No Wedding Party, Children's Deaths Indicated, Military Spokesman Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 22, 2004 There are no indications a wedding party took place at a remote desert site in western Iraq near the Syrian border where U.S. forces are accused of killing about 20 people May 19, including women and children, a senior military spokesman said today.
"Contrary to media reports, there was no wedding tent and no nuptial tent in the area," Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq said during a Baghdad news conference.
"To the allegation that there was a wedding going on, there was no evidence of a wedding," Kimmitt reiterated. "There were no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration and no gifts.
"The men were almost all military-aged, no family elders that one would expect to see at an event of this type," he said.
To help substantiate his comments, the general showed reporters slides of items found at the site, which included a significant number of weapons, battery packs used to power improvised explosive devices and a host of other non-wedding-related items.
"What was interesting is that the building seemed to be somewhat of a dormitory," Kimmitt pointed out. "There were more than 300 sets of bedding gear in it and about 100 sets of prepackaged clothing. It's suspected that when foreign fighters come in from other countries they change their clothes into typical Iraqi clothing sets.
"We also found a significant number of identity cards, ID-making machines, the capability to make exit visas for Iraq and a couple of passports," the general noted. "And we found a waist-high medical table for examination and treatment."
Highlighting some other intelligence found at the site, Kimmitt said, "There were a couple of other items we found to be quite interesting. None of the bodies had any identification of any kind no ID cards, no wallets, no pictures. They had watches, and that was about the only way you could identify one person from another.
"We feel that that was an indicator that this was a high-risk meeting of high-level anti-coalition forces," he said. Kimmitt pointed out items found in the victims' pockets, "including a lot of telephone numbers to foreign countries -- Afghanistan, Sudan and a number of others."
He said the site was purported to be a ranch, but there was no indication of ranching activities. "Most homes in remote desert areas support sheep ranching operations," Kimmitt noted. "But there wasn't any evidence of livestock at that location. There were large farm trucks present, but no indication that they'd ever been used for ranching."
"There were also a number of terrorist training manuals (and) suspected forged Iraqi IDs," he said.
Kimmitt said there may have been some kind of celebration going on at the said, but not a wedding. "Bad people have celebrations too," he noted. "Bad people have parties too. It may have been that what was seen as some sort of celebration may have just been a meeting in the middle of the desert by some people that were conducting either criminal or terrorist activities. That's the conclusion we're continuing to draw the more we look at the material, intelligence, post-strike, and follow-up intelligence."
Kimmitt said the coalition believes "a handful of women" could have been present. "We believe six were killed, and we acknowledge that in all of our reports," he said. "But there are still not reports of any children being killed."
Kimmitt said a videotape distributed to the media showing at least a dozen bodies, including small children, wrapped in blankets for burial, being unloaded from a truck doesn't look like the video taken at the site of the attack.
"None of the geography in those videos match the geography of this open area," he noted. "But there are still some inconsistencies. We still remain opened-minded about this. We'll continue to look into everything that's provided to us in the way of evidence."
The general said the area was attacked based on significant multiple sources of intelligence that came in the night of May 18 and morning of May 19. "That caused us to launch a quick-reaction force to that area," he said.
Air and ground element were dispatched to the area. "We got into the area and our soldiers took fire and they responded," Kimmitt explained. "As soon as they finished sweeping the objective, they went back to their bases."