The US military has once again a different take on events in Iraq from the rest of the world. Last Wednesday in the middle of the night the US forces either conducted an air- and ground-assault on a wedding party, killing over 40 guests, including 25 women and children, or on a dangerous way station used by armed foreign insurgents who cross the border into Iraq.
Two days after the event, the US is sticking to its story, despite widespread scepticism elsewhere. The senior military spokesman in Iraq, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, is quoted in the Washington Post (free registration required):
“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,” Kimmitt said. He added: “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.”
Kimmitt cites K-47 rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, handguns and machine guns, along with foreign passports, satellite communication equipment and roughly $1,000 in Iraqi dinars which were found as proof that the Iraqis were insurgents.
The Guardian and the Independent, both British newspapers, are not convinced. The Guardian is running the story prominently on page 1 under the headline ‘US soldiers started to shoot us, one by one’ and the Independent is also running the story prominently under the headline ‘One incident. Forty dead. Two stories. What really happened?’. The Independent points out that the alleged evidence consists of normal possessions in Iraq:
The evidence that the US military has put forward to support its version of events has been seriously undermined. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said guns, Syrian passports and a satellite phone had been recovered. But Sheikh Nasrallah Miklif, the head of the Bani Fahd tribe to which most of the dead belonged, said that was to be expected, given that the air strike happened in Makradheeb, a village in the desert, about 10 miles from the Syrian border.
Every household in Iraq has a gun, usually a Kalashnikov assault rifle, to protect itself. In the desert it is even more common for people to keep guns, as protection not only from robbers, but also wild animals. Shepherds need to protect their flocks.
The village is 80 miles from the nearest town, al-Qa’im, and 10 miles from the nearest road. There are no telephone lines and no mobile coverage. Satellite phones are comparatively cheap in Iraq and it would be surprising if the villagers did not have one.
Given the US military’s track record on representing events in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 3-4 years, I know which side I believe at the moment.