Insurgent Route Was Struck, Not Wedding Party, U.S. Maintains
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 20, 2004 Insurgents using a smuggling route for foreign fighters and weaponry entering Iraq were the targets of a May 19 strike near the Iraq-Syrian border, a senior military spokesman said at a Baghdad news conference today.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq, was asked about reports that the strike killed dozens of Iraqis at a wedding party.
Foreign fighters and weapons smugglers seeking to enter Iraq, Kimmitt said, frequent the area that was attacked. Available military intelligence, he pointed out, "was sufficient for us to believe to conduct that operation."
"We believe that we operated within the rules of engagement," noted Kimmitt, who was accompanied at the briefing by Dan Senor, chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority.
The attack, Kimmitt said, targeted about 35 men and some women gathered near four-wheel-drive vehicles far from any town. Afterward, he said, U.S. ground forces found weapons, Iraqi and Syrian money, and a satellite radio.
U.S. authorities, the general said, "are satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground -- and it was not that there was a wedding party going on."
Kimmitt told reporters that U.S. officials would conduct an investigation of the incident. "We may find out new information that we don't have currently," he said.
Still, the general said, he remains convinced that the operation was valid. The U.S. attack, he pointed out, occurred "in the middle of the barren desert" in the early morning "which is kind of an odd time to be having a wedding."
Senor fielded reporters' queries about reports that police today had raided the Baghdad residence of Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi. Senor directed reporters to check with the Iraqi police for more information.
Senor said Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, head of the CPA, had been notified today about the Chalabi incident.