Eleven members of an Iraqi family, including five children, were killed in a U.S. raid on Wednesday, police and witnesses said. The U.S. military said two women and a child died during the bid to seize an Al-Qaeda militant from a house. A senior Iraqi police officer said autopsies on the bodies showed each had been shot in the head.
Associated Press photographs showed the bodies of two men, five children and four other covered figures arriving at Tikrit General Hospital accompanied by grief-stricken relatives.
The U.S. military said in a statement its troops had attacked a house in Ishaqi, the town 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, to capture a â€œforeign fighter facilitator for the Al-Qaeda in Iraq network.â€
â€œThere was one enemy killed. Two women and one child were also killed in the firefight. The building â€¦ [was] destroyed,â€ the military said, adding the Al-Qaeda suspect had been captured and was being questioned.
Major Ali Ahmad of the Iraqi police said U.S. forces had landed on the roof of the house in the early hours and shot the 11 occupants, including the five children. â€œAfter they left the house they blew it up,â€ he said.
The problem with the thrust of the story – that US troops massacred innocent Iraqis – was that it was debunked in a matter of days:
Quite a few internal contradictions had popped up â€“ the old ladyâ€™s age was 75 in one story, 90 in another. The child four months old, or, then again, six months old. One version had the victims tied up, another handcuffed â€“ with neither cuffs nor rope apparent in any of the photos presented as evidence.
The climax came when the still-mystified Coalition staff were hit with an accusation that they had skipped a meeting with local officials to discuss the incident.
â€œThere was no meeting scheduled with any Coalition investigators today,â€ said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson. â€œThere appears to be a distinct pattern of misinformation surrounding this entire incident.â€
And while the Haditha incident seems to be different in that the preliminary investigation has uncovered evidence that Marines did indeed undertake to massacre innocent civilians in a systematic and brutal way, the fact is we don’t know at this point what exactly those Marines were facing nor do we know how much of the story is true, if any of it is exaggerated, if the witnesses can be trusted, or a dozen other “ifs” that could mitigate the circumstances or even clear the Marines entirely, as our Rangers were completely cleared in the Ishaqi “massacre.”
I have written in the past about the attempts of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgent’s attempts to spread disinformation about American forces and their operations. This effort is not only sophisticated by any standards, but also meets with some success due to the way that major media in Iraq is forced to cover the war.
I will not criticize the correspondents who are forced by the nature of the conflict and their nationality to remain in the Green Zone, having to rely on local “stringers” and other Iraqis for stories. But the danger in spreading al Qaeda propaganda in their almost total reliance on this system is so obvious that one can legitimately question their methods of confirmation. Here’s the Washington Post story this morning that was written by, among others “A Washington Post staff member in Iraq.”
Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. “I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: ‘I am a friend. I am good,’ ” Fahmi said. “But they killed him, and his wife and daughters.”
Who is Aws Fhami? He is identified only as “a Haditha resident.” In an area that has proven to be a hotbed of insurgent activity, wouldn’t it have been prudent to tell us a little more about Mr. Fhami?
This is not to say that Mr. Fhami is lying. It is pointing out the obvious. Given the nature of the charges against the Marines, one would think that the absolute most stringent sourcing requirements would be in play.
Indeed, 8 paragraphs later in the story, we get the Post disclaimer:
The descriptions of events provided to The Post by witnesses in Haditha could not be independently verified, although their accounts of the number of casualties and their identities were corroborated by death certificates.
In other words, all the Washington Post knows for sure is that 15 civilians died and what their names were. And we’re going to go into national convulsions over this incident without a little more proof?
Clearly, the military is taking this incident very seriously. But I am left with an appreciation of the dilemma faced by military investigators; how do you get to the bottom of something like this when the witnesses for the prosecution may, in fact, be spreading disinformation of the enemy either wittingly or unwittingly?
The reports suggest there is video from the morgue. Here is a picture of the morgue in Tikrit where victims of the Ishaqi “massacre” were taken:
As if to highlight the possible discrepancies in this incident, the terrorists are using the video shot at the morgue in Haditha as a recruiting tool:
The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq said it sent copies of the journalism student’s videotape to mosques in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, using the killings of the women and children to recruit fighters.
Reading through the description of what happened from Mr. Fhami, one gets the impression that he was indeed an eyewitness – or someone well coached. It is not a denial of the incident to raise questions like this, not when the stakes are so high. If, as the story points out, the Marines found only one gun among the casualties, one wonders why highly trained, disciplined troops would enter a house with guns blazing and throwing hand grenades. There are missing elements to this story that the media is leaving out at this point; the situation as it appeared to the Marines who are under investigation.
I am struck by the way this story has been embraced so uncritically, especially by those who question everything else about the war including the rationale for it. Time will tell if indeed, we have another “My Lai” or whether it turns into another “Ishqari.”
Michelle Malkin rightly questions the timing of all the leaks associated with this case and rounds up reaction.