Irbil, Iraq — Inaccurate intelligence, possibly delivered deliberately to settle a family feud, led to the massacre of 20 members of an Iraqi family last month. The victims, mostly women and children, were cut down in a hail of gunfire by Iraqi security forces on December 30 in the town of Jabla, in Babylon Province, about 60 miles south of capital Baghdad.
Iraq's security services said after the raid that a suspect opened fire as they attempted to execute an arrest warrant, wounding two members of the forces and prompting an exchange of fire. In statements subsequently deleted from social media, members of the security forces initially suggested that a suspected terrorist, the subject of the warrant, had opened fire on his whole family before being killed himself.
But locals and relatives of the slain family gave Iraqi media a very different version of events, triggering broad criticism of the raid, and an official investigation.
According to neighbors, the Iraqi security forces used grossly excessive force during the raid on Rahim Kazem Al-Ghurairi's family home. The incident started when a few civilians knocked on his door on December 30, around 3 p.m., claiming to have an arrest warrant for him as a suspected terrorist and asking him to surrender.
Al-Ghurairi refused and fired warning shots to try to get the people to leave his home, the witnesses said. The security forces later claimed that his warning shots had left two of their own wounded, and that they opened fire on Al-Ghurairi's house in response.
According to neighbors, security forces in dozens of Humvees showed up and opened fire on the house, making no effort to protect innocent civilians inside or to negotiate a surrender. Neighbors said their appeals to mediate were ignored. The assault lasted four hours and ended with the deaths of Al-Ghurairi, his wife, children and grandchildren.
Al-Ghurairi's sister told journalists that the accusations against her brother were false – that he was neither a terrorist nor any other type of criminal, just a man who loved his family. She blamed the security forces' heavy-handed response for killing everyone in the house and accused Al-Ghurairi's brother-in-law, who works for the Iraqi intelligence services, of fabricating the accusations because of a family dispute.
Iraqi government sources tell CBS News that the brother-in-law was present during the raid and has since gone into hiding.
Many neighbors told local media that they were aware of the dispute between Al-Ghurair and his in-laws.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi reacted on Monday, blaming "inaccurate intelligence" for the massacre and tasking the National Security Agency to lead an investigation into the raid. In a statement posted on his official Facebook page, al-Kadhimi said the investigation would determine what shortcomings "allowed the transfer of inaccurate intelligence information for personal purposes."
On Tuesday, al-Kadhimi visited the scene of the raid and met members of Al-Ghurari's extended family. His office quoted him on Twitter as calling the incident a "heart breaking massacre," and vowing criminals would not be permitted to hide "under the cover of the state institutions" to commit "terrible crime."
Lawyer and activist Ridha Alazawi told CBS News that the incident shocked not only the residents of Babylon Province, but all Iraqis, fueling fears that the nation's security services could be so easily manipulated to settle a personal score.
Alazawi said that at least 31 members of Iraq's intelligence and security forces were currently detained and under investigation for various alleged crimes, unrelated to the Babylon case.
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