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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Iraqis bury victims of US strike
Iraqi mourners carry the coffin of Hussein Ali through Baghdad, 20 May 2004
A wedding singer was said to be among the victims
Iraqis have been burying more of the victims of a US air strike which they said hit a wedding party.

Mourners said an Iraqi wedding singer and his musician brother were among more than 40 people killed.

Television footage has shown bodies, including those of children, wrapped in blankets and loaded onto trucks.

The US military has insisted it targeted a safe house used by foreign fighters near the Syrian border, and said US soldiers had come under attack.

TV footage showed mourners digging graves in the dusty earth in Ramadi, the provincial capital where many of the dead were taken.

They [Americans] hit two homes where the wedding was being held and then they levelled the whole village
Iraqi witness
The wedding singer, Hussein Ali, and his brother Mohamed were taken to Baghdad for burial, mourners said.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US military in Iraq, said the US would look into the Iraqi allegations, but that he was convinced the military had struck a legitimate target.

"We are satisfied that the intelligence was validated by what we found on the ground," he told reporters in Baghdad.

"This is one of the routes we have watched for a long time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers go."

He said US troops at the site of the attack found many guns, including AK47s and sniper rifles, Iraqi currency worth about $1,000, foreign passports and satellite communications equipment.

He said earlier: "We sent a ground force in to that location. They were shot at. We returned fire."

In other developments:

  • New pictures emerge showing two US guards at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison posing with the body of a detainee who died in custody.

  • In Baghdad, a US soldier is killed and three wounded in a grenade attack.

  • A US soldier is killed in a roadside bomb near Samara, north of Baghdad.

  • US and Iraqi forces raid the Baghdad residence of a former key Washington ally, Ahmed Chalabi.

  • In southern Iraq, gunmen ambush Spanish troops who were in the process of withdrawing from the country. One attacker was killed, a second Iraqi was seriously hurt and a Spanish soldier was slightly wounded, Spain's defence ministry says.

  • Clashes continue in the Iraqi city of Karbala between US troops and supporters of the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr. Hospital staff say at least nine people were killed and 16 wounded overnight.

The air strike happened in the early hours of Wednesday at the village of Makr al-Deeb, near the border town of Qaim.

"At about 3am we were sleeping and the planes starting firing," one Iraqi, Bassem, told The Associated Press.

"They fired more than 40 missiles. As soon as they started attacking, firing the first missile, I went away. I was running...

"There are no fighters. These are lies. There's no resistance. Even the bride and the groom died."

Another man told Arab TV channel al-Arabiya: "The US planes dropped more than 100 bombs on us."

"They hit two homes where the wedding was being held and then they levelled the whole village."

A member of Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council said he thought the US had hit a wedding party by mistake.

"Their story does not look very convincing," Mahmoud Othman told Reuters news agency.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also expressed concern.

"The excessive use of force violates international human rights," ICRC spokeswoman Nada Dumani told AFP.

US forces have been accused before of killing innocent people in both Iraq and Afghanistan after mistaking celebratory gunfire for hostile fire.

In 2002, nearly 50 people at a wedding in Afghanistan were killed in a US air strike.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"This is a public relations disaster for the Americans"




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