud and 1-year-old Kholood. His wife's body was found clutching the two children, survivors said.
All the men interviewed insisted there were no foreign fighters in Mogr el-Deeb. The U.S. military suspects militants cross the area from Syria to fight the Americans, and it is under constant surveillance by American forces.
"We would know if any outsider comes to our area," said Hamed Abdul-Razaq, another survivor.
Sheik Dahan Haraj, the tribe's chief who was also at the wedding, said that if the Americans suspected terrorists, "why not seal off the area and make sure they were indeed foreign fighters?"
Survivors said they became fearful when they heard aircraft overhead about 9 p.m. Tuesday. Then came military vehicles, which stopped about two miles away from the village and switched off their headlights. The planes were still overhead at 11 p.m.
They decided to end the celebration, and the bride and groom, Azhar Rikad and Rutba Sabah, went into their tent.
About 25 male guests who came from Ramadi for the wedding and five band members from Baghdad stayed in the main tent. All the women went to bed in an adjacent one-story stone house. Many men, including Nawaf, drifted away to their nearby homes.
The first bomb struck the main tent at about 2:45 a.m., the survivors said. Among those who died was Hussein al-Ali, a prominent wedding singer from Baghdad. The second bomb struck the stone house, killing everyone inside.
"They didn't even spare one child, one elderly," said the 54-year-old Nawaf.
Survivors said shells rained down for hours.
Two helicopters landed and about 40 soldiers searched the house where the women had stayed and a second, vacant house. Soon after, the two houses were blown up -- although witnesses offered differing accounts of how. Some said the houses were attacked by helicopters. Others said the Americans detonated them with explosives.
"They asked us no questions," said Adel Awdeh.
Some of the men tried to approach the Americans but were driven back by gunshots, the survivors said. The troops took money and jewelry the dead women had brought for the party, survivors said.
At the cemetery outside Ramadi, Taleb Nawaf pointed to a fresh grave with a headstone marked "Amal Rikab and Kholood."
"This is my daughter," he said.
Mourners displayed photographs of six children and their parents, Mohammed and Morifa Rikad, saying all had died in the bombing.
The U.S. occupation has never been popular in Anbar, a Sunni Muslim province which includes Fallujah, Khaldiyah and other centers of resistance.
"For each one in those graves, we will get 10 Americans," Ahmed Saleh warned.
'US SOLDIERS STARTED TO SHOOT US, ONE BY ONE'
By Rory McCarthy
** Survivors describe wedding massacre as generals refuse to apologise **
The Guardian (UK)
May 21, 2004
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?"
Despite the compelling testimony of Mrs Shihab, Dr Alusi and other wedding guests, the US military, faced with apparent 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."
WITNESS CLAIMS US HIT WEDDING
By Robert Moran
** Military disagrees, but plans probe **
Knight Ridder May 21, 2004
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi who claimed he witnessed Wednesday's pre-dawn airstrike by U.S. forces on a house in western Iraq said U.S. forces attacked a wedding party and killed more than 40 people.
U.S. officials continued to maintain Thursday that the strike was on a safe house used by foreign fighters but said they would investigate the incident.
Basim Shehab, an organ player for a local band, said Thursday that he went to a border town near Syria on Sunday to play at a wedding party. His descriptions of the party and the military operation could not be independently verified, but other Iraqis offered similar witness accounts.
DEAD BAND MEMBERS
Thursday, Shehab was home in Baghdad to bury his band mates, including a popular singer. He said his four fellow musicians and the singer -- all relatives -- were among those who were killed 15 miles from the Syrian border early Wednesday.
Shehab, 26, who claimed he was present and sleeping in a tent when the airstrike occurred, said the attack "was like hell. Everything was on fire."
He spoke at the funeral of two of his band mates, who were his cousins, in Al-Hurriyah neighborhood of Baghdad. Dozens of mourners attended.
In Ar-Ramadi, an Iraqi police official and a doctor said the bodies of five band members from Baghdad were delivered to the hospital morgue there late Wednesday afternoon and that family members from Baghdad recovered the bodies Thursday morning.
