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"The enemy has a face. It is Satan's. He is in Fallujah, and we are going to destroy him. Kill them all, let God sort 'em out!"
— Col. Gary Brandl, USMC

"If they didn't kill, they would be nothing. They are crazy. And stupid."
— from: Good Morning, Night


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"The CIA special unit that was searching for Osama bin Laden has been disbanded. So I guess, mission accomplished."
— David Letterman

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
— George W. Bush 5/1/03

"Listen, every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy."
— George W. Bush 3/21/06

"The height of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."
— Albert Einstein

Marine 'Congratulated' Men for Murder of Iraqi Civilian: Witness

A US Marine squad leader congratulated soldiers "for getting away with murder" after an Iraqi civilian was bound and shot dead at point-blank range, a military court has heard.

Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins, who will stand trial for murder next month, made the comments after the abduction and killing of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Award in Hamdania outside Baghdad last April, a witness testified.

Navy medic Melson Bacos, who was jailed for one year last September for his role in Awad's killing, recounted Hutchins' comments while giving evidence at a sentencing hearing for another Marine, Trent Thomas.

Bacos said that after Awad had been shot in a roadside hole, squad members had to work quickly to remove "zip ties" used to bind his hands and feet.

The squad wanted to make it look like they had just come upon the victim, when in fact they had dragged him from his home, Bacos said.

"When all was cleaned up, Hutchins said, 'Congratulations. We just got away with murder, gents,'" Bacos told the hearing at the Marines' Camp Pendleton base outside of San Diego.

Prosecutors say Hutchins, who is to stand trial on March 19, was the ringleader of the plot to kill Awad.

A hearing is ongoing to determine a sentence for Thomas, who pleaded guilty to unpremeditated murder last month in connection with the case. Thomas had earlier denied murder charges.

Thomas's sentencing hearing will continue on Thursday.

Five of the eight servicemen implicated in the killing have now admitted to charges connected to Awad's death, one of a string of incidents that has tarnished the reputation of US forces in Iraq.

Other witnesses involved in the case have testified that Awad was killed after the squad of soldiers failed to locate a suspected insurgent operating in the area west of Baghdad.

Awad was allegedly taken from his home and frog-marched to a hole, which Marines had dug to look like a roadside bomb crater.

He was then bound before being shot three times in the head. An AK-47 rifle was then left beside his body to create the impression he had been an insurgent planting a bomb.

Inquiry Into Iraq Killings Focuses on Supervision of Soldiers

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 4 — The military investigation of soldiers suspected of raping an Iraqi woman and killing her and her family is looking at whether poor oversight within the soldiers' unit helped give them the chance to operate on their own, American military officials said Tuesday.

Specifically, investigators are examining whether procedural lapses in how the unit handled convoys and traffic checkpoints gave the soldiers leeway to operate too independently outside their base, the officials said.

The procedures will be given a "top-down scrub," one of the officials added. This broad approach to the investigation leaves open the possibility that senior officers in the unit, the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, may be implicated later.

At least four soldiers are already being investigated, including a recently discharged man, Steven D. Green, 21, who had been a private. He was arrested in North Carolina on Monday and charged with rape and the murders of four Iraqis on March 12 in a farming area around Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad. Investigators say they believe that Mr. Green was the ringleader, a military official said Tuesday.

In the hours before the deaths, the soldiers were stationed at a traffic control point about 600 feet from the victims' home, apparently operating with just a single vehicle, according to an American military official and a federal affidavit filed by prosecutors on Monday.

That violates military regulations here. Because of the dangers of Iraq, it is virtually unheard of for a military vehicle to be allowed to leave an American base without being accompanied by at least one other. So a central question is: how were these soldiers able to get out and operate on their own, presumably in a Humvee?

The same issue is under scrutiny in an investigation into the deaths of three soldiers from the same unit last month. Those soldiers were traveling in a single vehicle in the area of Yusufiya, an insurgent stronghold near Mahmudiya, when they were ambushed by guerrillas, military officials have said.

One was killed on the spot and the others abducted; the mutilated bodies of the kidnapped men were found days later along a road booby-trapped with bombs.

American officials say they were from the same platoon of the 502nd Infantry as the soldiers under suspicion for the rape and murders in March. In fact, senior officers first learned of the crime when a soldier stationed at the traffic checkpoint on March 12 talked about it in a counseling session after the two mutilated bodies were discovered, the affidavit says.

So far, investigators have not drawn a direct link between the crime and the Yusufiya ambush.

Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, the commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, to which the 502nd Infantry is attached for this tour, ordered the investigation.

"We do not as a rule travel as a single-vehicle convoy," said a military official who, like other officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.

The official said investigators were focusing on procedures in the 502nd, not within the entire Fourth Infantry Division. The 502nd is a traditional title for the Second Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division.

Mr. Green and the other soldiers are suspected of involvement in raping the Iraqi woman and killing her, her younger sister and their mother and father. The mayor of Mahmudiya has said the rape victim, Abeer Qasem Hamzeh, was only 15, and had multiple bullet wounds and burn marks. The soldiers are suspected of trying to burn her body to cover up the crime and then setting the house on fire.

For a year and a half before he went into the Army, Mr. Green lived with his father, John Green, in an apartment in Midland, Tex., according to a neighbor there, Albert Rodriguez. Mr. Green, he said, was "a normal kid; he didn't look like he would hurt a fly." Mr. Rodriguez added that the young man seemed "more like a follower than a leader."

The Iraqi justice minister, Hashim al-Shibli, said in an interview on Tuesday on Al Arabiya television that the United Nations should ensure the soldiers are properly punished.

Shortly after the murders, three Iraqi men approached another American traffic checkpoint in the area and told the soldiers that an Iraqi family had been killed in their home, the affidavit says.

