Accessibility links

US Investigates Attack in Western Iraq - 2004-05-20

American military commanders in Iraq are investigating what Iraqis say was a deadly attack by U.S. warplanes on civilians in a remote area of the country near the Syrian border. Residents say the attack was unprovoked, but the American command in Baghdad says intelligence suggesting the area was a haven of foreign fighters was borne out by what was found on the ground.

Iraqis say U.S. forces attacked a wedding party. American warplanes, one survivor said, circled overhead and fired rockets on people at the party just after they went to sleep. Any suggestion, he said, that resistance fighters were the targets are lies.

U.S. military spokesman General Mark Kimmitt gives an entirely different account of the military action, but does say there were "many casualties."

"The intelligence that we had suggested that this was a foreign fighter ratline, as we call them, in one of the way stations," he said. "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'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."

American ground forces fired, he says, after they were fired on first. But he didn't rule out the possibility that innocent civilians could have been strafed in the process and that an investigation into what happened is now under way.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraqi police, backed by American soldiers, raided the home of Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, seizing computers and documents and, witnesses say, ransacking his property. Mr. Chalabi, who was once one of Washington's closest allies in the exiled Iraqi opposition, described the raid as retaliation for his disagreements with the U.S. led occupation authority.

"I am now calling for policies to liberate the Iraqi people, to get full sovereignty now and I am putting the case in a way in which they don't like," he said.

U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington deferred all questions about the raid to Iraqi police. Mr. Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress had until recently been receiving monthly payments from the Pentagon of more than $300,000 as part of the Iraq Liberation Act, a law passed in 1998 to support opponents of Saddam Hussein. But the Pentagon has now halted those payments, calling the move appropriate in light of the transition back to Iraqi rule.

Once viewed in Washington as a possible successor to Saddam Hussein, Ahmad Chalabi has now fallen out with the Bush administration over Iraq's future, including the decision by administrator Paul Bremer to allow former members of Saddam's Baath party to return to jobs they once held under his regime.