Multiple wounds mark bodies of Iraqis killed in disputed U.S. raid

This story was originally transmitted on March 21, 2006.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi police investigating the deaths of 11 people in the town of Ishaqi after a U.S. military raid last week reported that each of the bodies bore multiple wounds, according to a preliminary report reviewed by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

The report contradicted an Iraqi police commander's claim on Sunday that each of the dead had been shot once in the head.

But it wasn't possible to say from the portion of the report Knight Ridder was allowed to see whether other pages backed Iraqi police's suspicions that U.S. troops executed the 11 or bolstered the U.S. position that they died during a firefight as the Americans attempted to capture an al-Qaida operative.

U.S. officials said Tuesday that they would investigate the deaths. Military spokesman Maj. Tim Keefe said that while the idea of U.S. troops turning into executioners is "highly unlikely," the military is taking the accusations "very seriously."

"The Multi-National Forces in Iraq have launched an investigation into the matter," he said, using the formal name for U.S. and allied troops here. "We are looking into what happened."

Keefe again declined to identify the unit involved in the raid. U.S. forces sometimes use covert units to pursue important al-Qaida targets.

Questions about the incident focus on diverging U.S. military and Iraqi police accounts of the raid, which happened around 2:30 a.m. on March 15 on a house about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Both sides and neighbors agree that U.S. troops were involved in a firefight with a suspected member of al-Qaida in Iraq.

But the U.S. account gave the death toll as four and said the house collapsed from the heavy fire it took during the fighting. The al-Qaida suspect was found alive in the rubble and arrested, the U.S report on the incident said.

Iraqi police, however, contend that U.S. troops gathered 11 people in the house into a single room and executed them, before destroying the house as they left the area.

The Iraqi police identified the dead as ranging in age from 6 months to 75. Iraqi police said that the five children, four women and two men were found together in the wreckage of the house.

Iraqi police compiled the preliminary report based on their observations at the scene. More detailed reports from doctors who performed autopsies on the bodies weren't available Tuesday.

A Knight Ridder special correspondent was allowed to review only the portion of the preliminary report that dealt with the suspected causes of death. The correspondent wasn't allowed to make copies of the report, but portions were read to another member of Knight Ridder's staff in Baghdad.

According to the preliminary report, none of the bodies bore only a single gunshot wound, contradicting one Iraqi police officer's account that each of the dead had been shot once in the head.

One body had two gunshot wounds to the head. Five others showed signs of entrance and exit wounds to the head caused by "flying projectiles," which the report noted could be "consistent with either bullets or shrapnel." Four others showed signs of entrance and exit wounds to the chest or abdomen, also attributed to flying projectiles.

The 11th person had "crushing of the head and neck," the cause of which was undetermined.

The portion of the report that Knight Ridder reviewed made no mention of whether the bodies had been handcuffed, as an Iraqi police officer had claimed.