BAGHDAD (Reuters) – It was an incident that aptly summed up the fog of war in Iraq — relatives burying nine women and a child they said were victims of a bomb attack on a bus in which the U.S. military said no one died.
In Iraq, acts of violence are almost always accompanied by multiple accounts from witnesses, police, health officials and U.S. forces. But even by Iraqi standards Tuesday’s attack on a bus full of mourners was a puzzle.
The U.S. military said in a statement on Wednesday the bus was hit by an explosively formed penetrator, a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb normally used against U.S. armored vehicles. A nearby U.S. convoy was also caught in the blast.
“Operational reports confirm one U.S. soldier and one civilian were wounded in the convoy,” the military said in a statement that came after a day of conflicting casualty reports.
A spokesman for British military forces in the nearby southern city of Basra, Major Tom Holloway, said he was still trying to work out the number of casualties after police initially reported 16 people being killed.
The attack took place near Nassiriya about 375 km (235 miles) southwest of Baghdad. The bus was carrying 50 women and children and three men who had been attending a mourning ceremony for a relative in the holy city of Najaf, its driver said.
“We approached an American convoy of fuel tankers and Humvees coming from the opposite direction,” bus driver Zachi Abdul Qaeder told Reuters. “Suddenly I heard a bang and a fireball with smoke filling the bus,” he said.
Television pictures of the bus showed it pocked by shrapnel marks and its windows blown out but otherwise unscathed. Qaeder said the blast had left no crater but had punched a hole through the bus, a characteristic of an explosively formed projectile.
Mohammed Saleh, head of surgery at Nassiriya general hospital said 10 people were killed.
In Najaf, relatives gathered at a cemetery on Wednesday and accused U.S soldiers in the convoy of having shot at the bus, a charge U.S. military spokesman Major-General Kevin Bergner denied at a news conference in Baghdad.
There were nine caskets but 10 bodies – nine women and one little girl, a Reuters reporter said. Ghaida Mustafa Jassim, 4, was wrapped in a white piece of cloth and put in the same casket as her grandmother Amreca Sadoun, 65.
Hamed Shamal al-Hilfi said he had lost six female relatives in the bus attack.
“They were only peaceful women who went to Najaf for a mourning ceremony. What crime had they committed to get killed in this terrible way?”