Ichir, Iraq, Sept. 23 – Tahseen Ali Khalaf was asleep beside his brother Hussein when the shooting started early this morning outside their ramshackle house in this farming community 40 miles west of Baghdad, he said.
Then a pair of United States fighter jets swooped in, dropping nearly a dozen bombs or missiles – it was not immediately clear which – in a highly unusual strike. Now Tahseen, 12, and Hussein, 10, are lying beside each other again, in the main hospital in nearby Falluja, a center of resistance to the American occupation. The hospital lately has tended to a number of apparently accidental victims of American attacks.
The air attack in Sichir killed three men and wounded another, in addition to Tahseen and Hussein, family members said today. They described an attack that seemingly came out of nowhere just before 2 a.m. An American ground patrol fired on their house, five rooms of dilapidated brick and concrete inside a cinder-block wall, for about 15 minutes, they said.
The patrol retreated for a few minutes, and then jets roared overhead and the ordnance fell, blasting a hole in a room used to store grain and throwing shrapnel and panic everywhere.
Ali Khalaf Muhammad, the father of Tahseen and Hussein, was hit by shrapnel and retreated to a corner of his room. There he tried without luck to staunch the bleeding that killed him, family members said. Salem Khalil Ismael and Sadi Fakhri Faiyadh, who were among the 15 family members sleeping at the house, also died, the family said.
Family members insisted they had offered no resistance to the American patrol. No bullet cartridges or weapons were visible this afternoon at their house, only bomb craters and holes punched in concrete by large-caliber weapons.
“We don’t have any bullets in the house – it’s a safe and quiet area,” said Abd Rashid Muhammad, who was injured in the attack, from his hospital bed in Falluja. “Is it logical to attack children, people sleeping in their beds during the night?”
The American military confirmed the incident, including the air attack, but said soldiers had fired only after they had been fired upon.
“Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne were attacked by the enemy,” said a spokesman, Specialist Anthony Reinoso. “The attackers fled into a building. Coalition forces pursued them and formed a defensive perimeter. Air support was called in to assist.”
Specialist Reinoso said that only one “enemy” had been killed and was unaware of any people injured. No American troops were killed or wounded. He said he had no further information and did not know why the patrol had called in an air assault.
Since Saddam Hussein fell in April, the United States has rarely used warplanes in its battles with guerrillas, although fighters can sometimes be heard over Baghdad.
From a preliminary examination of the scene, it was obvious that a major attack had occurred. Bomb or missile craters dotted the yard of the house, and family members pointed to two places where the ordnance had landed but failed to detonate. Bullet holes punctured steel doors and shattered windows, as well as a picture of Mr. Muhammad that hung in the corner of the room where he died.
For the second time in two weeks, a unit of the 82nd Airborne appeared to have attacked an unresisting group of Iraqis. On Sept. 11, a patrol shot at a convoy of three Iraqi police vehicles on a road a few miles from here, killing at least eight officers and
one Jordanian hospital worker.
“We are only peasants here,” said Zaidan Khalaf Muhammad, the brother of Ali Muhammad. The American troops “came like terrorists.”
Falluja, a city three miles south of Sichir, lies at the heart of the heavily pro-Saddam Sunni Triangle, where Americans have been under nearly constant guerrilla attack. But Zaidan Muhammad and other members of his family said that they were simple farmers who had never wished American troops harm. That may change now, they said.
“They are invaders, mercenaries,” said Ghanem Muhammad, a cousin of Ali. “From now on, the war will start.”
In keeping with Islamic tradition, which specifies that the dead be buried as quickly as possible, funerals for all three men were held today, the family said. Under a tent not far from the house, the men of the Muhammad family sat quietly in the midday heat, receiving visitors. Inside the house, women chanted and beat themselves in ritual mourning.
At the hospital in Falluja, Tahseen, Hussein and Abd Rashid Muhammad lay beside each other on three low beds in a room filled with flies. A cut ran across Tahseen’s forehead, while two bandages covered the wounds on the face of Hussein, who appeared to be the most seriously wounded of the three.
When the bombs fell, “I thought it was Ali Babas,” Tahseen said, using Iraqi slang for thieves. “I didn’t realize it was Americans.”
Courtesy Josh Kirby