Baghdad, May 24 (Reuters): New video footage showing Iraqis celebrating a desert wedding raised more questions today about a US air strike last week that killed about 40 people.
The US military insisted most of the dead were foreign guerrilla fighters who had slipped over the nearby Syrian border. Local people say the Americans massacred wedding guests.
Associated Press Television News said it had obtained the footage from a survivor of the strike early on May 19.
A Baghdad musician, a drummer who said he was the only survivor of the 10-man band which played at the party, told Reuters the film was shot on Monday, May 17 — the second of three days of wedding celebrations which ended with the attack.
The film shows pick-up trucks racing across the desert — some of the dead came from the regional capital Ramadi — men dancing in a tent, children larking about and a musician playing an electric organ. The same man later appeared dead in a shroud.
Basem Ishab Mohamed, the drummer, identified the organist as Mohaned, brother of a noted Baghdad wedding singer Hussein al-Ali, who also performed at the wedding. Both were killed when US aircraft struck in the early hours of Wednesday, he said.
Mohamed was speaking at the singer’s family home, where relatives including Hussein’s daughter were poring over photos of the brothers. They were buried in Baghdad on Thursday.
Mohamed and other witnesses said festivities ended on Tuesday at about 1830 GMT when they said US military aircraft began circling overhead.
They surveyed the area for four hours before the deadly strike at about 3 am. “I was terrified. It was like a nightmare,” he said. He escaped from a tent where he and the other male wedding guests had been asleep and crawled hundreds of metres on his stomach until he reached a nearby house.
He returned in the morning to find more than 40 dead, including women, children and his fellow musicians.
Mohamed dismissed the US suggestion that the target had been a safehouse for foreign fighters. “The people raised livestock and crops and nothing else,” he said. At a hospital in Ramadi, where many of the dead and injured were taken, survivors were united by their anger at the US attack.
Standing over three-year-old Kholoud al-Muhammed, who held a cookie in her hand, Mamdouh Harajee listed off the names of the dead from a complex web of relatives who attended the wedding.
“She lost her mother and father. Another family of eight lost six members. Another family lost four,” he said. “It was just a wedding.”
The father of the groom, who as a Muslim is allowed to take up to four wives, brought his three wives and some of their children to the wedding.
Two of the wives were killed and the third, Halima Shihaab, lay wounded in her hospital bed delirious with pain killers, calling out the names of her sons.
The top UN human rights official, Bertrand Ramcharan, has said even if some of those at the house in Mogr al-Deeb were involved in criminal activity, that was no excuse for “carnage”.
US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said today some kind of celebration could have been going on during the day but after midnight “the activities that we saw happening on the ground were somewhat inconsistent with a wedding party.”
The White House today brushed aside charges by retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, former chief of US Central Command, that US policies in Iraq have been a failure.