Thursday evening, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the U.S.-led coalition, said the incident would be investigated. But he continued to express skepticism that there was a wedding party in the remote area where the airstrike occurred.
"Because of the interest shown by the media, we're going to have an investigation. Some of the allegations that have been made would cause us to go back and look at this," Kimmitt said. "But it's important to understand that this operation was not something that just fell out of the sky."
Kimmitt said the operation was based on intelligence gathered by the military about the location, which he said was believed to be a way station on a "rat line," a route known to be traveled by smugglers and foreign fighters slipping across the Syrian border into Iraq.
He said coalition forces encountered a group of 34 or 35 men and "a number of women, less than a handful" at the location.
DISPUTE OVER CHILDREN
Kimmitt disputed a videotape that shows dead children allegedly killed in the attack.
He said forces on the ground after the incident "did not find any dead children among the casualties."
U.S. military officials have not disputed that more than 40 people may have been killed.
Kimmitt said troops at the scene found various weapons, including shotguns, handguns, rifles and machine guns. They also found foreign passports, four-wheel-drive vehicles, jewelry, a satellite telephone and the equivalent of $1,000 in Iraqi dinars, Kimmitt said. He did not mention Syrian currency, which military officials initially reported was among the items.
Officials said coalition forces ordered the airstrike after encountering fire from the location. "We believe we operated within the rules of engagement," Kimmitt said.
"We're satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground, and it was not that there was a wedding party going on," Kimmitt said.
The Conflict in Iraq
DID U.S. STRIKE A WEDDING OR A WAY STATION FOR MILITANTS?
By Alissa J. Rubin
Los Angeles Times
May 21, 2004
** Iraqi survivors describe the party in detail. The military is confident it targeted smugglers **
BAGHDAD -- With the smell of roasted lamb still in the air, Bassem Hameed Dulaimi left the tent where wedding guests were sleeping after three days of revelry and walked to a far field to wash up. Then, the musician said, he saw a flash in the desert sky, and another. He described blast after blast as rockets rained down on the tiny hamlet in the early-morning hours.
"They fired more than 40 rockets -- I counted," the 26-year-old organ player recounted Thursday at a funeral in Baghdad for two of the seven fellow musicians he said were killed in the attack by U.S. forces.
U.S. military officials continued to doubt Thursday that the "men of fighting age" they say died in the desert early Wednesday had gathered for a wedding. They say three large buildings in the hamlet were safe houses along a trail used by smugglers to move arms and insurgents into Iraq. They say troops found passports, weapons and the equivalent of $1,000 in Iraqi dinars at the site.
The Iraqis and the U.S. military agree on some details of the attack. But on the crucial question they disagree: Was this an innocent gathering of revelers fast asleep at the time, or a band of gunmen who fired on the Americans?
About 40 people were killed in the remote village just 15 miles from the Syrian border, said the U.S. military and Iraqis on the scene. A doctor in the hospital in the nearby town of Qaim put the number of dead at about 45.
Iraqi witnesses said that at least some of the dead were children, a charge U.S. officials have said they are investigating.
U.S. military officers reiterated that those killed were involved in smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq and that the houses attacked were way stations for militants.
The mission was based on sound intelligence from "multiple correlated evidence," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, chief military spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. There was no wedding, military officials say.
But Iraqis in the village tell a different story, giving a vivid account of a traditional wedding celebration turned into a bloody slaughter. They painted a picture of simple desert people: Bedouin tribesmen, their wives, sisters and children who had nothing to do with foreign fighters. They talk of the seven slain musicians. They mention going to get the 12 sheep that they had slaughtered and roasted to feed the guests.
The musicians' deaths are hard to dispute. They were being mourned Thursday by hundreds of relatives in the run-down Hurriya neighborhood of Baghdad where they lived. Relatives passed around business cards that showed the musicians with their instruments and carried a phone number for a recording studio in Syria.
Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of Marines in Al Anbar province, where the assault occurred, defended the mission. "These were more than two dozen military-aged males," Reuters news service quoted him as saying. "Let's not be naive."
