The only corpses at Samarra's hospital were those of civilians, including two elderly Iranian visitors and a child.
A top military commander acknowledged on Monday that the toll was based entirely on estimates gleaned from troop debriefings and that US soldiers had not recovered a single body from the scene of Sunday’s clashes.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt estimated the number of dead in Samarra at 54, along with 22 wounded, saying they were all resistance fighters. He also said one person was detained.
He admitted that the one resistance fighter now confirmed in custody was a sharp reduction on the 11 claimed captured by the commanding colonel in Samarra earlier.
“Some of those earlier reports might have been a bit off,” Kimmitt said.
"Are you asking me to produce (them)?" asked Colonel Fredrick Rudesheim, who heads the 3rd Combat Brigades that was involved in the clashes, when questioned by reporters about the absence of any fighters' bodies at Samarra's single hospital or on the city's streets.
Sergeant Nicholas Mullen, who fired rounds from an Abrams tank, offered yet another explanation for the army's inability to locate the corpses. "We don't stick around," he said.
Challenged about what happened to the bodies of the 54 said to have been killed, Kimmitt said: “I would suspect that the enemy would have carried them away and brought them back to where their initial base was.”
“If the death toll had reached that announced by the Americans, the atmosphere in Samarra would be quite different"
Abd al-Munaim Muhammad,
ambulance driver, Samarra
Asked about reports from senior police and hospital officials in the town of only eight civilians killed and dozens more wounded, the US general insisted: “We have no such reports whether from medical authorities or police.”
But a medic at Samarra hospital said the bodies of “eight civilians including a woman and a child” were received at the hospital.
Hospital director Abd Tawfiq said “more than 60 people wounded by gunfire and shrapnel from US rounds are being treated at the hospital”.
And ambulance driver Abd al-Munaim Muhammad said he had not ferried any fighters wounded or killed and wearing the black Fidayin outfit which US soldiers claimed their assailants wore.
“If I had seen bodies, I would have picked them up. It's not like the Americans would have done it,” he said.
“If the death toll had reached that announced by the Americans, the atmosphere in Samarra would be quite different," he added.
It was not immediately clear whether the figure included two Iranian visitors said to have been killed in their bus.
Schools and mosques were also
reportedly hit in the attack
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi condemned what he called the “blind attacks” by US forces.
“America is responsible for the killing of the Iranian national in Samarra. It must account for this crime,” he said.
Tehran’s foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned the Swiss ambassador to Iran, who acts as the head of the US interest section office there, to protest against the deaths, reported a state news agency.
Iran demanded that Washington “clarify the circumstances leading to the incident,” and announce the result of its own investigation and provide compensation.
The bloodshed prompted members of Samarra’s tribal council to demand an immediate US pullout from the area.