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U.S.-Iraqi Force Raids Home, Offices of Iraqi Council Member

BY Admin  May 20, 2004 at 1:00 PM EST

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials on Thursday refuted Iraqi claims that a U.S. attack near the Syrian border killed at least 40 members of a wedding party.

Chalabi, a pro-Western former banker and member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, has fallen out of favor with Washington as of late over critical comments he has made about policy in Iraq.

He has said Washington must give Iraqis control of their oil revenue and security forces or the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government would be meaningless, according to Reuters.

Chalabi also said the interim government should control spending and choose who will command and serve in the armed forces if Washington wanted to regain its credibility in Iraq, the news service reported.

During the search of Chalabi’s home in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers surrounded the compound and armed Americans in civilian clothing and flak jackets were seen on the compound, according to the Associated Press.

Haidar Musawi, a Chalabi aide, said a U.S.-Iraqi force arrived about 10:30 a.m. while Chalabi was inside. Officers told the aides they were looking for wanted officials of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress Party.

Musawi also said U.S. forces searched Chalabi’s party offices, where Iraqi police were seen loading boxes and computers into vehicles.

Reporters who toured the office compound after the American and Iraqi officers left found that computers had been ripped out of walls, furniture overturned, doors broken down and framed photographs of Chalabi smashed, according to The New York Times.

“I am America’s best friend in Iraq,” Chalabi told a news conference, the AP reported. “If the (coalition) finds it necessary to direct an armed attack against my home, you can see the state of relations between the (coalition) and the Iraqi people.”

U.S. officials declined comment on the raid.

American authorities have said privately that Chalabi is interfering with a U.S. investigation into allegations that Saddam Hussein’s regime took millions of dollars in oil revenues during the U.N. oil-for-food program, according to the AP.

Also Thursday, U.S. military officials said an early morning attack Wednesday near the Syrian border targeted a suspected safehouse for foreign fighters, refuting Iraqi claims American forces attacked a wedding party.

The remote desert area, about 15 miles from the Syrian border, is under constant U.S. surveillance and is believed by the U.S. military to be an entry point for militants.

Iraqi police and witnesses said the bombing by American aircraft killed at least 40 innocent people, many of them women and children.

People who said they were guests said the wedding party was in full swing when U.S. jet fighters flew overhead and U.S. vehicles started shining their high beams. The hosts ended the party, and about five hours later the first shell hit the wedding tent, the witnesses said.

Lt. Col. Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, the provincial capital about 250 miles to the east, said the bombing occurred around 2:45 a.m. and between 42 and 45 people, including 15 children and ten women, were killed.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the attack was launched after U.S. forces received “specific intelligence” about foreign fighters entering the country.

“We sent a ground force in to the location,” he told Associated Press Television News. “They were shot at. We returned fire.”

U.S. soldiers recovered satellite communications gear, foreign passports and a large amount of Iraqi cash at the site, he said.

Iraqis interviewed by APTN said revelers fired volleys of gunfire into the air in a traditional wedding celebration before the attack. American troops have sometimes mistaken celebratory gunfire for hostile fire.