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December 8th, 2006 - Iraqis, U.S. Dispute Deadly Raid in New Friction
By Ibon Villelabeitia
Fri Dec 8, 2006 1:17 PM ET
Baghdad - Iraqi and U.S. officials disputed each others' accounts of an overnight raid and air strike on Friday that killed up to 20 people in a new sign of friction over allegations of American troops killing civilians.
The U.S. military said ground forces with air support killed 20 suspected al Qaeda militants, including two women, in an area north of the capital where the Sunni Arab insurgency is strong.
Police and officials in Ishaqi, 90 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, said the bodies of 17 civilians, including six women and five children, were found in the rubble of two homes.
"The Americans have done this before but they always deny it," Ishaqi Mayor Amer Alwan told Reuters by telephone. "I want the world to know what's happening here."
Complaints that unjustified killings by U.S. troops are common have soured Iraqis' sentiment toward the U.S. presence in Iraq and prompted Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki earlier this year to say he was losing patience over such reports.
This week an elite panel in Washington, exploring alternatives for U.S. President George W. Bush's Iraq strategy, recommended the primary mission of U.S. forces evolve to one of training to let Iraqi forces take over combat responsibility.
But the White House on Friday dismissed former Secretary of State James Baker's appeal that the panel's recommendations be largely adopted as a whole.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the Iraq report would be considered along with internal reviews being conducted by the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. Bush has meetings next week with senior Pentagon and State Department officials and outside experts on Iraq.
Bush is due to outline his new Iraq policy before Christmas. He has rejected direct talks with Iran and Syria, a central recommendation of the panel.
More than 2,900 U.S. troops have died since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.
In Ishaqi, grieving relatives showed the bodies of five children wrapped in blankets to journalists. The houses, surrounded by open fields, were flattened in the raid, leaving little but rubble and twisted steel rods.
In a statement, the U.S. military said the operation in Salahaddin province followed intelligence reports that al Qaeda militants operated in the area. It said rocket-propelled grenades and explosive suicide vests were found.
Only a handful of complaints involving civilian deaths in Iraq have led to criminal investigations by the U.S. military.
"I can promise you that, in every one of these incidents, they will be fully investigated," Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking U.S. general in the country, told Pentagon journalists by video-link.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned violence in Iraq made a regional war in the Middle East a growing possibility.
"The prospect of all-out civil war and even a regional conflict have become much more real," he said. "The challenge is not only to contain and defuse the violence but also to prevent escalation."
In the largest operation of its kind since the U.S. invasion, British and Danish troops backed by tanks seized five suspects accused of attacks on coalition forces in the southern city of Basra, the British military said.
Some 1,000 troops, including amphibious assault teams, launched pre-dawn raids on five homes in the densely populated northern al-Hartha district of Basra, where rival Shi'ite militias are battling for control of the city's oil wealth and coalition troops are sometimes attacked.
(Additional reporting by Ghazwan al-Jibouri in Ishaqi and Mariam Karouny and Ross Colvin in Baghdad, and Andrew Gray in Washington)
Editing by Janet Lawrence, Baghdad newsroom.
© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.
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