- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

KUFA, Iraq — U.S. and Iraqi forces raided a Kufa mosque yesterday where they said insurgents stored weapons, and the military said at least 32 fighters loyal to a radical Shi’ite cleric were killed during the first American incursion into the holy city.

Also yesterday, AP Television News obtained a video of a wedding party that survivors say was attacked by U.S. planes last week, killing up to 45 people. The dead included the cameraman, Yasser Shawkat Abdullah, who was hired to record the festivities.

On the video, a bride is seen arriving in a white pickup truck and being ushered into a house by a group of women. Outside, men recline on brightly colored silk pillows, relaxing on the carpeted floor of a large goat-hair tent as boys dance to tribal songs.

Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S. troops clashed with militiamen loyal to Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr in a Shi’ite district of Baghdad and in Najaf, the twin city of Kufa. Nine U.S. soldiers were wounded around Baghdad, the military said, including four injured in a mortar attack in the east of the capital.

A U.S. Marine was killed in a car bombing near Fallujah, a center of the separate Sunni Muslim insurgency. In another holy city, Karbala, militia fighters appeared to have abandoned their positions after weeks of combat.

Even before the spasm of bloodshed that began early last month, Iraqis were suffering a heavy toll from crime, tribal revenge killings, terrorist bombings and fighting between coalition troops and insurgents.

An Associated Press survey of deaths in the first 12 months of the occupation found that more than 5,000 Iraqis died violently in just Baghdad and three provinces. The toll from both criminal and political violence ran dramatically higher than violent deaths before the war, according to statistics from morgues.

The U.S. military says it is investigating the Wednesday morning attack in the village of Mogr el-Deeb, about five miles from the Syrian border, but that all evidence indicates the target was a safehouse for foreign fighters.

“There was no evidence of a wedding: no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Saturday. “There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too.”

But the video, reportedly shot a day after the attack, shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations, scattered around the bombed-out tent.

The wedding videotape shows a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert escorting the bridal car — decorated with colorful ribbons. The bride wears a Western-style white bridal dress and veil. The camera captures her stepping out of the car but does not show a close-up.

An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of the same people on the wedding party video — which runs for several hours.

In Kufa yesterday, American tanks and troops moved into the heart of the al-Sadr stronghold for the first time since the fiercely anti-U.S. cleric began an uprising against the coalition early last month. Sheik al-Sadr, sought for the April 2003 killing of a moderate rival cleric, has taken refuge in Najaf and routinely delivers a Friday sermon in Kufa.

U.S. soldiers fought militiamen near Kufa’s Sahla mosque and then raided it for weapons after an Iraqi counterterrorism force “cleared” the site, the military said. Soldiers seized a machine gun, two mortar tubes and more than 200 mortar rounds, along with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and rounds, according to a statement.

American troops smashed the gate to the mosque complex with an armored vehicle and killed people inside, mosque employee Radhi Muhammad said. An AP photographer saw bloodstains on the ground indicating that someone was dragged at least 10 yards. There was also blood in mosque bathrooms.

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