In Washington, a senior Defense Department official described a classified photograph of the target that showed that the site consisted of three warehouse-like complexes in the desert terrain, about seven miles from the nearest town.
"Why would you have the wedding there, at 3 a.m.?" said the official, who requested anonymity. "I'm not denying that civilians were killed -- we don't know. But just because there are civilians killed does not mean that's not a safe house used to store weapons."
In the end, the accounts left open the possibility that both versions of events might contain elements of truth: that smugglers and innocent civilians might have been together in the hamlet for a wedding.
Many Iraqis, especially those with Bedouin roots, do go to the desert for celebrations, setting up tents for guests, slaughtering sheep and providing traditional tribal music.
Hamdan Khalaf Hammadi, 18, a survivor of the attack, corroborated several witnesses who said that at dawn, U.S. troops arrived to search the area of the nighttime assault.
"A water tank that was attached to a truck was first hit, and then everybody ran toward a small hill, then they were shot one by one by the U.S. forces -- they were slaughtered," Hammadi said. "The next morning [the soldiers] came and searched" houses in the village.
Hammadi and other witnesses charged that some of those who survived the airstrike were later shot by troops, an accusation that could not be corroborated.
Military officials offered few details of the raid, including what types of weapons were used. But their comments suggested that at least some of the accounts of the Iraqis on the scene were correct.
For instance, both the military and the Iraqis said the soldiers spent some time in the area, both during the fighting and afterward, when they entered buildings they had attacked. Reports differed, however, on the casualties. Iraqis said several children were killed, with some putting the number as high as 10.
However, Kimmitt, the military spokesman, strongly suggested that no children died.
"The persons that we had on the ground did not find -- and they were on the ground for an extensive period of time -- they did not find any dead children among the casualties of that engagement," he said.
Dr. Hamdi Alusi, a pediatrician and director of the nearest hospital, in Qaim, did not dispute the military's statement on children's deaths, but did say that injured women and children were brought to the hospital. One was the wife of Hajj Rikad, identified by the Iraqis as the father of the groom; one was Rikad's daughter; and one was her 8-month-old son.
Two other grandchildren of Rikad were also in the hospital, he said. Faisal Mohammed Rikad, 8, lay in bed with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, as well as minor injuries to the legs and neck.
"All I remember is that we ran out of the building with my mother and then we were shot," the child said, sounding bewildered.
Dulaimi, the musician, described a similar sense of shock. His came after he saw the Americans leave, when he walked back to the village.
"When I came back to the site after the helicopters left -- it was early morning, getting light. I found all of my friends were dead," he said, his voice incredulous as he talked about his seven companions from Baghdad.
"We have played together for three years," he said. "We learn this old style of music from our fathers. It is handed from one to another."
As he helped other survivors wrap the dead in blankets for burial, he said, he saw the two tabla drums, the violin, the flute, the two organs and the tambourine he and his friends had brought with them.
"They were broken in pieces, burned," he said. "We had leaned our instruments against the wall of the house ready to pack in the car. We had planned to leave at 6 a.m. for Baghdad."
He looked away.
"But by then it was all over."
U.S. INSISTS AIR STRIKE HIT INSURGENTS, NOT REVELERS
By Liz Sly
May 21, 2004
Original source: Chicago Tribune (subscribers only)
BAGHDAD -- The U.S. military insisted Thursday that an air strike in which at least 40 people died had targeted a base housing foreign fighters and not a wedding party, but as more funerals were held for those who died in the attack, few Iraqis were convinced.
Among those killed was one of Iraq's best-known musicians, Hussein al-Ali, who died along with his brother Mohammed and several members of his band. They apparently had been hired to perform at the wedding. Al-Ali was buried Thursday in Baghdad.
"Iraqis have lost faith in the Americans, and this only confirms the view that the Americans can't be believed," said Sadoun al Dulame, a political analyst who advises the U.S. occupation authorities. "The military tells us there were foreign fighters there, but the TV shows us children and women and villagers burying their dead."
But Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. spokesman, said the military remains convinced that the target, a remote desert location 16 miles from the Syrian border, was legitimate.
