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U.S. Killed Civilians in Airstrike, Iraqis Say

October 18, 2005|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — American fighter jets and attack helicopters killed about 20 Iraqi civilians and injured 15 other people, including women and children, during an anti-insurgent operation in the western city of Ramadi, local police and a doctor who treated the wounded said Monday.

The city, 60 miles west of Baghdad, has been the site of a major U.S. offensive, and fighting escalated four days ago, residents said. On Saturday, five U.S. soldiers died in Ramadi when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle. U.S. forces said they launched three airstrikes in the area Sunday, killing 70 suspected insurgents.

Ramadi Police Capt. Ali Salem, however, said a number of those slain were civilians.

"An American aircraft yesterday bombed a crowd of people that were gathering around a U.S. military vehicle that was destroyed by gunmen earlier in the clashes," he said Monday. "We transported at least 17 dead people and many more injured ones to Ramadi General Hospital."

Army Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman, said American authorities had "no confirmation or information that there were any civilians involved. We were going after insurgents using precision-guided munitions. We take great care at all times to ensure that we target only valid, legitimate targets."

Since fall 2004, U.S. forces have battled insurgents in Ramadi and other cities in Al Anbar province, a sparsely populated region inhabited largely by Sunni Arabs that borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. As the rest of Iraq voted relatively peacefully Saturday for a new constitution, U.S. and Iraqi sources reported intense fighting in Ramadi.

Ramadi Police Capt. Mohammed Sarhan said insurgents used "heavy weapons like mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.... The U.S. used artillery, and airplanes bombed some of these places. This is the reason for the civilian casualties."

The American military said two of Sunday's airstrikes involved jet fighters, and one used helicopters.

An F-15 fighter launched the first strike at 1:25 p.m., after an aviator saw approximately 20 men park vehicles near the crater caused by the earlier roadside attack on U.S. troops. In a statement, the military said the men were planting another explosive device, prompting an aviator to release a laser-guided bomb, "resulting in the death of terrorists on the ground."

About six hours later, military officials said, insurgents fired on a Cobra helicopter, which responded with a volley of powerful machine-gun blasts, killing about 10 suspected insurgents.

The last airstrike took place at 8 p.m., the military said, after F/A-18 crew members dropped a bomb on a suspected insurgent safe house, killing approximately 40 people inside.

Dr. Ayad Duleimi, who treated the wounded at Ramadi General Hospital, said he saw at least 35 civilian casualties.

"The U.S. forces killed 20 civilians and injured another 15, including women and children, when they bombed the city of Ramadi," Duleimi said. "The injured are in critical condition, and some of them were transferred to other hospitals."

Associated Press Television News video showed that the dead in the last airstrike included two children and a woman. Other footage showed two children among the injured.

Boylan said that "insurgents, at times, will try to hide in and among the civilian populations." But he added that "at this time, to the best of our knowledge, this was strictly a military target. We have seen in the past propaganda claiming that whenever we go after targets in urban areas we kill civilians, which turns out to be false."

Meanwhile Monday, an Iraqi political party alleged that U.S. troops had attacked the convoy of a deputy provincial governor Friday in Diyala province east of Baghdad, killing two of his bodyguards and injuring three others. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni bloc, said Awf Rahomi's convoy was attacked near a U.S. military base.

"This bad incident, like others that have affected hundreds of lives and dozens of our members, shows the U.S. forces' disregard for our lives and the way they shoot without regard to the ramifications," the party said in a statement. "The IIP denounces these insane practices and demands that the occupation forces apologize and compensate the families of those killed and injured."

A U.S. military spokesman contacted Monday said he had not heard about the incident.

In other violence, the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq posted a video on the Internet showing the execution of an Iraqi security contractor.

The footage, titled "Application of Divine Judgment on a Contractor Working for the Crusaders," begins with a camera shot of the man's identity papers, including a contractor card and gun permit. The name on the document is Mahmoud Alwan Hussein.

The next scene shows a man lying prone with his hands bound behind his back. He cranes his neck to see a man with black pants and black tennis shoes. The executioner's face is outside the frame and not visible, but his AK-47 can be seen pointing at the captive's head.

The gunman fires twice, killing the bound man.

The posting came a day after U.S.-led coalition forces announced they had captured Yasir Khudr Muhammad Jasim Karbali, aka Abu Dijana, an Al Qaeda in Iraq member allegedly responsible for posting insurgent propaganda on the Internet.

U.S. forces said in a statement that Abu Dijana would be notified before insurgent attacks and dispatch cameramen to record the attacks, military sources said.

It was unclear whether the video posted Monday was made before or after Abu Dijana's capture.

*

A special correspondent contributed to this report from Ramadi.

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