"It was originally believed that anti-Iraqi forces or other entities committed the offense," the document says, using the military's term for insurgents.

The Mahmudiya area is one of the most volatile places in Iraq, with a constellation of armed groups vying for dominance. It would not have been unusual for Iraqis discovering the bodies to assume that other Iraqis had committed the crime rather than Americans.

Maj. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the American command, said in a telephone interview that the three other soldiers implicated in the investigation, whose names have not been released, were confined to base and had not been charged yet.

The affidavit says four soldiers, including Mr. Green, took part in violence at the house, while a fifth was told to stay at the vehicle to monitor the radio. Mr. Green and one other soldier took part in the rape, the document says. All four had been drinking beforehand, according to the document.

The American military announced the investigation last week, but reaction among Iraqis has been muted. The kind of outrage that accompanied the Abu Ghraib scandal is almost nowhere to be seen.

The inquiry into the possible executions of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha by marines has also brought the same lukewarm response. More than three years into the war, many Iraqis say they are no longer surprised by abuses on the part of American troops. Iraqis seem more concerned these days about spiraling sectarian violence.

But there were some, like the justice minister, Mr. Shibli, who called for retribution on behalf of the victims in Mahmudiya.

"The American soldiers violated everything," said Omar al-Jubouri, the human rights officer for the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni Arab political group.

"All the trials conducted by the Americans have so far been theater," he added. "We demand they impose punishments that will prevent such crimes."

In Ramadi, Fetid Quarters and Unrelenting Battles

RAMADI, Iraq, July 4 — The Government Center in the middle of this devastated town resembles a fortress on the wild edge of some frontier: it is sandbagged, barricaded, full of men ready to shoot, surrounded by rubble and enemies eager to get inside.

The American marines here live eight to a room, rarely shower for lack of running water and defecate in bags that are taken outside and burned.

The threat of snipers is ever present; the marines start running the moment they step outside. Daytime temperatures hover around 120 degrees; most foot patrols have been canceled because of the risk of heatstroke.

The food is tasteless, the windows boarded up. The place reeks of urine and too many bodies pressed too close together for too long.

"Hey, can you get somebody to clean the toilet on the second floor?" one marine yelled to another from his office. "I can smell it down here."

And the casualties are heavy. Asked about the wounded under his command, Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of the Bronx, rattled off a few.

"Let's see, Lance Corporal Tussey, shot in the thigh.

"Lance Corporal Zimmerman, shot in the leg.

"Lance Corporal Sardinas, shrapnel, hit in the face.

"Lance Corporal Wilson, shrapnel in the throat."

"That's all I can think of right now," the captain said.

So it goes in Ramadi, the epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency and the focus of a grinding struggle between the American forces and the guerrillas.

In three years here the Marine Corps and the Army have tried nearly everything to bring this provincial capital of 400,000 under control. Nothing has worked.

Now American commanders are trying something new.

Instead of continuing to fight for the downtown, or rebuild it, they are going to get rid of it, or at least a very large part of it.

They say they are planning to bulldoze about three blocks in the middle of the city, part of which has been reduced to ruins by the fighting, and convert them into a Green Zone, a version of the fortified and largely stable area that houses the Iraqi and American leadership in Baghdad.

The idea is to break the bloody stalemate in the city by ending the struggle over the battle-scarred provincial headquarters that the insurgents assault nearly every day. The Government Center will remain, but the empty space around it will deny the guerrillas cover to attack. "We'll turn it into a park," said Col. Sean MacFarland.

Ramadi, a largely Sunni Arab city, is regarded by American commanders as the key to securing Anbar Province, now the single deadliest place for American soldiers in Iraq. Many neighborhoods here are only nominally controlled by the Americans, offering sanctuaries for guerrillas.

While the focus in Baghdad and other large Iraqi cities may be reconciliation or the political process, here it is still war. Sometimes the Government Center is assaulted by as many as 100 insurgents at a time.

Last week a midnight gun battle between a group of insurgents and American marines lasted two hours and ended only when the Americans dropped a laser-guided bomb on an already half-destroyed building downtown. Six marines were wounded; it was unclear what happened to the insurgents.

"We go out and kill these people," said Captain Del Gaudio, the commander here. "I define success as continuing to kill the enemy to allow the government to work and for the Iraqi Army to take over."

Government Mostly in Name

That day seems a long way off. The Iraqi government exists here in little more than name. Last week about $7 million disappeared from the Rafidain Bank — most of the bank's deposits — right under the nose of an American observation post next door. An Iraqi police officer was shot in the face and dumped in the road, his American ID card stuck between his fingers.

The governor of the province, Mamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani, still goes to work here under an American military escort. But many of the province's senior officials deserted him after the kidnapping and beheading of his secretary in May.

The previous governor was assassinated, as was the chairman of the provincial council, Khidir Abdel Jabar Abbas, in April. At a meeting of the provincial cabinet last week, only six of 36 senior officials showed up.

"The terrorists want to keep Anbar people out of the government," said Taha Hameed Mokhlef, the director general for highways, who went into hiding last month when his face appeared on an American-backed television station here showing him in his job. He has since re-emerged. "My friends told me that the terrorists were planning to kill me, so I went to Jordan for a while," he said.

The Iraqi police patrol the streets in only a handful of neighborhoods, the ones closest to the American base. In the slow-motion offensive that has been unfolding, in which the Americans have been gradually clearing individual neighborhoods, nearly all of the fighting has been done by American marines and soldiers, not the Iraqi Army.

The 800-member Third Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, which until recently was responsible for holding most of the city on its own, has lost 11 marines since arriving in March. Commanders declined to disclose the number of wounded. Over all in Iraq the number of American wounded in action is roughly seven times the number killed.

