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Wedding video contradicts US details { May 24 2004 }

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'Wedding video' contradicts US denials

Staff and agencies
Monday May 24, 2004

A videotape emerged today apparently showing the wedding party in Iraq that survivors say was attacked by US warplanes last week in raids that killed up to 45 people.
The US military has admitted launching air strikes at targets near the Syrian border last Tuesday but insists it attacked a safehouse for foreign insurgents and that there was no evidence of a wedding.

The top US military spokesman in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, told reporters at the weekend that there could have been some kind of celebration but said "bad people have celebrations too".

He insisted there were "no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration".

However, the video obtained by APTN - which lasts for several hours - shows a large wedding party, and separate footage shot by AP cameramen the following day shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly coloured beddings used for celebrations scattered around a bombed-out tent. There were also fragments of ordnance that appeared to have US markings.

An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video.

The survivors say dozens of missiles were launched lat at night after the festivities had ended and that women and children were among those killed, as were the bride and groom.

The US military has launched an investigation into the raids on the village of Mogr el-Deeb, which is about five miles from the Syrian border, but maintains that the evidence suggests it was a safehouse for insurgents coming over the border.

Iraqi officials said at least 13 children were killed and the AP reporter obtained names of at least 10 whom relatives said had died. Brig Gen Kimmitt has denied finding evidence that any children died in the raid although he admitted that a "handful of women" - perhaps four to six - were "caught up in the engagement".

"They may have died from some of the fire that came from the aircraft," he told reporters last week.

Bodies of five women were filmed by APTN the survivors took them to the nearest town of Ramadi for burial last week. The dead included video cameraman Yasser Shawkat Abdullah who had been hired to record the festivities.

In the scenes he allegedly filmed before he died, a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert escorting the bridal car, which is decorated with brightly coloured ribbons. Upon her arrival, she is ushered into a house by a group of women, while outside, men recline on brightly coloured silk pillows as boys dance to tribal songs.

A water tanker lorry can be seen in both the video shot by APTN and the wedding tape. In the tape, the singing and dancing goes on for a long time at the all-male tent set up in the garden of the host, Rikad Nayef, for the wedding of his son, Azhad, and his bride Rutbah Sabah.

The men later move to the porch when darkness falls. Children, mainly boys, sit on their fathers' laps; men smoke an Arab water pipe, finger worry beads and chat with one another. It looks like a typical, gender-segregated tribal desert wedding.

As expected, women are out of sight - but according to survivors, they danced to the music of Hussein al-Ali, a popular Baghdad wedding singer hired for the festivities, who was also killed and was buried in Baghdad last week.

A stocky man with close-cropped hair and playing an electric organ features prominently in the wedding footage. Another tape, filmed a day later in Ramadi and obtained by APTN, showed the musician lying dead in a burial shroud. His face is clearly visible and he body is dressed in the same tan shirt he wore during his performance.

"At about 3am, we were sleeping and the planes started firing," said one of the mourners who spoke to AP last week and who gave his name only as Bassem. "They fired more than 40 missiles. As soon as they started attacking, firing the first missile, I went away. I was running ... there are no fighters. These are lies. There's no resistance. Even the bride and the groom died."

Haleema Shihab, 32, one of the three wives of wedding party host Rikad Nayef, said she and her stepdaughter hid in a bomb crater.

US soldiers appeared on the scene shortly after the bombardment. One of them kicked her to see if she was alive. "I pretended I was dead so he wouldn't kill me," she said, adding that the soldier was laughing.

Fourteen-year-old Moza, Ms Shihab's stepdaughter, lies on another bed of the hospital room. She was hurt in the leg and cries. Her relatives haven't told her yet that her mother, Sumaya, is dead.

In all, 27 members of Rikad Nayef's extended family - most of them children and women - were killed in the attack, according to surviving family members.

An explosion destroyed a car today near an entrance to the headquarters of US-led forces in central Baghdad. The US military said four people died, and an Iraqi policeman added that the casualties were foreigners. US soldiers quickly sealed off the area and tried to pull the men from the shattered car, said witness Kamel Raji.

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