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US attack survivors recall a night of terror
May 21, 2004 11:56 IST
The attack came soon after a wedding ceremony in the village of Mukardeeb, near the Syrian border on Tuesday night.
"The bombing started at 3am," the paper quoted one of the survivors, Haleema Shihab, the sister in law of the groom, as saying 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 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, the paper said.
"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, said The Guardian report. 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.
The wedding 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," the paper quoted Ma'athi Nawaf, 55, one of the neighbours, saying.
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 paper said.
The party ended 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," Nawaf was quoted as saying. "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, the paper quoted Nawaf as saying.
"I saw something that nobody ever saw in this world. 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," The Guardian article quoted him as saying. 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."
By the time the sun rose on Wednesday over the Rakat family house, the raid had claimed 42 lives, the article quoted Hamdi Noor al-Alusi, manager of the al-Qaim general hospital, the nearest to the village, as saying.
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, the paper said.
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 told the Guardian over telephone. "These people are my patients. I know each one of them. What has caused this disaster?"
But while admitting that there had been a raid on the village at 3am on Wednesday , the US military insisted that 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."
"We took ground fire and we returned fire," the paper quoted 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, dismissed suggestions that 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."
Asked 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."