U.S. says Iraqi civilians died in fighting

November 10, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HUSAYBAH, IRAQ -- The U.S. military command said yesterday that civilians had been killed and wounded in heavy fighting here in the past few days, the first such acknowledgment of civilian casualties since the anti-insurgent sweep of this town in western Iraq began Saturday.

The Marines said that, according to a witness, rebels broke into a family's home, killed two of the occupants and locked the rest in a room. The insurgents then used the house as a base to launch attacks on American and Iraqi troops, the Marines said. Unaware that civilians were in the house, Marine aircraft bombed it Monday, reducing it to rubble.

The Marines said they were alerted to the incident Tuesday evening. American and Iraqi forces excavating the site have recovered five bodies and rescued a man and a girl who had been wounded, the military said.

The American military command has repeatedly insisted that it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties by carefully weighing intelligence and following strict protocols, and has said that its bombs are capable of near-pinpoint precision.

But civilian casualties, particularly if the numbers grow, as residents continue to sift through the debris of leveled buildings, could have damaging political and social effects on American efforts to win the trust of residents here and undermine the insurgency's influence.

"It is unknown why insurgents used this particular house, which was occupied, when there were so many homes in the area that were abandoned," Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Division, said in a statement.

Col. Stephen W. Davis, the Marine commander of the joint assault force here, said civilians hurt in the campaign had been arriving at military clinics. He did not give a number.

Criticism of the Pentagon's strategy in fighting the insurgency continues to bring questions from Congress. In a speech scheduled for today, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, was to seek more American troops and more spending on reconstruction. Based on a copy of the speech, McCain will say that the military should emphasize clearing areas to establish a zone as free of insurgents as possible.

He will also warn against withdrawing American troops next year, as some in Congress have called for in recent months. "Instead of drawing down, we should be ramping up, with more civil-military soldiers, translators and counterinsurgency operations teams," he will say in the speech, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

In Baghdad, two car bombs exploded in rapid succession in a Shiite neighborhood yesterday evening, killing seven people and wounding 30, an Interior Ministry official said. In recent months, Iraq's violent insurgency, led by radical Sunni Arabs, has pursued a strategy of killing Shiite civilians to ignite a civil war.

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