U.S.: Iraqi 'safe house' attacked
Witnesses say wedding guests were killed
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. attack on an Iraqi desert village that witnesses said killed dozens of wedding guests was "no accident," but a targeted strike on a safe house for fighters attempting to enter the country from Syria, a U.S. general said Thursday.
But an Iraqi official said the account of the witnesses appears to be correct, saying the U.S. may have mistaken celebratory gunfire from the wedding for an attack.
Iraqi witnesses shown in a video from The Associated Press said at least 20 people were killed and another five were critically wounded early Wednesday when planes fired on a wedding celebration in a western Iraqi village near the Syrian border.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a coalition military spokesman in Baghdad, said the target was a safe house for smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria.
"We had specific intelligence that showed foreign fighters infiltrated into Iraq," Kimmitt said. "You and I both know these people have been responsible for many of the problems in Fallujah, many of the bombs that we see inside this country. So, as a coalition, we have a responsibility to attack foreign fighters."
A senior coalition official said Wednesday that as many as 40 people were killed in the attack.
Kimmitt said Thursday that ground troops returned fire when they were fired upon, and found evidence to support their suspicions after the firefight.
"We picked up many weapons," Kimmitt said. "We picked up over 2 million Iraqi dinar. We picked up satellite communication devices. We picked up foreign passports. So, we believe that the target location was that of a foreign fighter sanctuary, and we took the appropriate obligatory actions as the coalition in the Iraqi security forces to ensure the people of Iraq stay safe."
A Pentagon spokesman told CNN, "Our report is that this was not a wedding party."
But Iraqi Governing Council Mahmoud Othman said "the story of the local people looks to be correct."
"When there is a wedding, people shoot in the sky," Othman said. "Probably the Americans thought this was some shooting at their helicopter and they shot back and made that mistake."
"When you look at the photo, you see children killed," Othman said. "They don't look like terrorists, some of them are children."
The AP 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 graves in the video.
Witnesses and U.S. military sources identified the village as near Qa'im, which maps show is on the Iraqi side of the Syrian border, along the Euphrates River.