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Iraq

Report: Tape shows party hours before U.S. attacked

By Associated Pess
Published May 24, 2004

RAMADI, Iraq - The bride arrives in a white pickup truck and is quickly ushered into a house by a group of women. Outside, men recline on brightly colored silk pillows, relaxing on the carpeted floor of a large goat-hair tent as boys dance to tribal songs.

The videotape obtained Sunday by Associated Press Television News captures a wedding party that survivors say was attacked by U.S. planes early Wednesday, killing up to 45 people. The dead included the cameraman, Yasser Shawkat Abdullah, hired to record the festivities, which ended Tuesday night before the planes struck.

The U.S. military says that it is investigating the attack, which took place in the village of Mogr el-Deeb about 5 miles from the Syrian border, but that all evidence so far indicates the target was a safehouse for foreign fighters.

"There was no evidence of a wedding: no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Saturday. "There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too."

But video that APTN shot a day after the attack shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations, scattered around the bombed out tent.

The wedding videotape shows a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert escorting the bridal car, decorated with colorful ribbons. The bride wears a Western-style white bridal dress and veil. The camera captures her stepping out of the car but does not show a closeup.

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 video, which runs for several hours.

APTN also traveled to Mogr el-Deeb, 250 miles west of Ramadi, the day after the attack to film what the survivors said was the wedding site. A devastated building and remnants of the tent, pots and pans could be seen, along with bits of what appeared to be the remnants of ordnance, one of which bore the marking "ATU-35," similar to those on U.S. bombs.

A water tanker truck can be seen in both the video shot by APTN and the wedding tape obtained from a cousin of the groom.

The singing and dancing seem to go on forever at the all-male tent set up in the garden of the host, Rikad Nayef, for the wedding of his son, Azhad, and the bride Rutbah Sabah. The men move to the porch when darkness falls, apparently taking advantage of the cool night weather. 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 survivors said they danced to the music of Hussein al-Ali, a popular Baghdad wedding singer. Al-Ali was buried in Baghdad on Thursday.

Prominently displayed on the videotape was a stocky man with close-cropped hair playing an electric organ. 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 is wearing the same tan shirt he wore when he performed.

As the musicians played, young men milled about. Young men swayed in tribal dances to traditional music. Two children - a boy and a girl - held hands, dancing and smiling. Women are rarely filmed at such occasions, and they appear only in distant glimpses.

Kimmitt said U.S. troops who swept through the area found rifles, machine guns, foreign passports, bedding, syringes and other items that suggested the site was used by foreigners infiltrating from Syria.

The videotape showed no weapons, although they are common among rural Iraqis.

Kimmitt has denied finding evidence that any children died in the raid, although 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 Friday.

An AP reporter obtained names of at least 10 children who relatives said had died. Bodies of five were filmed by APTN when the survivors took them to Ramadi for burial Wednesday. Iraqi officials said at least 13 children were killed.

[Last modified May 24, 2004, 01:00:32]


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