Be Polite, and Ready to Kill

One of the "habits of mind" drilled into the marines from posters hung up inside: "Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

The humor runs dark, too. On a sheet of paper hung up in the Government Center, marines wrote down suggestions for their company's T-shirt once they go home. Most are unprintable, but here is one that got a lot of laughs: "Kilo Company: Killed more people than cancer."

The marines at the Government Center have held on, but the fighting has transformed the area into an ocean of ruin. The sentries posted on the rooftops have blasted the larger buildings nearby so many times that they have given them nicknames: Battleship Gray, Swiss Cheese. The buildings are among those that will be bulldozed under the Green Zone plan.

"Aesthetically it will be an improvement," Lt. Col. Stephen Neary said.

Holding the place has cost blood. A roadside bomb killed three marines and a sailor on patrol here in March. Another marine was shot through the forehead by a sniper, just beneath the line of his helmet.

The number of Iraqi casualties — insurgents or civilians — is unknown and impossible to determine in the chaotic conditions.

As in the rest of Iraq, the insurgents' most lethal weapon is the homemade bomb. The bombs virtually cover Ramadi: an American military map on display here showed about 50 places where roadside bombs had recently been discovered. Two weeks ago a marine sniper was killed by a homemade bomb when he ran from a house where he had been spotted.

Bombs Nearly Everywhere

Sometimes it feels as if the bombs are everywhere. On a single hourlong patrol one night last week, a group of marines spotted two likely bombs planted in an area that is regularly inspected, meaning that they had been laid within the previous few days.

One was hidden under a pile of trash. Another was thought to be under a pair of gasoline cans that had been set in the middle of the road. The marines spied them with their night vision glasses; without them, it is likely that the Humvees would have run over them.

Indeed, the marines often manage to spot bombs — covered in trash, made of metal and wires — in streets that are themselves covered in trash, metal and wires.

"Right there, look at that," Gunnery Sgt. John Scroggins said from the passenger seat of his Humvee, pointing to the street.

And there it was: a thin metal tube, with a long green wire protruding and sticking into the pavement, almost certainly a bomb. The pipes typically contain what is called a pressure trigger, which closes an electrical circuit — and detonates a bomb — when crushed by a vehicle. The Humvee was about two feet away when the marines spotted it.

Some of the marines have been hit by so many bombs that they almost shrug when they go off. On Sunday a Humvee carrying four marines on a patrol dropped off a reporter and photographer for The New York Times at the Government Center. The Humvee rumbled 100 yards down the road and struck a bomb. No one was killed, and the marines returned to base as if they had encountered nothing more serious than a fender bender.

"It's my fifth," said Cpl. Jonathan Nelson, 21, of Brooklyn. "It's the best feeling in the world to get hit by one and live — like bungee jumping."

In the end, whether the Americans can succeed in bringing security to Ramadi will depend on how much support they can draw from the Iraqis.

Many Iraqi civilians have spent the last three years caught between the two warring camps, too afraid to throw their lot with one group or the other. It is, by nearly all accounts, a miserable situation, with individual Iraqis often simultaneously under threat by insurgents and under suspicion by the Americans.

Many complain of bad treatment and unjustified killings by both sides. That civilians have been killed here is beyond dispute, but the circumstances are nearly impossible to verify.

Qais Mohammed, 46, owned a dress shop across the street from the Government Center but moved away when the Americans set up and the fighting began. Then a mortar shell hit his home and he moved with his wife and 10 children to a refugee camp outside the city.

Fed up with conditions at the camp, Mr. Mohammed and his family moved back to the city not long ago, into a seedy little place much reduced from the comfort he once knew.

"We do not want gold, or dresses or the food of kings," Mr. Mohammed said. "We want to live without fear for our lives and our kids. These days neither your tribe nor the police can protect you. It is the jungle law."

The marines say their highest priority is winning over people like Mr. Mohammed, even at the cost of letting insurgents escape. Indeed, the marines seem far less aggressive than they were during their earlier tours here, when the priority was killing insurgents. Now they seem much more interested in capturing the loyalty of the residents.

Civilians in the Middle

Iraqi civilians, by and large, did not seem to fear the American marines as they passed on patrol. When the Americans rumbled past, the Iraqis often continued whatever they were doing: talking, sitting, standing, eating. The children held up their hands for soccer balls, and occasionally a marine would toss one to a child.

"Football! Football!" the children cried.

"The people are in the middle, between us and the insurgents," Lance Cpl. Sean Patton said as he wheeled his Humvee through a neighborhood downtown. (He says he is a great-great-grandnephew of Gen. George S. Patton.) "Whoever is friendly, they will help."

A few moments later, Corporal Patton and his men were reminded of just how bewildering this city could be. As he turned slowly down a street, all the Iraqis milling about, maybe 30 people in all, suddenly disappeared.

"They're going to hit us," the corporal said, convinced that the crowd had been tipped off to the presence of a bomb or an impending attack.

When the Americans left the street, the Iraqis returned.

Corporal Patton turned onto the street again, and the people vanished a second time.

"We're going to get hit," he said, bracing himself.

The attack never came.

One Morning in Haditha

U.S. Marines killed 15 Iraqi civilians in their homes last November.
Was it self-defense, an accident or cold-blooded revenge?
A TIME exclusive
Sunday, Mar. 19, 2006

The incident seemed like so many others from this war, the kind of tragedy that has become numbingly routine amid the daily reports of violence in Iraq. On the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a road near Haditha, a restive town in western Iraq. The bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel (T.J.) Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas. The next day a Marine communiqué from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other. The Marines from Kilo Company held a memorial service for Terrazas at their camp in Haditha. They wrote messages like "T.J., you were a great friend. I'm going to miss seeing you around" on smooth stones and piled them in a funeral mound. And the war moved on.

