Conflicting accounts follow deadly U.S. airstrike in Iraq

December 04, 2006|By Alexandra Zavis | Alexandra Zavis,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. forces destroyed two buildings west of Baghdad, killing six suspected insurgents, two women and a child, the military said yesterday.

It was the latest in a series of raids in which civilians have been killed as U.S. and Iraqi forces battle insurgents in residential areas. The U.S. command has accused insurgents of using women and children as "human shields."

Neighbors disputed the military account, claiming the victims were members of a local family and that there were more extensive civilian casualties than the U.S. acknowledged. It was not possible to verify the conflicting accounts.

At least 68 other Iraqis were reported killed yesterday in violence across the country, many of them apparent victims of the civil war between Shiite Muslims and members of the Sunni Arab minority that dominated under Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. military reported six soldiers and one Marine killed in weekend combat.

The Department of Defense also confirmed the death of an Air Force pilot listed as missing after his F-16C fighter jet crashed Nov. 27 in Anbar province, a hotbed of insurgent activity.

At least 2,897 U.S. military deaths have been reported since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, according to the Web site icasualties.org.

Gaping craters and blood-stained rubble marked the spot of the raid late Saturday in a farming community on the outskirts of Karmah, in the same region as last week's plane crash.

Recent intelligence reports indicated one of the buildings targeted was being used to harbor foreign fighters, the U.S. command said in a statement yesterday.

U.S. forces decided an airstrike would provide the greatest safety for surrounding residents and allied forces by avoiding a firefight, the command said. However, the bodies of the two women and child were found after the blast along with those of five men.

Shortly before the strike, ground forces said they observed several insurgents moving to a nearby building. One other suspect was killed and three detained during a search of that building, which also yielded numerous small arms and munitions, the statement said.

The building was brought down when the cache was destroyed, the military said.

Neighbors interviewed at the site claimed the first house belonged to a family of 11, nine of whom were killed in the airstrike. They identified the victims as a woman and eight of her children. The woman's husband and another child were injured and evacuated to Fallujah for treatment, they said.

"This is clear retaliation for the downing of the American fighter," said Ihsan Luhaibi, who said he helped recover and bury the dead. "The American troops are acting in a hysterical manner. What sin has this family committed?"

The U.S. command said other residents thanked them for ridding the area of terrorists they claimed had killed several men from their village.

"Coalition Forces take precautions to mitigate risks to civilians while in pursuit of terrorists. However, terrorists continue to put innocent civilians in danger by operating among them," the military statement said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces said they detained nine more suspects and discovered large quantities of weapons in other raids in Baghdad and neighboring Babil province.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed by roadside bombs Saturday, two of them in Anbar and one near Taji, north of the capital, the U.S. command said. Two soldiers and a Marine died the same day of injuries sustained in combat in Anbar, and another soldier was killed yesterday in Baghdad, the military said.

Elsewhere yesterday, the bullet-riddled body of the Sunni Arab chairman of one of Iraq's leading soccer clubs was found in west Baghdad, the Sports Journalists Guild reported.

Gunmen had seized Hadib Majhoul, the head of the popular Talaba club and a member of the Iraqi Soccer Federation, late Thursday on his way to work. He was one of numerous sports figures targeted amid Iraq's escalating sectarian violence.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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