BAGHDAD — A large-scale U.S. military operation in Ramadi last month did not target suspected insurgents with airstrikes, U.S. military officials said.
Witness statements reported by The Times on Nov. 15 indicated that a U.S. airstrike might have killed at least 30 people, including women and children.
But Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Salas said in a written response to inquiries about the incident that an airstrike Nov. 14 hit a bridge about 10 miles east of Ramadi and resulted in no casualties.
Salas said Marines killed at least 16 suspected insurgents during Ramadi operations Nov. 13 and 14 in which tank rounds and 25-millimeter guns were fired. Main tank guns can hit targets miles away with explosive ordnance.
"The 13th and the morning of the 14th of November was very lethal for the insurgency," he said.
Salas said insurgents fired at least three rocket-propelled grenades but overshot and missed U.S. forces. Insurgents and U.S. forces also traded mortar fire, Salas said, but there were no reports of casualties in that exchange.
He acknowledged that news photos showed "alleged bodies of civilians killed by coalition forces in Ramadi," and did not dispute reports of collateral damage.
Recent interviews by a Times correspondent in Ramadi supported earlier eyewitness accounts of civilian deaths during the clashes.
"The actual number eventually reached 35 people, including children and women," said Yasir Hussein, 40, a Ramadi electrical worker. Hussein said the initial tally of 30 dead increased as injured people died of their wounds.
"I saw three women and two children killed," said Khalid Jasim, 49, a school guard. "We took their bodies to the hospital using blankets due to the fact that several of them were dismembered."
The Marines did not immediately respond to inquiries about the number of civilian dead, but acknowledged that it was often difficult to distinguish between insurgents and civilians.
Recent interviews with Ramadi residents also supported initial reports that homes were destroyed during the November fighting. Marines did not respond to inquiries from The Times regarding the number of homes destroyed or tank rounds fired in the fighting.
Residents said the houses were in an old Iraqi army officers quarters, and that one of them, in which a number of civilians were killed, was being used as an Internet cafe.
"Six houses were leveled to the ground and 10 others were damaged to varying degrees," said Ahmad Hummadi, 50, a laborer. "But all of the houses were abandoned because they were no longer suitable for habitation."
Several residents said they saw helicopters and a jet fighter during the confrontations and assumed that some of the explosions were caused by airstrikes. U.S. ground units often are accompanied by air support during military operations.
A special correspondent in Ramadi contributed to this report.