‘Spray and slay’: are American troops out of control in Iraq?

by Brendan Lalor

The U.S. military continues to deny it attacked a wedding party in western Iraq. As the Associated Press reports today:

“We still don’t believe there was a wedding going on, or a wedding party going on, when we hit in the early morning hours. Could there have been some sort of celebration going on earlier? Certainly,” the [senior coalition] official said.

Several hours of video footage obtained Sunday by Associated Press Television News showed a wedding party that survivors said was later attacked by U.S. planes. The dead included the cameraman, Yasser Shawkat Abdullah, hired to record the festivities, which ended Tuesday night before the planes struck.

Among those killed were 27 members of the same family, survivors said.

APTN footage taken on Wednesday in the city of Ramadi shows the burials of women and children who allegedly died in the wedding attack.

As The Independent and numerous other news sources have pointed out, although the U.S. military continues to insist it was attacking foreign fighters crossing from Syria into Iraq, there were musical instruments destroyed in the “raid,” and Iraqi wedding singer, Hussein Ali, was killed along with band members.

A recent story in The Independent (23 May 2004) follows up on the wedding attack story, covering issues including

  • The U.S. military’s ignorance of Iraqi culture
    “How many people go to the middle of the desert 10 miles from the Syrian border to hold a wedding?” demanded Maj-Gen Mattis.

    The answer is plenty, if you come from a clan of livestock herders and that is where you have lived all your life. The clan straddles the Syrian border; even distant relatives would be expected to turn up from there, as well as the far corners of Iraq.

    Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the US military spokesman in Iraq, said US forces found guns, Syrian passports and a satellite phone at the scene of the fighting. None of that was surprising, either: even in the cities, every house has a weapon. In a village 75 miles from the nearest town they are even more necessary, both to protect against bandits and to shield flocks from wild animals. With no telephone lines and no mobile coverage, it is not unusual for such places to have a satellite phone as well.

  • Are journalists targets of “coalition” forces?
    Few images exist of such incidents, not least because journalists seeking to record them have ended up dead themselves. Thanks to the persistence of one or two news organisations that have lost employees in Iraq, these deaths are among the few to have been independently investigated. After an award-winning cameraman, Mazen Dana, became the second Reuters employee to be killed, the agency hired a security company and carried out an exhaustive inquiry which found few differences of fact with the military investigation, but which differed radically on the conclusions.

    The soldier who shot Mr Dana claimed he had made “sudden movements” which made him think the cameraman was about to fire a rocket-propelled grenade, that he was blinded by the sun at the time, and that he could not distinguish at a distance of 75 metres between an RPG and a television camera.

    Despite pages of evidence proving the sun was not in the position claimed, and photographs demonstrating the visible difference at 75 metres between a camera and a large weapon, the US military is sticking to its finding that the journalist’s death was “justified based on the information available … at the time.”

    If an organisation with the international clout of Reuters cannot get the Pentagon to admit an error might have been made, the survivors of last week’s slaughtered wedding party have even less chance that their version of events will prevail….

  • Differences in attitudes of U.S. and U.K. troops
    Eleanor Goldsworthy, UK forces specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, said the approach taken by British forces in Iraq was: “If we behave, we earn their goodwill.” The American attitude, by contrast, was: “If they behave, they earn our goodwill.”
  • The deadly results of Rumsfeld’s hubris and ignorance
    The insistence of the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on a “war lite” policy, said Professor Bellamy, meant that “American forces have to make up in firepower what they lack in manpower.” Because US soldiers specialised early in their careers, and received less overall training than their British counterparts, the majority were not effective combat troops, and had to be protected by those with the appropriate training.

Read the whole article at The Independent’s site.

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