Iraq Seeks U.S. Apology For Last Fall's Raid

Last fall, U.S. troops raided the Iraqi village of Jaisani, south of Baghdad; 26 people were killed. The U.S. called them "criminals." Now, the Iraqi government says those killed are "martyrs" and has asked the U.S. military command to apologize.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Last October, we reported the story of an American raid in the Iraqi village of Jaisani. U.S. soldiers were searching for suspected insurgents. When the raid was over, 26 people in the village had been killed, including two women. The Americans called them criminals. The villagers said a deadly mistake had been made. Now, the Iraqi government is calling those who were killed martyrs, and they're requesting compensation and apologies from the U.S.

NPR's Tom Bowman has this update.

TOM BOWMAN: This much is clear: In the pre-dawn hours of October 4th, American Special Forces soldiers swept in by helicopter and crept toward Jaisani, a remote farming village north of Baghdad.

Intelligence reports said the village was home to special group members, a term the American military uses to describe Shiite insurgents with ties to Iran. Inside Jaisani, there were checkpoints manned by armed villagers. They'd been attacked before by al-Qaida in Iraq.

Thamer Mahdi Al Bayati is a 35-year-old engineer. He was among those who opened fire on the gun-toting men coming out of the darkness on October 4th.

Mr. THAMER MAHDI AL BAYATI (Engineer): (Through translator) The whole area hurried up to help their sons at the checkpoint and to face the expected attack by al-Qaida.

BOWMAN: But it wasn't al-Qaida, and the villagers say they realized they were facing Americans when aircraft began to bomb Jaisani.

Ms. NASSER (Iraq Citizen): (Through translator) We like the Americans.

BOWMAN: Nasser(ph) is a 21-year-old woman who was there that day. Her fiance works for the U.S. military in Iraq. She only allowed her first name to be used.

Ms. NASSER: (Through translator) When we heard the bombing, we never imagined they were attacking us. It was the first time we came under attack by the Americans.

BOWMAN: After the raid was over, the villagers took their dead to the holy city of Najaf for burial. Then they wrote a letter of protest to the Americans at a nearby base, asking for an apology, for compensation. There was no response.

A U.S. military spokesman, Major Winfield Danielson, said at the time there was no reason to apologize for the actions of the American soldiers.

Major WINFIELD DANIELSON (U.S. Army): They responded in self-defense. Enemy continued firing. They saw what they believed to be some kind of anti-aircraft up and coming out of the building.

BOWMAN: Danielson described all those killed as criminals. He said there was no indication civilians were involved, so there was no need for an investigation. But some villagers say the Americans were fed bogus information by local Sunnis with ties to al-Qaida in Iraq. The Iraqi Defense Ministry launched an investigation.

Mr. AYAD KADHUM HASSAN (College Lecturer): (Through translator) The investigative panel came and stayed in camps.

BOWMAN: Ayad Kadhum Hassan is a 30-year-old college lecturer. He was on a rooftop 100 yards away from the American attack.

Mr. AYAD KADHUM HASSAN (College Lecturer): (Through translator) The mayor's office called all the victims and their families to talk with the investigators about what had happened to them.

BOWMAN: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed with the defense ministry's findings, compensation for the villagers - $2,000 for the families of those killed, smaller amounts for those wounded and those who suffered property damage. Maliki also agreed the Americans should apologize and the Americans should further compensate the villagers if it can be determined they violated the rules of engagement.

Prime Minister NOURI al-MALIKI (Iraq): (Through translator) Until this very moment, we haven't received any official response from the American side, but we will follow up on this issue professionally and in a patriotic spirit.

BOWMAN: Hassan al-Janavi(ph) is a member of parliament and serves on the security and defense committee.

Mr. HASSAN al-JANAVI (Parliament Member): (Through translator) There were many similar incidents over which the American forces were involved, and they did apologize.

BOWMAN: The American military in Baghdad wouldn't agree to a taped interview for this story. Instead, Navy Commander Scott Rye released a statement saying they have not received any request yet from the Iraqi government relating to the Jaisani raid. When one comes, it will be addressed.

Rye's statement defended the raid that October morning. It was not a case of a handful of villagers defending their homes, he says. Instead, he called it an organized attack whose leaders displayed a knowledge of military tactics. But in a brief telephone conversation, Rye says it's possible that some of the 26 killed were civilians.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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