"It's important to understand that this operation was not something that just fell out of the sky," he said at a news media briefing. "We had significant intelligence which caused us to conduct a military operation into the middle of the desert."
TWO DIFFERENT STORIES
"You saw 4x4s [vehicles], jewelry" at the site, he said. "This is one of those routes that we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country."
The attack took place at 3 a.m., shortly after ground forces in the area had come under fire, Kimmitt said, "which is kind of an odd time to be having a wedding."
The soldiers who swept the area after the attack found "a significant amount of material and intelligence" to support the military's suspicions, including money, passports and weapons, he said.
But according to the victims' relatives, the circumstances Kimmitt described could just as easily have applied to a wedding attended by out-of-town visitors. The village, Makr al Dib, was a cluster of scattered homes deep in the desert, and visitors would have used SUVs to travel to the remote site. Jewelry is a traditional gift to Iraqi brides.
In Ramadi, the nearest major town, members of the Shaukat family gathered for a wake for two relatives hired to photograph the wedding.
Abdul Rahman Shaukat, 42, said his brother Yasser, 35, who owned the town's biggest photography studio, and a nephew, Ammar Mushraf, 22, were pulled from the rubble of one of two houses destroyed in the air strike.
Shaukat said survivors told him that all the guests were asleep when the helicopter gunships struck. There had been no traditional celebratory gunfire at the wedding, as reported in earlier news accounts, he said. Shaukat said U.S. planes began circling the area about 11 p.m., prompting the party to call off the celebrations and go to bed.
Two tents had been erected outside the houses to accommodate the guests, he said. Because the sexes are segregated at traditional Iraqi weddings, the tents would have been used only by male visitors, and there was speculation that the Americans may have mistaken the two tents of men for a terrorist base.
"But I would ask the Americans a question: If these were mujahedeen, why did they have musicians playing, and why were there women and children there?" said Ammar Yassin, another relative. "It's nonsense."
Kimmitt said the U.S. troops who searched the site found no evidence to support claims that children were among the dead.
But Madhi Nawaf, a survivor of the attack, told The Associated Press on Thursday that two of his grandsons, ages 1 and 2, were among the victims, along with several other children.
"Mothers died with their children in their arms," he said. "One of them was my daughter. I found her a few steps from the house, her 2-year-old son Raad in her arms. Her 1-year-old son, Raed, was lying nearby, missing his head."
BODIES TAKEN TO HOSPITAL
According Radio Sawa, a U.S.-funded Iraqi radio station, the head of the hospital in the border town of Husaybah said the bodies of 17 men, 11 women and 14 children younger than age 12 were brought to the facility after the attack. It was not clear whether they represented all the victims, but the U.S. military does not dispute that at least 40 people died.
The Shaukat family said it is true that residents in the border area were smugglers, explaining the passports and cash.
In other developments:
- The U.S. military said it was withdrawing troops from the center of the holy Shiite Muslim city of Karbala, a site of major fighting for the past 1 1/2 weeks. Plans called for leaving the area of the Mukhaiyam mosque for a military base 5 miles east of the city center.
- President Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill, appealing to congressional Republicans to stick with him on Iraq. Bush delivered a lengthy outline of his approach on Iraq and "talked about time to take the training wheels off," said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). "The Iraqi people have been in training and now it's time for them to take the bike and go forward."
- Insurgents in Baghdad killed a U.S. soldier and injured three more in a grenade attack.
--An Iraqi news assistant for the Chicago Tribune in Ramadi contributed to this report, along with Tribune news services.
ARMY SCOFFS AT ALLEGATIONS OF MARRIAGE MASSACRE
By Paul Koring, with reports from AP, Reuters and AFP
** Remote desert site of early-morning attack odd place for a wedding, U.S. generals say **
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
May 21, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. military officers said yesterday an air strike in Iraq was a carefully planned and executed attack on a known group of insurgents, but Iraqis insisted that scores of innocent wedding guests, including children, had been slaughtered.
The conflicting versions of what happened early Wednesday at a desert encampment near the Syrian border seemed certain to further infuriate Iraqis, many of whom say with growing frequency they want U.S. troops out of their country regardless of the consequences.
