SICHIR, 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
"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
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
"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
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