But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.

In January, after TIME presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors. According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents. The military announced last week that the matter has been handed over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which will conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the troops broke the laws of war by deliberately targeting civilians. Lieut. Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for the Multi-National Force--Iraq, told TIME the involvement of the NCIS does not mean that a crime occurred. And she says the fault for the civilian deaths lies squarely with the insurgents, who "placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves."

Because the incident is officially under investigation, members of the Marine unit that was in Haditha on Nov. 19 are not allowed to speak with reporters. But the military's own reconstruction of events and the accounts of town residents interviewed by TIME--including six whose family members were killed that day--paint a picture of a devastatingly violent response by a group of U.S. troops who had lost one of their own to a deadly insurgent attack and believed they were under fire. TIME obtained a videotape that purports to show the aftermath of the Marines' assault and provides graphic documentation of its human toll. What happened in Haditha is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war--and what war can do to the people who fight it.

Here's what all participants agree on: At around 7:15 a.m. on Nov. 19, a U.S. humvee was struck by a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) attached to a large propane canister, triggered by remote control. The bomb killed Terrazas, who was driving, and injured two other Marines. For U.S. troops, Haditha, set among date-palm groves along the Euphrates River, was inhospitable territory; every day the Marines found scores of bombs buried in the dirt roads near their base. Eman Waleed, 9, lived in a house 150 yards from the site of the blast, which was strong enough to shatter all the windows in her home. "We heard a big noise that woke us all up," she recalls two months later. "Then we did what we always do when there's an explosion: my father goes into his room with the Koran and prays that the family will be spared any harm." Eman says the rest of the family--her mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts and two uncles--gathered in the living room.

According to military officials familiar with the investigation, the Marines say they came under fire from the direction of the Waleed house immediately after being hit by the IED. A group of Marines headed toward the house. Eman says she "heard a lot of shooting, so none of us went outside. Besides, it was very early, and we were all wearing our nightclothes." When the Marines entered the house, they were shouting in English. "First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Koran," she claims, "and we heard shots." According to Eman, the Marines then entered the living room. "I couldn't see their faces very well--only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny." She claims the troops started firing toward the corner of the room where she and her younger brother Abdul Rahman, 8, were hiding; the other adults shielded the children from the bullets but died in the process. Eman says her leg was hit by a piece of metal and Abdul Rahman was shot near his shoulder. "We were lying there, bleeding, and it hurt so much. Afterward, some Iraqi soldiers came. They carried us in their arms. I was crying, shouting 'Why did you do this to our family?' And one Iraqi soldier tells me, 'We didn't do it. The Americans did.'"

TIME was unable to speak with the only other survivor of the raid, Eman's younger brother, who relatives say is traumatized by the experience. U.S. military officials familiar with the investigation say that after entering the house, the Marines walked into a corridor with closed doors on either side. They thought they heard the clack-clack sound of an AK-47 being racked and readied for fire. (Eman and relatives who were not in the house insist that no guns were there.) Believing they were about to be ambushed, the Marines broke down the two doors simultaneously and fired their weapons. The officials say the military has confirmed that seven people were killed inside the house--including two women and a child. The Marines also reported seeing a man and a woman run out of the house; they gave chase and shot and killed the man. Relatives say the woman, Hiba Abdullah, escaped with her baby.

According to military officials, the Marines say they then started taking fire from the direction of a second house, prompting them to break down the door of that house and throw in a grenade, blowing up a propane tank in the kitchen. The Marines then began firing, killing eight residents--including the owner, his wife, the owner's sister, a 2-year-old son and three young daughters.

The Marines raided a third house, which belongs to a man named Ahmed Ayed. One of Ahmed's five sons, Yousif, who lived in a house next door, told TIME that after hearing a prolonged burst of gunfire from his father's house, he rushed over. Iraqi soldiers keeping watch in the garden prevented him from going in. "They told me, 'There's nothing you can do. Don't come closer, or the Americans will kill you too.' The Americans didn't let anybody into the house until 6:30 the next morning." Ayed says that by then the bodies were gone; all the dead had been zipped into U.S. body bags and taken by Marines to a local hospital morgue. "But we could tell from the blood tracks across the floor what happened," Ayed claims. "The Americans gathered my four brothers and took them inside my father's bedroom, to a closet. They killed them inside the closet."

The military has a different account of what transpired. According to officials familiar with the investigation, the Marines broke into the third house and found a group of 10 to 15 women and children. The troops say they left one Marine to guard that house and pushed on to the house next door, where they found four men, one of whom was wielding an AK-47. A second seemed to be reaching into a wardrobe for another weapon, the officials say. The Marines shot both men dead; the military's initial report does not specify how the other two men died. The Marines deny that any of the men were killed in the closet, which they say is too small to fit one adult male, much less four.

According to the military officials, the series of raids took five hours and left at least 23 people dead. In all, two AK-47s were discovered. The military has classified the 15 victims in the first two houses as noncombatants. It considers the four men killed in the fourth house, as well as four youths killed by the Marines near the site of the roadside bombing, as enemy fighters. The question facing naval detectives is whether the Marines' killing of 15 noncombatants was an act of legitimate self-defense or negligent homicide. Military sources say that if the NCIS finds evidence of wrongdoing, U.S. commanders in Iraq will decide whether to pursue legal action against the Marines.

The available evidence does not provide conclusive proof that the Marines deliberately killed innocents in Haditha. But the accounts of human-rights groups that investigated the incident and survivors and local officials who spoke to TIME do raise questions about whether the extent of force used by the Marines was justified--and whether the Marines were initially candid about what took place. Dr. Wahid, director of the local hospital in Haditha, who asked that his family name be withheld because, he says, he fears reprisals by U.S. troops, says the Marines brought 24 bodies to his hospital around midnight on Nov. 19. Wahid says the Marines claimed the victims had been killed by shrapnel from the roadside bomb. "But it was obvious to us that there were no organs slashed by shrapnel," Wahid says. "The bullet wounds were very apparent. Most of the victims were shot in the chest and the head--from close range."