Images of bloodied women and children filled the screens of Arab television channels yesterday, lengthening a list of Bush administration woes that included heavy fighting near holy Muslim sites in Najaf and Karbala and the continuing prison-abuse scandal.
U.S. commanders said they would launch an investigation into the 3 a.m. attack. They scoffed at the accounts of purported eyewitnesses who said gunships rained fire on a wedding party after bursts of celebratory gunfire.
"Bad things happen in wars," said Major-General James Mattis, the U.S. Marine commander in charge of occupation forces in western Iraq.
"These were more than two dozen military-age males. I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men."
Gen. Mattis dismissed the assertion that a wedding was involved. "How many people go to the middle of the desert 10 miles from the Syrian border to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?" he asked.
Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, a spokesman for the occupation forces, gave a slightly different account.
He said U.S. ground forces were making a carefully planned attack, based on intelligence reports, on a small desert compound 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the border that was known to be used by insurgents and smugglers. The ground troops were fired on and called in an air attack, he added.
The operation was launched "in the middle of the desert in the early morning hours -- which is kind of an odd time to be having a wedding -- against what we believed to be 34 to 35 men and a number of women, less than a handful of women, which doesn't seem to be numbers that one would associate with a wedding, by a group in their 4x4s, well away from any town," Gen. Kimmitt said.
U.S. forces found weapons and cash after the attack, he added.
But grieving relatives in Baghdad said a well-known wedding singer and his brother were among those killed.
Munif Abdullah, who said he witnessed the attack but was not at the wedding, told Reuters at a memorial service in the regional capital, Ramadi: "They hit the cars and houses. They even hit the families running away." Other Iraqi accounts were clearly far-fetched. One quoted on Arab television said 100 bombs were dropped.
The differing accounts suggested there may have been two separate incidents.
While U.S. officers referred to a gathering of mostly men in the open desert, some Iraqis spoke of an attack that targeted houses in the western desert town of Qaim.
Without referring specifically to Wednesday's incident, Nada Dumani, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said it was "concerned about the excessive use of force, which violates international human rights."
US MILITARY STRAFES IRAQI WEDDING PARTY, KILLING AT LEAST 40
By Peter Symonds
May 22, 2004
In another example of callous indifference for Iraqi lives, the US military strafed the small village of Mukaradeeb in the early hours of Wednesday morning, killing at least 40 men, women and children who were part of a local wedding party. Official US denials, which eyewitnesses and local officials have rejected as fabrications, have further fuelled anti-American anger in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
The US attack, which involved Special Forces troops backed by helicopter gunships and warplanes, took place at around 2.45am. The hamlet is a collection of less than a dozen houses in a remote area of western Iraq just 10 kilometres from the Syrian border. Iraqi eyewitnesses confirm the fact that a wedding had been underway, with a band hired from Baghdad providing the music. An article in the Scotsman reported: ìPeople who said they were guests said the wedding party was in full swing -- with dinner just finished and the band playing tribal Arab music -- when US fighters roared overhead and US vehicles started shining their highbeams. Worried, the hosts ended the party, men stayed in the wedding tent and women and children went into the house nearby, the witnesses said. About five hours later, the first shell hit the tent. Panicked, women and children ran out of the house, they said.î The village was devastated. In television footage shown on the Al Arabiya channel, one eyewitness described the scene: ìWe were in Mukaradeeb. At 3am they rained the air with bombs. One after another the bombs were falling. Three houses with the guests were hit. They fired as if there were an armoured brigade inside, not a wedding party.î One of the guests, Madhi Nawaf, a shepherd, explained in the Scotsman article that his daughter and her children were among the dead. ìMothers died with their children in their arms. One of them was my daughter. I found her a few steps from the house, her two-year-old son Raad in her arm. Her one-year-old son, Raíed, was lying nearby, his head missing. Where were the foreign fighters they claim were hiding there? Everything they said is a lie.î Among the dead were members of the band, including a popular singer, Hussein Ali. Basim Shehab, an organ player, was at the funeral for the band members in Baghdad yesterday. He said he had been sleeping in one of the tents when the bombing began. The attack ìwas like Hell,î he said. ìEverything was on fire.î
US military spokesmen have insisted that there were no children among the casualties. However, Lieutenant Colonel Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief for Ramadi, told Associated Press (AP) that the dead numbered between 42 and 45, and included 15 children and 10 women. Dr Salah al-Ani, who works at the hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45. An AP report explained: ìAssociated Press Television News footage from the area near the Syrian border showed a truck containing bloodied bodies, many wrapped in blankets, piled one atop the other. Several were children, one of whom was decapitated. The body of a girl who appeared to be less than five years of age lay in a white sheet, her legs riddled with wounds and her dress soaked in blood.î
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, US military spokesmen continue to deny that US forces hit a wedding party. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt claimed that the target had been ìa suspected foreign fighter safe houseî and that US troops were fired upon first. The only evidence offered by the Pentagon is that troops found a quantity of small arms, Iraqi and Syrian money, foreign passports and a satcom radio.
