Iraqi Report Says U.S. Troops Killed Civilians in Raid

Two differing accounts have raised questions about an attack on a house in Balad, Iraq, last Wednesday. An Iraqi police report says U.S. forces executed 11 family members. The U.S. military says that is highly unlikely. Matthew Schofield, of Knight Ridder's European Bureau, talks with Melissa Block about the report.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There are two wildly differing accounts of what happened when U.S. forces attacked a house near the Iraqi city of Balad last Wednesday. The U.S. military had gotten a tip that an al-Qaida member was in that house. A report issued by Iraqi police says U.S. forces gathered 11 family members into a room and executed all of them, including four women and five children, one of them a six-month-old baby.

A U.S. military spokesman says it is highly unlikely that these accusations are true. Matthew Schofield obtained the Iraqi police document about the attack. He reports from Baghdad for Knight Ridder Newspapers, and join us now.

And Matthew, first there's no question that an al-Qaida member was in the house, is that right?

Mr. MATTHEW SCHOFIELD (European bureau chief, Knight Ridder Newspapers): There is no question. Everyone agrees on that, the neighbors agree, the police agree, and the military agree.

BLOCK: There also seems to be agreement that there was a firefight and that helicopter gun ships fired on this house. What's the Iraqi police version of what happened next?

Mr. SCHOFIELD: The Iraqi police version of what happened next is, the U.S. fire had neutralized the fire from the house. U.S. troops entered the house, gathered the eleven people from this family who were in the house into one room and executed them.

BLOCK: Now the U.S. military is saying something quite different. What's the U.S. version?

Mr. SCHOFIELD: The U.S. version is that one man, two women, and one child were killed as collateral damage during the firefight. The U.S. believes they arrested the al-Qaida man they came searching for that night after the firefight. They, however, the U.S. does acknowledge that their look through the home afterwards was only a preliminary assessment, or an initial assessment. They acknowledge that their body count would not be as definitive as the police.

BLOCK: Were autopsies done on the people found in this house?

Mr. SCHOFIELD: Yeah. Now, we've talked to police about these autopsies. We haven't been able to get in touch with the people that actually conducted the autopsies. According to police, the autopsies were conducted on the people in the house, and the people did die of bullet wounds.

BLOCK: And, the question I guess, then would be, were the bullet wounds the result of a wild firefight, where U.S. forces didn't know who was inside, or this other version, which would be far more damaging?

Mr. SCHOFIELD: That is the question. And police do not have a definitive answer. They are pursuing a line of investigation, however, that does have the Americans gathering these people into one room and executing them. They do believe -- that is their path of investigation right now.

BLOCK: I gather there are often reports like this, of Iraqis saying that U.S. forces have committed atrocities. The difference here is that this report is actually coming from the Iraqi police themselves.

Mr. SCHOFIELD: That is the difference. And, the report is not only coming from Iraqi police, which is unusual, it's coming from a joint coordination center. These are centers that are set up to facilitate U.S./Iraqi coordination of police matters, security matters.

It gives it credibility that it wouldn't have otherwise.

BLOCK: What have you been able to gather about what reaction has been from this town, near Balad?

Mr. SCHOFIELD: The town is outraged. The man who own this home that was targeted is a schoolteacher. He's well known, he's farmed in the community. The people talked about seeing the members of his family in the backyard of the house playing with the children. They did have a guest, and neighbors admit that this guest was a relative of his, of the homeowners, and he was an al-Qaida operative.

However, right now, people throughout the town are in mourning. If you looked at the bodies lined up in the house, there are dozens of people from around the community just staring at them, they had ashen faces, and you can see that there's enormous impact.

BLOCK: Matthew Schofield reports from Baghdad for Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Matthew, thanks very much.

Mr. SCHOFIELD: Thank you very much.

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