A day after the incident, a Haditha journalism student videotaped the scene at the local morgue and at the homes where the killings had occurred. The video was obtained by the Hammurabi Human Rights Group, which cooperates with the internationally respected Human Rights Watch, and has been shared with TIME. The tape makes for grisly viewing. It shows that many of the victims, especially the women and children, were still in their nightclothes when they died. The scenes from inside the houses show that the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood. But the video does not reveal the presence of any bullet holes on the outside of the houses, which may cast doubt on the Marines' contention that after the IED exploded, the Marines and the insurgents engaged in a fierce gunfight.

There are also questions about why the military took so long to investigate the details of the Haditha incident. Soon after the killings, the mayor of Haditha, Emad Jawad Hamza, led an angry delegation of elders up to the Marine camp beside a dam on the Euphrates River. Hamza says, "The captain admitted that his men had made a mistake. He said that his men thought there were terrorists near the houses, and he didn't give any other reason."

But the military stood by its initial contention —that the Iraqis had been killed by an insurgent bomb— until January when TIME gave a copy of the video and witnesses' testimony to Colonel Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. After reviewing the evidence, Johnson passed it on to the military command, suggesting that the events of Haditha be given "a full and formal investigation." In February an infantry colonel went to Haditha for a weeklong probe in which he interviewed Marines, survivors and doctors at the morgue, according to military officials close to the investigation. The probe concluded that the civilians were in fact killed by Marines and not by an insurgent's bomb and that no insurgents appeared to be in the first two houses raided by the Marines. The probe found, however, that the deaths were the result of "collateral damage" rather than malicious intent by the Marines, investigators say.

The U.S. has paid relatives of the victims $2,500 for each of the 15 dead civilians, plus smaller payments for the injured. But nothing can bring back all that was taken from 9-year-old Eman Waleed on that fateful day last November. She still does not comprehend how, when her father went in to pray with the Koran for the family's safety, his prayers were not answered, as they had been so many times in the past. "He always prayed before, and the Americans left us alone," she says. Leaving, she grabs a handful of candy. "It's for my little brother," she says.

With reporting by With reporting by Aparisim Ghosh/ Baghdad

On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled
Friday, Mar. 17, 2006
Not a shot was fired, or a leader nabbed, in a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing

Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of Operation Swarmer. Iraqi soldiers in newly painted humvees, green and red Iraqi flags stenciled on the tailgates, had just finished searching the farm populated by a half-dozen skinny cows and a woman kneading freshly risen dough and slapping it to the walls of a mud oven.

The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation, which doubled the population of the flat farmland in one single airlift, was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces, says Lt Col Skip Johnson commander of the 187 Battallion, 3rd Combat Brigade of the 101st Airborne. "They have the lead," he said to reporters at the second stop of the tour. But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers. Iraqi Army General Abdul Jabar says that Samarra-based insurgent leader Hamad el Taki of Mohammad’s Army was thought to be in the area, and Iraqi intelligence officers were still working to compare known voice recordings and photographs with the prisoners in custody.

With the Interior Ministry's Samarra commando battalion, the soldiers had found some 300 individual pieces of weaponry like mortars, rockets and plastic explosives in six different locations inside the sparsely populated farming community of over 50 square miles and about 1,500 residents. The raids also uncovered high-powered cordless telephones used as detonators in homemade bombs, medical supplies and insurgent training manuals.

Before loading up into the helicopters for a return trip to Baghdad, Iraqi and American soldiers and some reporters helped themselves to the woman’s freshly baked bread, tearing bits off and chewing it as they wandered among the cows. For most of them, it was the only thing worthwhile they’d found all day.

Marines Turn to God Ahead of Anticipated Fallujah Battle

NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq (AFP) Nov 06, 2004
With US forces massing outside Fallujah, 35 marines swayed to Christian rock music and asked Jesus Christ to protect them in what could be the biggest battle since American troops invaded Iraq last year.

Men with buzzcuts and clad in their camouflage waved their hands in the air, M-16 assault rifles laying beside them, and chanted heavy metal-flavoured lyrics in praise of Christ late Friday in a yellow-brick chapel. They counted among thousands of troops surrounding the city of Fallujah, seeking solace as they awaited Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's decision on whether or not to invade Fallujah.

"You are the sovereign. You're name is holy. You are the pure spotless lamb," a female voice cried out on the loudspeakers as the marines clapped their hands and closed their eyes, reflecting on what lay ahead for them.

The US military, with many soldiers coming from the conservative American south and midwest, has deep Christian roots.

In times that fighting looms, many soldiers draw on their evangelical or born-again heritage to help them face the battle.

"It's always comforting. Church attendance is always up before the big push," said First Sergeant Miles Thatford.

"Sometimes, all you've got is God."

Between the service's electric guitar religious tunes, marines stepped up on the chapel's small stage and recited a verse of scripture, meant to fortify them for war.

One spoke of their Old Testament hero, a shepherd who would become Israel's king, battling the Philistines some 3,000 years ago.

"Thus David prevailed over the Philistines," the marine said, reading from scripture, and the marines shouted back "Hoorah, King David," using their signature grunt of approval.

The marines drew parallels from the verse with their present situation, where they perceive themselves as warriors fighting barbaric men opposed to all that is good in the world.

"Victory belongs to the Lord," another young marine read.

Their chaplain, named Horne, told the worshippers they were stationed outside Fallujah to bring the Iraqis "freedom from oppression, rape, torture and murder ... We ask you God to bless us in that effort."

