BAGHDAD, Iraq — Pentagon officials Wednesday denied alleged eyewitness reports of a U.S. attack on a wedding party in a remote area of western Iraq that killed innocent civilians.
“Our report is that this was not a wedding party, that these were anti-coalition forces that fired first, and that U.S. troops returned fire, destroying several vehicles, and killing a number of them,” a Pentagon spokesman said.
He was responding to a video distributed by The Associated Press showing Iraqi witnesses who said that at least 20 people were killed and five others critically wounded early Wednesday when planes fired on a wedding celebration.
A man on the video said all homes in the village near the Syrian border were destroyed in the attack at about 3 a.m. local time Wednesday.
The video showed at least a dozen bodies, including small children, wrapped in blankets for burial as they were unloaded from a truck.
Men with picks and shovels were digging a series of graves in the video.
A senior military coalition official said as many as 40 people were killed in the attack, but said it was his belief that the attack was against a foreign fighters’ safe house.
A coalition official said in a written statement that coalition forces conducted a military operation “against a suspected foreign fighter’s safe house in the open desert, 85 km southwest of Husaybah, and 25 km from the Syrian border.
“During the operation, coalition forces came under hostile fire and close air support was provided.
“Coalition forces on the ground recovered numerous weapons, 2 million Iraqi and Syrian dinar, foreign passports and a satcom radio,” the statement said.
Asked if the incident was the same one described on videotape, he said, “Yes, it is the same incident.”
He added, “We had actionable intelligence to go after a foreign fighters’ safe house. It is not our belief that there was a wedding party in the open desert.”
The taped witnesses identified the village as al Qa’im, which maps show is on the Iraqi side of the Syrian border, along the Euphrates River.