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Official Clarifies Details on Controversial Weekend Raid

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2006 – A controversial weekend raid in Baghdad was expertly executed several blocks from the nearest mosque, a U.S. general said yesterday.

Reports in Arabic media charge U.S. soldiers killed innocent civilians in a mosque during the raid.

At his weekly news conference in Baghdad, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said those reports are false on several fronts. U.S. forces advised on the operation but did not take an active part, and the nearest mosque was six blocks away, he said.

"The U.S. advisers were there purely in an advisory role; they did none of the fighting," Lynch said of the mission to take down a kidnapping cell operating in a complex of buildings. "There wasn't a shot fired from a U.S. servicemember during the conduct of this operation."

The general explained that careful Iraqi and U.S. planning pinpointed the nearest mosque before the operation began. "We're very sensitive in all our operations to specific areas, specific landmarks, specific religious facilities," Lynch said. "And we intentionally do not target areas where there is, indeed, religious sensitivity."

Enemy fighters do just the opposite, however, he added. Terrorist fighters in Iraq have launched attacks from mosques, and officials have reported numerous instances of weapons caches discovered in mosques.

In the March 26 operation, terrorist fighters attacked Iraqi forces from within a prayer room in the compound, Lynch said. The room contained a prayer rug and other religious symbols, but there were also weapons stored in it, he said.

The attacks launched in the vicinity and the weapons stored in the room made the building a legitimate target despite its religious significance. Still, Lynch added, had planners known of the religious site in advance of the operation, they might have planned it differently out of respect for religious sensitivities.

Iraqi forces killed 16 men and captured 18 others during the operation, in which the Iraqi troops rescued a kidnapping victim.

Lynch reported details about the victim and his treatment at the hands of his kidnappers. The Iraqi man had been kidnapped earlier that day as he was heading to visit his brother, who was hospitalized for gunshot wounds. The kidnappers beat the man and told him they needed $20,000 for his release, Lynch said.

"They showed him the bare electrical wires that they were going to use to torture him and then kill him," Lynch said. "And they said, 'We're going to go away and do some drugs, and when we come back we're going to kill you.' He was beaten; ... he was tortured with an electric drill."

The general said the man related that he asked the kidnappers to allow him to kiss a photo of his young daughter before they killed him.

Iraqi forces rescued the man 12 hours after he was taken. "He's most grateful to be alive, and he's most grateful to the Iraqi special operations forces," Lynch said.

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