The marines then lined up and their chaplain blessed them with holy oil to protect them.

"God's people would be annointed with oil," the chaplain said, as he lightly dabbed oil on the marines' foreheads.

The crowd then followed him outside their small auditorium for a baptism of about a half-dozen marines who had just found Christ.

The young men lined up and at least three of them stripped down to their shorts.

The three laid down in a rubber dinghy filled with water and the chaplain's assistant, Navy corpsman Richard Vaughn, plunged their heads beneath the surface.

Smiling, Vaughn baptised them "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Dripping wet, Corporal Keith Arguelles beamed after his baptism.

"I just wanted to make sure I did this before I headed into the fight," he said on the military base not far from the city of Fallujah.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypes

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
— George W. Bush, Aircraft Carrier landing, May 1, 2003

"No matter how you try to blame [loss of 380 tons of explosives] on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough — didn't they search carefully enough?"
— Rudy Giuliani

"Now that the Democratic convention is over, the Republicans are getting ready for theirs. Their slogan for Bush: FOUR MORE WARS!  FOUR MORE WARS!"
— Jay Leno

"Homeland Security is so concerned about a terrorist attack in New York during the Republican Convention that they are calling in the National Guard... No wait, they can't. They're all in Iraq."
— Jay Leno

"We were given the idea that there were weapons of mass destruction, but where are they? They said they were so sure. When I was over there I looked. I was on an intelligence gathering team, we all looked. We found nothing. It was just a lie. That wasn't a proper use of American troops. It wasn't a proper use of my life, my friends' lives, or the Marines I saw die around me."
— Lee Buttrill, Sergeant, USMC, Iraq War Veteran

"According to some reports, U.S. forces bombed a wedding party in Iraq. Apparently President Bush thought it might have been a gay wedding."
— Jay Leno

"Well, no. He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There's a higher Father that I appeal to."
—George W. Bush, on if he asked former president George Bush Sr. for advice on the war.

"I was praying for the strength to do God's will. I pray that I can be as good a messenger of His will as possible."
—George W. Bush, on his decison to invade Iraq.

"Bob Woodward suggested that the main reason President Bush took the country to war is that he thinks he's on a mission from God. The problem is that it's also Osama bin Laden's reason."
—Jay Leno

"It's May sweeps, which is a big dilemma for the White House. Should they bring out Osama bin Laden now, or wait till November?
—Jay Leno

"It's the story of the 21st Century."
—George W. Bush, on his decision to launch a preemptive attack on Iraq.

“History,"  Bush answered. He smiled, shrugged and extended his hands as if this was way off.   "History, we don’t know.  We’ll all be dead."
—George W. Bush, on how history would judge him on this war.

"War is a blunderbuss with which one shoots at a bird and hits everything except the bird."
— Reverend Harry Emerson Fosdick

"We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape, or fiction of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much."
— Michael Moore's Oscar speech

The New York Times
May 22, 2004

Dispute Rages Over Attack That Killed 40 in Iraq Village
By Ian Fisher

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 21 — The tent was blown apart, with sleeping mats scattered and a public address system flopped on its side. A pickup truck was riddled with bullets. And there were no clear answers to exactly what happened in this Iraqi village deep in the desert early on Wednesday, beyond the undisputed fact that at least 40 people died under American fire.

People interviewed in the village, Makr al-Deeb, near the Syrian border, on Friday were adamant that American troops — in attacks from the air and the ground — fired on innocent people sleeping after a wedding. Scenes on television showed at least one dead child, but residents said there were 14. In a hospital in Qaim, a town about 70 miles away, a 10-year-old boy, Faisal Muhammad, l ay with bandages covering his chest and belly.

He could not speak, but hospital workers said his entire family was killed in the raid.

"It was a very normal wedding," said Ismael Hamad, 23, a shepherd who said he had attended the gathering. Asked about the American attack, he said, "I am wondering why."

But American military officials say that, while they are investigating the incident, they continue to believe this was a smugglers' den, a so-called rat line for ferrying in from Syria foreign militants to fight American troops in Iraq.

Based on a visit to the village on Wednesday by an Iraqi reporter for The New York Times, it seems at least possible that both accounts are true. Among the dead, by several accounts, was Nazar al-Khalid, a well-known Iraqi wedding singer who often traveled to Syria.

At the same time, one local resident identified the family of the groom as smugglers, and one of the leaders of the village was described by another resident as a "mujahid," the term used for anti-American fighters.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief spokesman for American forces in Iraq, did not dismiss the possibility that there was a wedding nearby, saying, however, "the probability of this being the case is certainly greater than zero, but a low, low probability."

"Could there have been a celebration of some type going on?" he wrote in an e-mail in response to a reporter's questions. "Certainly. Bad guys have celebrations. Could this have been a meeting among the foreign fighters and smugglers? That is a possibility. Could it have involved entertainment? Sure.

"However, a wedding party in a remote section of the desert along one of the rat lines, held in the early morning hours strains credulity," he said.

At a time of increased sensitivity to the violence here both among Iraqis and Americans, Gen. Richard B. Myers, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Friday that he was "confident that this was a legitimate target, possibly foreign fighters."

He told the members that the military was investigating the incident, and acknowledged that there were at least six women and two children there. The children were injured, he said.

But, he said, troops found weapons at the site and other, unspecified items that were "not consistent" with a wedding. Other officials have said that the military confiscated four-wheel-drive vehicles, satellite communications equipment, Syrian currency and foreign passports.

"They were consistent with folks trying to come into the country, across the desert, in vehicles staying for the night, trying to make it into Iraq," General Myers said.

