Iraqi Cub Reporter Was Among Victims Of Contentious Raid

By Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 15, 2006

BAGHDAD, April 14 -- An unarmed Iraqi journalist was among those killed during a controversial military raid late last month in northern Baghdad, according to interviews with his editors, a reporter who was with him when he died and other witnesses.

Kamal Manahi Anbar, 28, was enrolled in a training program of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which runs courses for local news media in several countries. An editor who worked with Anbar at the institute wrote about the killing on its Web site this month.

On March 26, Anbar went to the al-Moustafa Husseiniya, a political and religious complex in the capital's Shaab neighborhood, to conduct interviews for a story about Shiite Muslims displaced from their homes by violence, said Aos Tammimi, a friend and reporter for U.S.-sponsored Radio Sawa who accompanied him.

Armored Humvees arrived, and a firefight broke out. Anbar hid for a while in an adjacent house, according to Sadoun Husseini, 56, who owns the house and watched the scene unfold. When Anbar later tried to flee, he was shot through the right cheekbone. Tammimi found his body.

"All that he was carrying was a notebook, which I still have, with his name and writing on it," said Tammimi, a friend of Anbar's for more than 10 years.

At least 16 people were reported killed in the raid by U.S. and Iraqi special forces. The U.S. military announced that 16 insurgents were killed. One hostage was rescued, and 18 detainees taken. Anbar is the first unarmed civilian to be identified among the victims. "This is the first I have heard that a journalist was there," said Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, a U.S. military spokeswoman in Baghdad.

The raid strained already fraying relations between the U.S. military and Iraq's Shiite-led government. In its aftermath, widely divergent accounts were put forward by the military and witnesses, whose accounts Iraqi officials cited in public denunciations of the operation. The complex included an office of the Dawa party, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari -- who called the assault a criminal act -- as well as a small prayer room. Iraq's Defense Ministry said it did not authorize the raid.

Video footage broadcast hours later on the al-Iraqiya television network, which is closely tied to Jafari, showed bodies strewn among prayer books and no weapons in sight. The building was a mosque, several witnesses said, and people were killed while praying. Witnesses interviewed at the complex later said many unarmed worshipers had been shot while praying, which the U.S. military and the Iraqi commander at the scene have denied.

Neighborhood residents said al-Moustafa Husseiniya was a gathering place for supporters of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, which the United States has blamed for a slew of killings in Baghdad in recent weeks. Sadr has backed Jafari's contested bid to retain the prime minister's post, while U.S. officials have suggested Jafari should step aside to help break a months-long deadlock.

In a statement released the night of the raid, the U.S. military said that the site was a known refuge for kidnappers and killers and that during a firefight there, "Iraqi Special Operations Forces killed 16 insurgents." U.S. commanders, including two of the top generals in Baghdad, later said the al-Iraqiya video had been staged, with bodies moved from where people had died, weapons removed from the scene and prayer books added.

U.S. and Iraqi officials are conducting an investigation into the operation. As part of that effort, a group of investigators visited al-Moustafa Husseiniya on Wednesday for the first time, Martin-Hing said.

According to an account of the raid prepared by the military for investigators, U.S. and Iraqi troops had tracked the leader of a criminal cell operating out of the building since December. The account noted that armed guards positioned on the roof would crouch out of sight when military vehicles passed.

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