Foreign passports, cash, arms found at 'wedding' site

Monday, May 24, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military expressed scorn at reports an air force attack targeted a 3 a.m. "wedding party" 10 miles from the Syrian border.

U.S. ground forces found 4-wheel drive vehicles, foreign passports, AK-47 rifles, jewelry and cash in what they assert were the markings of a smuggling operation.

Iraqi witnesses provided a different account. They said members of the wedding party fired into the air during their celebration near Al Qaim, Middle East Newsline reported.

Within minutes, they said, a U.S. helicopter gunship fired missiles toward the building where the celebration was purportedly being held.

U.S. officials dismissed claims that 42 people killed in an attack by a U.S. Air Force Special Operations AC-130 gunship about 16 kilometers east of the Syrian border were revelers attending a wedding.

The dead in the May 19 attack included at least 25 males of military age, officials said. They said the area had long been under U.S. Air Force surveillance.

"How many people go into the middle of the desert 10 miles from the Syrian border to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?"

Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, told a news conference on Thursday. "Let's not be naive."

Officials said the 3 a.m. air attack near Al Qaim targeted a facility used by Al Qaida-inspired insurgents and smugglers. They said U.S. forces found foreign passports, money, weapons, satellite communications in the targeted location.

"I mean, there were some buildings out in that area, but nothing that could be associated with a town or a village," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition operations, said.

"The purposes that caused us to conduct that operation in the middle of the barren desert in the early morning of the hour, which is kind of an odd time to be having a wedding against what we believed to be 34 to 35 men and less than a handful of women, by a group in their four-by- fours, well away from any town, in a known RAT line, which is being used by smugglers and foreign fighters frequently, and other intelligence that we found on the ground, pretty well convinces us that what got us there had a valid purpose."

Kimmitt said the U.S. military would investigate the circumstances of the attack as well as the Iraqi casualties. He said he could not reveal many details of the air force strike for operational reasons.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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