Even taken on face value, the American version of events confirms a reckless lack of concern for Iraqi civilians in launching an indiscriminate air assault in the middle of the night on what was ìsuspectedî to be a safe house. It is far more likely, however, that the US statements amount to nothing more than another crude concoction of lies. US ground forces have not produced the bodies of any ìforeign fighters.î None of the objects seized in the village prove the dead were fighters. At most, they indicate that villagers may have been involved in petty smuggling -- a practice that is rife in the border area.
There are conflicting press reports over whether the wedding party engaged in the common custom of shooting off weapons in celebration. In an article in the British-based Independent, Sheikh Nasrallah Miklif, head of the Bani Fahd tribe, of which most of the dead were members, vigorously denied that there had been any firing. While he was not in the village at the time, he had spoken extensively to the survivors. He said the air strikes had begun without warning and were followed up by US troops who arrived in armoured vehicles.
ìIf they killed foreign fighters, why donít they show us the bodies? If they suspected foreign fighters were here, why didnít they come to arrest them, instead of using this huge force?î Sheikh Mikfil asked angrily. The arrogance and contempt of the US military toward ordinary Iraqis was summed up in the remarks of Major General James Mattis, commander of the US 1st Marine Division, whose troops were involved in the attack. ìTen miles from the Syrian border and 80 miles from [the] nearest city and a wedding party? Donít be naÔve. Plus they had 30 males of military age with them,î he said. The comments unwittingly reveal more than Mattis perhaps intended: that any gathering of Iraqis, particularly if it involves men of military age, is considered suspect and thus a legitimate target for the overwhelming use of force. He provided no explanation of the TV footage of dead women and children, declaring dismissively: ìI have not seen the pictures but bad things happen in wars. I donít have to apologise for the conduct of my men.î
The US military claims that it was seeking to prevent the infiltration of arms and ìforeign fightersî into Iraq. All the evidence, however, points to the fact that the vast majority of fighters joining the armed resistance against the US occupation are young Iraqis who have widespread local support. Apart from terrorising the Iraqi population, the purpose of such military operations may be connected to current US efforts to pressurise and menace the Syrian government. Just last week, Washington imposed a battery of new punitive measures on Syria.
In the wake of an outpouring of anger in Iraq and the Middle East over the latest atrocity, General Klimmitt announced an inquiry. ìBecause of the interest shown by the media, weíre going to have an investigation. Some of the allegations that have been made would cause us to go back and look at this,î he said. In other words, the real concern of the US military is the publicity, not the deaths of the Iraqi men, women and children. If there had been no reaction, the Pentagon simply would have buried the matter.
The worthlessness of such an inquiry is highlighted by a similar incident in Afghanistan in July 2002 when US gunships strafed a wedding party in the Afghan village of Kakarak, leaving 48 people dead, mainly women and children, and more than 100 injured. After a two-month investigation, the US Central Command issued an ìunclassified executive summaryî that ignored all the Afghan eyewitness accounts, answered none of the obvious questions, provided no evidence for its assertions and completely exonerated the US military.
