WASHINGTON—Defense officials displayed photographs Tuesday of rocket-propelled grenade launchers and bomb-making materials that they said were captured during a bloody raid Sunday that's become a bitter point of contention between the United States and leading Iraqi officials.
The briefing by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was intended to counter angry Shiite claims that U.S.-backed Iraqi commandos massacred at least 16 innocent worshippers at a Baghdad mosque.
"Those are not religious instruments," Rumsfeld said as the images were shown on a video screen.
U.S. officials say the raid was a successful operation by Iraqi special forces that eliminated a terrorist cell that engineered kidnappings and assassinations out of a former school complex in northeastern Baghdad.
But Iraqi Shiite leaders denounced the raid as an attempt by U.S. forces to distance themselves from Iraq's majority Muslim sect and to bolster minority Sunni Arabs in the stalled process to hammer out a new government.
Shiites make up 60 percent of Iraq's population, and the loss of their support would likely doom any U.S. hopes of working out a political compromise. Hostility between Shiites and the United States would place U.S. forces in Iraq in a difficult, if not untenable, position.
Rumsfeld and Pace said that the troops opened fire only after they were fired upon by fighters from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.
With overhead satellite imagery posted on a video screen, Pace pointed out several buildings where he said the Iraqi security forces came under fire as they approached the compound.
Pace said one building had a "small minaret and a prayer room" inside of which were found several rocket-propelled grenade launchers and bomb-making materials. Iraqi forces also freed a hostage who said he'd been kidnapped, Pace said.
"When the hostage was released, he pointed to two of the individuals who the Iraqi security forces had detained as being his kidnappers," Pace said.
U.S. military officials in Baghdad said Monday that the Iraqi forces had killed 16 hostile fighters and detained 18 people.
At least two of those people had traces of explosives residue on their fingers, Rumsfeld said.
In Monday's statement, U.S. officials said the Iraqi forces found 32 AK-47 rifles, five grenades, four rocket-propelled grenades, two grenade launchers and two heavy machine guns, plus various items commonly used to make improvised bombs.
The raid threatened to further stall negotiations over the formation of a new Iraqi government, but Rumsfeld said that top U.S. officials in Baghdad had informed him Tuesday that those discussions were going forward.
Rumsfeld, who recently has focused many of his public comments on how the U.S. government was failing in the information war against terrorists, said that the incident had been distorted in the press.
"The people we're up against are vicious, and they lie," he said. "Obviously, they have media committees, they plan what they're going to do, they plan how they're going to manipulate the press, and they get out there fast and do it. And there's no penalty for that. Indeed, there's only rewards, because the information is around the world, while, as they say, truth is still putting its boots on."
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.