U.S. raid in Iraq kills five

Women, child among dead


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- At least five people, including two women and a child, were killed early yesterday morning in a raid by American special operations forces in Baqouba targeting suspected insurgents.

U.S. military officials said two of the men killed in the city northeast of Baghdad were believed to be associates of a senior leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq group previously led by the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Along with the women and child who were killed yesterday, at least 25 other people were wounded.

South of Baghdad, seven Iraqi police officers and soldiers were killed in another raid in which 60 suspected insurgents were captured.

While local officials praised the latter two-hour clash, the Baqouba operation was met with fury.

Baqouba residents and political leaders accused the United States of excessive force, saying there was no need to fire missiles, bombs or artillery shells at the house.

"They demolished three houses with children in them just because they wanted two insurgents?" asked Raad Dahlaki, the chief of the municipal council in Baqouba. "Why couldn't they just detain the men? Why did they have to demolish these three houses?"

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said American forces in Baqouba used "aerial fires," an assault from a helicopter, fighter plane or artillery piece, to attack several houses after they were shot at from rooftops and men were seen on the roofs potentially positioning themselves for an attack.

"They were twice given verbal instructions for all occupants to exit the buildings and failed to do so," Johnson said.

Although the Baqouba neighborhood has seen violence, it had grown calmer recently and residents were beginning to work with the Americans, Dahlaki said. The death of the women and child, however, threatens to turn the area against the U.S. forces.

"That neighborhood is going to change their attitude, they are going to be more anti-American," Dahlaki said. "Once again there will be roadside bombs targeting Americans."

U.S. officials said the men targeted in the attack had connections with foreign fighters operating in the area and had been linked to attacks against Iraqi civilians. U.S. forces detained four men in the operation, officials said.

Witnesses said afterward that a translator working for the Americans said he had repeatedly called for people to leave the building. Some residents said they were not able to hear any instructions. Others said they did not realize the attackers were American and thought it was a militia aligned with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Residents said the raid occurred about 3 a.m. The mayor of Baqouba, Khalid al-Sanhari, said he wanted to know why the American troops could not have waited until after dawn, when it would have been clear who was conducting the assault. The neighborhood in Baqouba where the raid took place is mostly Sunni, and Al-Sanhari said he believed that the Americans would have acted more judiciously in a Shiite neighborhood.

"This is an excessive use of force," he said. "If this village was Shiite and people were shooting at the Americans, I am certain nobody would bomb it."

Julian E. Barnes and Raheem Salman write for the Los Angeles Times.

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