MAJOR GENERAL JAMES N. MATTIS
** Commanding General, 1st Marine Division **
Major General James N. Mattis is currently serving as the Commanding General, 1st Marine Division. He assumed his current assignment on 2 August 2002.
As a Lieutenant, he served as a rifle and weapons platoon commander in the 3d Marine Division. As a Captain, he commanded a rifle company and a weapons company in the 1st Marine Brigade. As a Major, he commanded RS Portland. As a Lieutenant Colonel, he commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, one of Task Force Ripper's assault battalions in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. As a Colonel, he commanded 7th Marines (Reinforced). As a Brigadier General, he commanded 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and then Task Force 58, during operations in southern Afghanistan.
He is a graduate of the Amphibious Warfare School, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the National War College.
(Revised Oct 30, 2002)
COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY BRIEFING
By Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director for Coalition Operations and Dan Senor, Senior Advisor, CPA
United States Department of Defense
May 20, 2004
Q And on the situation yesterday, you said that you were fairly convinced this was not what some of the Iraqis were saying, a wedding party that was hit, but -- and part of the justification was the weapons and everything else you found. But it sounds like, you know, $1,000, a few weapons are not that unusual here. Do you have other evidence that would suggest this is definite, and will there be an investigation?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, certainly because of the interest that's been shown by the media we're going to have an investigation. Some of the allegations that have been made would cause us to go back and look at this. But it's important to understand that this operation was not something that just fell out of the sky.
We had significant intelligence which caused us to conduct a military operation into the middle of the desert, 85 kilometers south of Husaybah, al Qaim, and 25 kilometers inside from the Syrian border. Relatively barren area. We had a group of people there, not Bedouin. They were -- would appear to have been town dwellers. You saw 4x4s, jewelry. This is one of those routes that we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country.
We have consistently talked inside this forum about the foreign fighter flow. This was clearly, in our -- the intelligence that we had suggested that this was a foreign fighter "rat line," as we call them, one of the way stations. We conducted military operations down there last night. The ground force that swept through the objective found a significant amount of material and intelligence which validated that attack. And we are satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground, and it was not that there was a wedding party going on.
. . . . . . . .
Q For General Kimmitt, sir. There was footage shown on Associated Press Television Network yesterday that seemed to depict civilians who were purportedly killed in the incident near the Syrian border. Is the military disputing that any civilians were killed? There were graphic images of dead children. Does the military have a position on whether these children were killed in this incident?
GEN. KIMMITT: The persons that we had on the ground did not find -- and they were on the ground for an extensive period of time -- they did not find any dead children among the casualties of that engagement.
Q Did they find any people who were not suspected to be involved in this foreign fighter cell?
GEN. KIMMITT: I'm sorry; I have problems with double negatives. Say again?
Q I'm sorry. Is everyone who was killed believed to have been involved in this foreign fighter cell?
GEN. KIMMITT: At this point, the intelligence that we have and the intelligence that we drew on to conduct this operation was sufficient for us to believe -- to conduct that operation. We believe that we operated within the rules of engagement for that operation.
. . . . . . . . . .
Q Yes, Mike Georgia (sp) from Reuters. There are relatives of a well-known wedding singer who say he and his brother were killed in this incident near the Syrian border. And they brought the bodies back to Baghdad. Are you willing to sort of review your assessment of what happened in terms of civilians and combatants at this point?
GEN. KIMMITT: Oh, absolutely. We said we're going to do an investigation. We're going to take a hard look at that.
Obviously, for operational and security reasons, I can't reveal much of the details of what got us there and what we did while we were there. But I am persuaded that, again, the purposes that caused us to conduct that operation in the middle of the barren desert in the early mornings (sic) of the hour, which is kind of an odd time to be having a wedding, against what we believed to be 34 to 35 men and a number of women, less than a handful of women, which doesn't seem to be numbers that one would associate with a wedding, by a group in their four-by- fours, well away from any town, in a known RAT line, which is being used by smugglers and foreign fighters frequently, and other intelligence that we found on the ground, pretty well convinces us that what got us there had a valid purpose.
