US gives conflicting accounts of rocket attack that killed 13 dead

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The Independent Online

The US sought yesterday to defend the two helicopter pilots who fired seven rockets into a crowd on Sunday killing 13 people and wounding 41, saying they had come under "well-aimed ground fire". This is different from the first statement by the US military claiming that they had opened fire with rockets in order to prevent a Bradley fighting vehicle hit by a bomb from being looted of arms and ammunition.

The US sought yesterday to defend the two helicopter pilots who fired seven rockets into a crowd on Sunday killing 13 people and wounding 41, saying they had come under "well-aimed ground fire". This is different from the first statement by the US military claiming that they had opened fire with rockets in order to prevent a Bradley fighting vehicle hit by a bomb from being looted of arms and ammunition.

Col Jim McConville, the head of the First Cavalry Division's aviation brigade, said two helicopters armed with heavy machine guns had swooped over a crowd when they were shot at from near the Bradley. Both helicopters then attacked.

The US account of the incident in which Mazen al-Tomeizi, a Palestinian television producer working for al-Arabiya satellite channel was killed, was contradicted by the film taken by his cameraman at the moment the rocket struck. There is no sound of firing from the crowd in the moments before the helicopters attacked.

The US military's accounts of incidents in which it claims to have targeted insurgents but only civilians have died are frequently discredited by Arab television pictures of the incident which US officers apparently do not watch before issuing statements. At the weekend the US was claiming to have precisely hit insurgents in Fallujah while Iraqis were watching pictures on television of an ambulance gutted from the air in which a driver, paramedic and five patients died.

The war in Iraq continues to escalate with a sharp increase in the overall death rate. Three headless bodies were discovered yesterday on a road north of Baghdad and appeared from tattoos to be Iraqis whose hands were tied behind their backs.

While insurgents have often beheaded foreign hostages in their fight against the government and coalition forces, it is not a tactic usually used against Iraqis, who are more often abducted for money.

In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, there was an upsurge of fighting in which 10 people were killed including two women.

Meanwhile, the US has dashed Iraqi hopes that money would at last be spent on Iraq's crumbling infrastructure and no longer squandered on arms and security services as under Saddam Hussein.

The US State Department has announced it is switching $3.4bn of US funds from water and power projects. Most of the money will be reallocated to boosting security and oil output.

"My budget for projects to supply fresh water and irrigate land has been cut by half from $800m to $400m," complained Latif Rashid, the Minister of Water Resources yesterday. "People are going to be very disappointed."

Iraqi power stations are decrepit, often using elderly equipment for which spare parts are no longer produced, and Iraqis had expected that 18 months after the US invasion they would get continuous electricity supplies. Instead many districts in Baghdad get only 14 hours a day.

Polluted water is one of the chief killers of young children but in a city like Basra only 18 per cent of the water supply is clean.

Marc Grossman, the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said earlier in the week that $1.8bn of the diverted money would go to recruit 35,000 new Iraqi police officers, 16,000 border guards and 20 additional Iraqi national guard brigades.

It is not clear how much real security the additional security men will provide. Even aspirant police officers injured by a massive car bomb in Haifa Street earlier this week expressed approval of resistance attacks on US forces. In April, the US military command were horrified to find the soldiers and police they had trained went home or switched sides during the Sunni and Shia uprisings.

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