Inside the village of some two dozen small concrete houses, Lufti Abdul Jabbar, 47, described the wedding as the second one on consecutive nights, with guests arriving by four-wheel-drive vehicles and some carrying satellite phones. In the afternoon, one guest said, the bride was fetched and brought to the party. At night, the bride and groom went to a special tent to spend the night, one guest said.

"They are smugglers," said one villager interviewed in the hospital in Qaim. "So you can imagine how rich they are, and how much money they have."

During the wedding, said Hamdan Khalas, 18, a driver, no one shot off their weapons in celebration, which is common in Iraq. In Afghanistan, United States forces have been accused of mistaking such celebratory fire for attacks, and returning fire.

At 2:15 a.m., several witnesses said, the compound came under air attack, followed by volleys from ground troops who arrived in helicopters and armored personnel carriers.

"I ran away from the bombing and I hid on a farm," Mr. Khalas said. "The aircraft started shooting missiles to the hill. All of a sudden, the helicopters showed up in the sky."

Witnesses said that guests scattered and several were shot as they ran. Mr. Jabbar said that American troops went through the wreckage at dawn and killed several of the wounded.

In the end, he said, 43 people died, including 17 men, 14 children under 12 and 12 women. Eight other people were wounded, he said.

General Kimmitt said in a later interview that ground troops reported that they did not see any women or children dead. But he said it was possible that as many as six women and children may have been "caught up" in the air assaults. That appears to be consistent with Mr. Khalas's testimony that most of the dead women and children were hiding by the hill that was hit by missiles.

In the wreckage on Friday, women dressed in black mourned the dead, near two houses that had been smashed by missiles. Mr. Jabbar led a reporter around the site, showing bits of human remains, the crushed buildings, destroyed pickup trucks and speakers he said had been used in the wedding.

At a gas station, an attendant asked Mr. Jabbar about the reporter with him. Mr. Jabbar answered that the reporter worked with a foreign newspaper.

"It's the first time I have seen a mujahid in the same car as the foreign media," the attendant said.

Khalid W. Hassan contributed reporting from Makr al-Deeb for this article.

The Wedding Iraqis: Wedding video captures revelers
U.S.:    Target was safehouse

USA Today
Posted 5/23/2004 8:32 PM
Iraqis say that this video image shows guests at a wedding party which was later attacked by U.S. planes.

RAMADI, Iraq (AP) — A videotape obtained by Associated Press Television News captures a wedding party that survivors say U.S. planes later attacked, killing up to 45 people.

On Monday, the U.S. military showed photographs to support its own case that the target was a safehouse for foreign fighters

The U.S. military says its investigation of the attack, which took place early Wednesday about five miles from the Syrian border, will try to reconcile the two different sets of images.

The APTN videotape, obtained Sunday, shows a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert, escorting a 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 close-up. (Related video: Footage from wedding allegedly attacked by U.S.)

The dead included the cameraman, Yasser Shawkat Abdullah, hired to record the festivities, which ended Tuesday night before the planes struck.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt showed photographs of rifles, machine guns, foreign passports, bedding, syringes possibly for illegal drugs as well as other items that he said suggested the site was used by foreigners infiltrating from Syria. He U.S. troops took the photos.

"These are pictures that are somewhat inconsistent in my mind with a wedding party," Kimmitt said. "One could say, yes, it is true that out in the desert you need to have a rifle to protect yourself against Ali Baba but the necessity for rocket-propelled launchers, rocket launchers in the bottom, special machine guns may be a little much for Ali Baba out there."

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

"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," Kimmitt said Saturday.

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.

An Associated Press 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 — which runs for several hours.

APTN also traveled Thursday to the village of Mogr el-Deeb, 250 miles west of Ramadi, 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 survivors agree that the wedding festivities had broken up for the night when the attack began, but they insist that there were no foreign fighters or other combatants in their group.

The video shows the bride arriving in a white pickup truck and quickly being 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 singing and dancing seems 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 later 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 according to survivors, they danced to the music of Hussein al-Ali, a popular Baghdad wedding singer hired for the festivities. 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 clearly visible and wearing the same tan shirt as he wore when he performed.

As the musicians played, young men milled about, most dressed in traditional white robes. Young men swayed in tribal dances to the monotonous tones of traditional Arabic 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 again denied finding evidence that any children died in the raid.

"We had a ground force element that went through the objective. It did not identify any children killed," he said Monday.

However, an AP reporter obtained names of at least 10 children who relatives said had died. Bodies of five of them were filmed by APTN when the survivors took them to Ramadi for burial Wednesday. Iraqi officials said at least 13 children were killed. Mourners say the bride and groom were killed.

Four days after the attack, the memories of the survivors remain painful — as are their injuries.

Haleema Shihab, 32, one of the three wives of Rikad Nayef, said that as the first bombs fell, she grabbed her 7-month-old son, Yousef, and clutching the hands of her 5-year-old son, Hamza, started running. Her 15-year-old son, Ali, sprinted alongside her. They managed to run for several yards when she fell — her leg fractured.

"Hamza was yelling, 'mommy,'" Shihab, recalled. "Ali said he was hurt and that he was bleeding. That's the last time I heard him." Then another shell fell and injured Shihab's left arm.

"Hamza fell from my hand and was gone. Only Yousef stayed in my arms. Ali had been hit and was killed. I couldn't go back," she said from her hospital bed in Ramadi. Her arm was in a cast.

She and her stepdaughter, Iqbal — who had caught up with her — hid in a bomb crater. "We were bleeding from 3 a.m. until sunrise," Shihab said.

Soon American soldiers came. One of them kicked her to see if she was alive, she said.

"I pretended I was dead so he wouldn't kill me," said Shihab. She said the soldier was laughing. When Yousef cried, the soldier said: '"No, stop," said Shihab.

Fourteen-year-old Moza, 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.

