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Iraq: Videotape Appears To Contradict U.S. Account Of Deadly Raid

By Mark Baker

Prague, 24 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- New doubts have surfaced about U.S. military claims that a raid last week in eastern Iraq killed militants -- and not innocent civilians.

A U.S. news agency has obtained videotape footage showing what appears to be a wedding at the same house, near the Syrian border, where the U.S. military says anticoalition foreign fighters were sheltering.

The agency, the Associated Press Television Network (APTN), said it obtained the tape yesterday from family members of the victims. They say it was filmed just hours before the 19 May raid on the house that killed more than 40 people.

RFE/RL talked by telephone today to APTN's bureau chief in Baghdad, Bob Reed. He declined to be recorded for the interview, but said the tape raises questions about official U.S. accounts of the raid. He said the tape, which runs several hours, appears to show a traditional wedding ceremony. The tape shows scenes of a bride dressed in a Western-style white dress arriving at the house in a decorated pickup truck. Outside, men relax on a carpet while boys dance nearby. Music runs throughout the video.

Concerns the U.S. raid killed innocent civilians, and not foreign fighters, surfaced almost immediately. Since then, the U.S. military has been on the defensive to soften what has become a public relations disaster just weeks ahead of the planned U.S. transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government.

Over the weekend, the chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, again denied claims the attack struck a wedding. He said U.S. forces searched the site after the attack and found no evidence to support this. "The more that we look at the intelligence -- the more that we look at the post-strike intelligence -- the more that we continue to dig in at what we found at that location, the more we are persuaded that there was not a wedding going on," Kimmit said. "There may have been some kind of celebration -- bad people have celebrations too."

He said soldiers found rifles, machine guns, binoculars, false passports, and other pieces of evidence to indicate the house was sheltering insurgents.

The incident recalls the bombing by U.S. forces two years ago of a wedding party in Afghanistan. That raid killed at least 48 people and left many more injured. The U.S. military, at the time, said its planes were responding to nearby ground fire. The United States later conceded it had mistakenly killed innocent civilians after Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said the host of the party was a relative and personal friend of his.

The APTN's Reed said that while there is no way to say with complete certainty where or when the videotape was shot, it appears to raise serious doubts about the official U.S. version of events. He said, for example, the tape shows a man with short hair and a tan shirt playing an organ. Another tape, apparently filmed a day later, shows that same man dead -- his face is visible and he is wearing the same tan shirt.

Reeds said APTN reporters traveled to the scene the day after the raid to investigate. The agency's own videotape shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly colored bedding used for celebrations.

It's not clear how many women and children, if any, were among the victims. The United States denies finding evidence that children died in the raid, but Kimmitt said it now appears that six women were among the victims. The Associated Press says it has obtained names of at least 10 children who relatives said had died.

Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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