IRAQ: OFFICIAL LIES OVER NAJAF BATTLE EXPOSED
NAJAF, Jan 31 (IPS) - Iraqi government lies over the killing of hundreds of Shias in an attack on Sunday stand exposed by independent investigations carried out by IPS in Iraq.
Conflicting reports had arisen earlier on how and why a huge battle broke out around the small village Zarqa, located just a few kilometres northeast of the Shia holy city Najaf, which is 90 km south of Baghdad.
One thing certain is that when the smoke cleared, more than 200 people lay dead after more than half a day of fighting Sunday Jan. 28. A U.S. helicopter was shot down, killing two soldiers. Twenty-five members of the Iraqi security force were also killed.
"We were going to conduct the usual ceremonies that we conduct every year when we were attacked by Iraqi soldiers," Jabbar al-Hatami, a leader of the al-Hatami Shia Arab tribe told IPS.
"We thought it was one of the usual mistakes of the Iraqi army killing civilians, so we advanced to explain to the soldiers that they killed five of us for no reason. But we were surprised by more gunfire from the soldiers." . . .
The fighting took place on the Diwaniya-Najaf road and spread into nearby date-palm plantations after pilgrims sought refuge there.
"American helicopters participated in the slaughter," Jassim Abbas, a farmer from the area told IPS. "They were soon there to kill those pilgrims without hesitation, but they were never there for helping Iraqis in anything they need. We just watched them getting killed group by group while trapped in those plantations."
Much of the killing was done by U.S. and British warplanes, eyewitnesses said.
(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering the Middle East for several years.) (END/2007)