"I fear she's dead," Moza said of her mother. "I'm worried about her."

Moza was sleeping on one side of the porch next to her sisters Siham, Subha and Zohra while her mother slept on the other end. There were many others on the porch, her cousins, stepmothers and other female relatives.

When the first shell fell, Moza and her sisters, Subha, Fatima and Siham ran off together. Moza was holding Subha's hand.

"I don't know where Fatima and my mom were. Siham got hit. She died. I saw Zohra's head gone. I lost consciousness," said Moza, covering her mouth with the end of her headscarf.

Her sister Iqbal, lay in pain on the bed next to her. Her other sister, Subha, was on the upper floor of the hospital, in the same room with 2-year-old Khoolood. Her small body was bandaged and a tube inserted in her side drained her liver.

Her ankle was bandaged. A red ribbon was tied to her curly hair. Only she and her older brother, Faisal, survived from their immediate family. Her parents and four sisters and brothers were all killed.

In all, 27 members of Rikad Nayef's extended family died — most of them children and women, the family said.

USA Today
Video of Wedding Attack Shows Survivors Sifting Through Debris
Associated Press
May 22, 2004
5/21/2004 4:25 PM

BAGHDAD (AP) — Fragments of musical instruments, tufts of women's hair, and a large blood stain are among the scenes in Associated Press Television News film of a destroyed house that survivors say U.S. planes bombed during a wedding party. It is the first known footage of the aftermath of Wednesday's attack, which killed up to 45 people, mostly women and children from the Bou Fahad tribe in Mogr el-Deeb, a desert village on the Syrian border. (Related video: Survivors dig through the rubble)

The U.S. military has said the target was a suspected safehouse for foreign fighters from Syria and denied Friday that children were killed in the airstrikes.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad that U.S. troops who reported back from the operation "told us they did not shoot women and children."

"There were a number of woman, a handful of women, I think the number was four to six, caught up in the engagement. They may have died from some of the fire that came from the aircraft," Kimmitt said.

But an Associated Press reporter in the Ramadi area, at least 275 miles east of Mogr el-Deeb, was able to identify at least 10 of the bodies as those of children.

At the Bou Fahad cemetery outside Ramadi, where the tribe is based, each of the 28 fresh graves contain one to three corpses, mostly of mothers and their young children.

Relatives said they include those of 2-year-old Kholood and 1-year-old Anoud, daughters of Amal Rikad, who was killed; of 2-year-old Raad and 1-year-old Ra'ed — whose headless body was found near his house — sons of Fatima Madhi, who was killed; of Saad, 10, Faisal, 7, Anoud, 6, Fasila, 5, Kholood, 4, and Inad, 3 — children of Mohammed and Morifa Rikad, who were killed.

There also are photo images of dead children, but it was not possible to determine if those victims were already accounted for by relatives.

Bou Fahad tribesmen denied there were foreign fighters among their community. They consider the desolate border area part of their territory and follow their goats, sheep and cattle there to graze. In the springtime they leave spacious homes in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, and roam the desert.

Smuggling livestock into Syria is also part of a herdsman's life, although no one in the tribe acknowledged that.

Weddings are often marked in Iraq with celebratory gunfire, but survivors insisted no weapons were fired Wednesday — despite speculation by Iraqi officials that this drew a mistaken American attack.

The first bomb hit the huge goat-hair tent — where male guests were said to be sleeping — at about 2:45 a.m. Wednesday. The barrage didn't stop until sunrise, witnesses said. Women and children were in an adjacent one-story house and the men went to their nearby homes, they said.

After the first missile, Hamdan Khalaf ran in panic and hid in a grassy area.

"In the morning, we went back to the hill and saw people torn apart, attacked by the plane," Khalaf, who was not wounded, told APTN Thursday.

"We pulled them out of here," another man told APTN, standing on a pile of stones as he picked up a stained green cloth that looked like part of a young man's shirt. A severed arm lay in the rubble. "We took them to hospital — straight to the fridge," the unidentified man said.

An angry voice in the background of the tape denounced President Bush. "This is his terrorism," the voice said.

The body of what survivors said was the wedding's cameraman was pulled out of the debris Thursday.

The footage also showed women in colorful clothes sifting through the wreckage and carrying away blankets and other goods. Pieces of rockets and bullet casings were strewn across the sandy plain, as were pots and pans and a satellite dish. Partly charred pickup trucks and a water tanker stood in the desert.

The attack left few survivors. About a dozen wounded were taken to the town of Qaem, about 140 miles northwest of Ramadi and 130 miles north of Mogr el-Deeb.

Witnesses, interviewed Thursday by AP in Ramadi, said revelers at the wedding party began worrying when they heard aircraft overhead at about 9 p.m. Tuesday. Then came military vehicles, which stopped about two miles away from the village and switched off their headlights. The planes were still overhead at 11 p.m, so the hosts told the band to stop playing and everyone went to bed.

About four hours later, airstrikes began and continued until dawn when two helicopters landed and about 40 soldiers searched the house where the women had stayed and a second, vacant house. Soon after, the two houses were blown up. Some witnesses said the houses were attacked by helicopters; others said Americans detonated them with explosives.

Kimmitt confirmed that the operation was an air and ground assault. "Those people on the ground identified no children as part of that location that were killed," he said, adding that they reported only adult deaths.

He also referred to the APTN video and separate APTN footage from Wednesday in Ramadi that showed a headless body of a child and other bodies of children.

"What we saw in those APTN videos were substantially inconsistent with the reports we received from the unit that conducted the operation," Kimmit said. "We're now trying to figure out why there's an inconsistency.

"We're keeping an open mind as to exactly what happened on the ground. That's why we're continuing to try to gather all the facts; that's why we're not ruling out anything based on information coming forward," he added.