A startling new report in The Independent (UK) by respected journalist Patrick Cockburn suggests that a U.S. airstrike may have unnecessarily killed more than 100 members of an ostensibly peaceful Iraqi religious cult.

Cockburn, a veteran foreign correspondent reporting from Iraq, wrote that the official story of the deadly Jan. 28 clash outside the city of Najaf, between a shadowy Iraqi cult and Iraqi security forces supported by the U.S., may be a “fabrication.” The journalist said that, reports by the Iraqi government and in the U.S. media to the contrary, the cult members had been engaged in a peaceful pilgrimage when a violent incident involving Iraqi security forces outside the city gates snowballed into the cult’s annihilation by U.S. aircraft.

Cockburn based his assertion on independent Iraqi newspapers and websites. He acknowledged that competing accounts could not be substantiated.

This complex tale is best told by Cockburn (click here).

The very complexity of the account drives home a central point: What the U.S. national media originally reported as a model example of Iraqi security forces partnering with U.S. forces to combat insurgents was in fact a still poorly understood set of events that bodes poorly for the U.S. mission in Iraq: As in Vietnam, where U.S. forces often could not distinguish friend from foe, U.S. forces find themselves unleashing horrific weapons of war against a populace whose language and cultural markers they are largely ignorant of.

Indeed, if the story continues to develop along the lines that Cockburn’s story suggests, this battle — the deadliest single-day clash since the U.S. invasion — may become a touchstone of America’s deadly incompetence in the region, no less important, in its own way, than the U.S. massacre in My Lai during the Vietnam War.

We at Truthdig tip our hat to Cockburn for being the first Western reporter to tie together the strings of this story.

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