Are we going to take a look at it, are we going to review it, are we going to conduct some measure of investigation based on some of the things that we're hearing here? Of course we are. I think that's the only prudent thing to do. And we may find out new information that we don't have currently. But we are satisfied that the intelligence that we had, the multiple correlated evidence that got us there, and the actions of our forces on the ground, what they found and what they brought back -- foreign passports, money, weapons, satellite communications -- would be inconsistent with a wedding party for sure, and fairly consistent with what we have seen throughout this country time after time after time, which is the flow of foreign fighters to come in to terrorize and kill the Iraqi citizens.
Q Is it possible that you were targeting these fighters and you hit a wedding party next door? Is that possible?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, I think let's let the investigation bear out. But this was not "next door." This was in the middle of the open desert.
MR. SENOR: Yes, in the back.
Q I have a question -- German Television, Jurg Ahmeizer (ph). Do you know anything about the pictures we saw yesterday evening -- who made them, who are the people on the pictures? One older man was talking about two air raids and that private houses were destroyed. Do you know anything about these pictures?
GEN. KIMMITT: I mean, there were some buildings out in that area, but nothing that could be associated with a town or a village. Again, this is what's going to cause us to review our photo imagery that we have of that area, talk to the people that were on the ground, take a look around, hear the evidence.
So, there may be some new evidence that crops up. We will keep an open mind about this. But what we saw in those pictures and what we saw on the ground at this point are inconsistent.
MATTIS TO LEAVE CAMP PENDLETON FOR NEW COMMAND
By Edwar Sifuentes
North County Times (San Diego, CA)
May 7, 2004
CAMP PENDLETON -- Major Gen. James N. Mattis, who leads thousands of Camp Pendleton-based troops in Iraq, is expected to leave the North County base later this year for a new command in Virginia, Pentagon officials announced Thursday.
Mattis, who took over command of the 1st Marine Division in August, 2002, was also nominated by President George W. Bush to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, according to a Pentagon news release.
If approved by the Senate, Mattis will head the Marine Corps' Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va. The command's mission is to improve troops' fighting abilities with training based on lessons learned in battle.
The change of command is expected to occur in the fall, said Capt. Jeff Landis, a spokesman for the Combat Development Command.
Given Mattis' experience leading Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, officials at Quantico said the general is a good fit for their mission.
"We're here to ensure that the war fighter is equipped with the best gear and the best training we can," Landis said. "Mattis is a combat-seasoned general who knows what troops' needs might be."
Camp Pendleton officials would not comment on the change.
Last year, Mattis led 24,000 Marines in a lightning-fast charge across the Kuwait border 400 miles into Iraq to the cities of Baghdad and Tikrit.
Earlier this year, Mattis returned to Iraq with about 14,000 Camp Pendleton troops to help with the aftermath of the war. The 1st Marine Division patrols the Al Anbar province in western Iraq, which includes Fallujah, where U.S. troops have met some of the fiercest resistance to the occupation.
In Iraq, Mattis has rallied his Marines in peacekeeping efforts. According to reports from North County Times' embedded reporter Darrin Mortenson, who traveled with some of Mattis' troops, Mattis often reminded them of the division's motto: "No better friend ... no worse enemy," than a U.S. Marine.
Before his assignment to Camp Pendleton, the 53-year-old general served as commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade stationed in Hawaii, according to a brief summary of his career on Camp Pendleton's Web site.
From November 2001 to February 2002, he served as commander of Task Force 58, the first Marines to arrive in Afghanistan and the force that later helped other coalition forces take control of Kandahar.
During the first Gulf War, Mattis led the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. He joined the Marines in 1969 and was commissioned in 1972.
Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon, who commands the Combat Development Command, is expected to retire later this year, though no official announcement has been made.
At Quantico, Mattis will lead a unit of 6,700 troops and 7,000 civilian employees, Landis said.
[This article was scanned onto a web site by a former high school classmate]
EX-TRI-CITIAN LEADING ASSAULT FORCE IN AFGHANISTAN
By John Trumbo
Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco, WA)
December 29, 2001
** Gen. Mattis guiding 1,500 Marines in hunt for Osama bin Laden **
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