Saying “bad people have parties too,” a U.S. general told a news conference on Saturday there was strong evidence of illegal activity at a house in the remote desert where U.S. forces killed about 40 Iraqis this week.
The U.S. military says the house was a staging post for foreign fighters entering Iraq, but Iraqi witnesses and relatives of the dead say the attack targeted a wedding party and that several women and children were among those killed.
“The more we look at the post-strike intelligence, the more that we continue to dig in to what we found at that location, the more we are persuaded that there was not a wedding going on,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.
“There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations too. Bad people have parties too.”
Kimmitt said six women were killed in the attack on the house, which was in western Iraq close to the Syrian border, but that no children had been killed.
Television footage after the attack showed weeping relatives burying bodies, including that of a child.
Kimmitt said there were “several inconsistencies” between what soldiers found at the site and the television footage of relatives of the victims, which were still being investigated.
But the evidence suggested the gathering at the house was a meeting by people conducting “criminal or terrorist activities,” he said. “That’s the conclusion we are continuing to draw.”
Among the items found at the house were weapons, binoculars modified for aiming artillery, significant amounts of medical equipment, fake identity cards and the machines for making them, “terrorist training manuals” and suspected cocaine, he said.
The house also seemed to have been used as a dormitory, with more than 300 sets of bedding gear and about 100 sets of prepackaged clothing, Kimmitt said. He said this suggested it was a staging post for foreign fighters coming into Iraq.
He added none of the dead had identity documents.
“We feel that that was an indicator that this was a high-risk meeting of high-level anti-coalition forces,” Kimmitt said.
He said there was no sign of food or wedding gifts, although relatives of a well-known Iraqi singer said he had traveled from Baghdad to perform at a wedding at the house and had been killed in the attack.
On Friday, the top U.N. human rights official, Bertand Ramcharan, said even if some of those at the house were involved in criminal activity, that was no excuse for killing so many people.
“The acting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed shock over the deaths of some 40 civilians at a wedding party in Iraq near the Syrian border,” his office said in a statement.
“Even if there are security-related concerns, there can be no license to commit carnage.”