BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military introduced more photographs Monday to bolster its contention that American aircraft attacked a safehouse for foreign fighters near the Syrian border — not a wedding party, as claimed by Iraqi survivors and police and suggested by footage from the scene.
The military presented its case at a news conference while elsewhere in the capital, the widow of a popular Baghdad wedding singer who was among up to 45 people killed in Wednesday's attack said, "he was an example of beauty."
"He had a warm voice," Khawla Ibrahim said of her 37-year-old late husband, Hussein al-Ali. "They always played his songs on the radio."
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search), the coalition deputy chief of staff for operations in Iraq, introduced several new photographs Monday — those of a house and white powder he said was being tested for drugs.
Kimmitt again showed pictures of items the military said it found at the attack site, including machine guns, rounds of ammunition, a Sudan Airways plane ticket, medical gear, a Sudanese passport and battery packs associated with improvised explosive devises.
"These are pictures that are somewhat inconsistent in my mind with a wedding party," Kimmitt said. "One could say, yes, it is true that out in the desert you need to have a rifle to protect yourself against Ali Baba but the necessity for rocket-propelled launchers, rocket launchers in the bottom, special machine guns may be a little much for Ali Baba out there."
"What we found on the ground and our post-strike analysis suggests that what we had was a significant foreign fighter smuggler way-station in the middle of the desert that was bringing people into this country for the sole purpose of attacking to kill the people of Iraq," he said.
U.S. officials have not given a complete breakdown of the number and types of weapons seized at the site of the attack in the desolate village of Mogr el-Deeb (search), about five miles from the Syrian border.
Photos displayed by the U.S. command have shown about a dozen weapons, including rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and handguns. U.S. officials suggest they recovered more than has been shown to reporters.
Ownership of guns is considered a mark of manhood here, and rural Iraqis routinely own an array of weaponry. Weapons proliferated here after arsenals were looted following the collapse of the former regime and the loosening of controls along the borders.
A videotape obtained on Sunday by Associated Press Television News shows a Mogr el-Deeb wedding party attended by Iraqis, some of whom were identified by an Associated Press reporter and photographer as survivors at a hospital. The tape does not show any weapons.
Separate video that APTN shot in Mogr el-Deeb a day after the attack shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations, scattered around a bombed-out tent.
Kimmitt said the U.S. operation lasted from midnight until about 4 a.m. and that ground forces moved in after the bombing. Survivors say U.S. planes attacked a few hours after the Tuesday evening wedding party was over.
Kimmitt again denied finding evidence that any children died in the raid.
"We have witnesses that say no children were killed there. That's why we need to take all that evidence, take all the information, put it before the investigators and let's see where it takes us," he said.
Survivors said most of the dead were women and children, some of whose bodies were filmed by APTN at their burial in the city of Ramadi.
Also killed were musician Muhanad al-Ali, who had promised to buy jewelry for his wife from the money he expected to earn for performing at a wedding party, and his brother Hussein, the singer.
"I wish he had been wounded instead, his legs severed and they had brought him back to me in a wheelchair," sobbed Muhanad's wife, Rabab Radif, whose husband appears in the videotape of the celebrations obtained by APTN.
The tape of the celebrations, captured by a hired cameraman, shows al-Ali, a stocky man with close-cropped hair, as he plays an electric organ. His older half brother, Hussein, sings to an audience of men reclining on brightly colored silk pillows.
APTN video that was shot in Ramadi on Wednesday shows the body of the younger al-Ali in a burial shroud, his face clearly visible and wearing the same tan shirt that he wore during the performance.
At a family residence in a poor Baghdad neighborhood, female relatives in black continued to receive condolences Monday.
Before leaving Baghdad at 9 a.m. on May 16 for the long journey to the desert village, Hussein asked his wife if she would go along with him, she said. "It was the first time he had asked me to join him on such a trip," said his wife, who said she declined to go because she was shy.
The three-day party — as is the tradition here — began on Monday and was to end Wednesday night.
The singer's wife said only one member of the 10-man band, Basem Shihab, survived the attack.
She said that her husband began singing 12 years ago, and that the couple married 14 years ago and had two daughters, Atiaf, 12 and Saba, 10.
"He's very famous," she said. Then she began singing one of his songs. One of his sisters sang along with her, helping her with the words.
Hussein was going to make about $2,800 for performing at the wedding in Mogr el-Deeb — he was to keep half of it and give the rest to the other members of the band, his wife said.
Muhanad and his wife were to celebrate their first wedding anniversary at the end of this month. He had promised his mother that he would fix her kitchen floor with the money he was going to earn from performing in the wedding.
"Is it possible not to be able to distinguish between a wedding and a base for fighters?" asked Hoda, one of the musicians' four sisters.