Coalition forces strike militants in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military said 20 insurgents, including two women, were killed in a raid and subsequent airstrike Friday on a predominantly Sunni village northwest of Baghdad, but local officials alleged the dead were civilians – including eight children.In southern Iraq, British and Danish forces hunted rogue Shiite militiamen blamed for recent attacks, conducting a pre-dawn raid that was described by coalition officials as the largest offensive in the area since the war began.In the northern battle, U.S.-led coalition forces said they were searching several buildings near Lake Tharthar in Salahuddin province when al-Qaida-linked militants launched an attack. Coalition troops returned fire, killing two insurgents, the U.S. military said.As the firefight continued, the troops called in airstrikes that killed 18 more fighters, the military said, including two women. “Al-Qaida in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations unfortunately,” the U.S. command’s statement said.Amir Fayadh, mayor of the village of Ishaqi east of the lake, and local police disputed the claim that the strike only killed insurgents. The mayor said that 19 civilians were among the dead, including seven women and eight children.An Associated Press photo showed an Iraqi man in blue garb holding up the dusty head of a boy of about 10, identified by villagers as killed in the attack. The boy lay on a floral print quilt, and his right hand poked out from under a piece of fabric, his fingers curled.The twin raids capped another bloody week of sectarian violence in Iraq, and came as Washington debated a report urging the gradual shift of coalition forces out of combat and into training roles. The report said this would prepare Iraqi forces to take over security and allow American troops to go home.Underscoring the deadly nature of the conflict, the military said two soldiers were killed and two were wounded in an explosion south of Baghdad after they left their vehicles to examine a suspected roadside bomb.In a separate incident, a third U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Thursday as his patrol conducted joint operations with the Iraqi army in western Baghdad.At least 2,928 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an AP count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,356 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.At least 47 Iraqis, meanwhile, were killed or found dead Friday, including 25 who died when mortar shells landed in a poor Shiite neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital.In the clashes near Lake Tharthar, coalition forces say they found and destroyed several weapons caches. The arsenals included AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-personnel mines, explosives, blasting caps and suicide vests, the command said.In Ishaqi in the north, AP Television News gathered horrific video of the scene. The images show more than a dozen charred and bloody bodies, some of which appeared almost mummified. In the video, villagers pulled back colorful wool blankets to reveal several bodies. In some cases, it seemed impossible to guess the sex or age of the dead.The mayor of Ishaqi initially reported that more than 19 civilians had died, before he lowered the figure. He said he was initially mistaken because a group of visitors had left the area just before the air strike.This spring, a U.S. military investigation cleared American soldiers of misconduct in a March 15 raid in Ishaqi in which Air Force planes destroyed a building where al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents were thought to be hiding. Villagers claimed the soldiers killed 11 Iraqi civilians before calling for the airstrike.In southern Iraq on Friday, more than 800 British forces and 200 Danish troops clashed with militia fighters during the large-scale raid in the Hartha area on the outskirts of Basra, coalition officials said.British Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a spokesman for the coalition in southern Iraq, said five Iraqis were detained. He described them as members of a “rogue, breakaway element” of one of the area’s many Shiite militias, and said the suspects were directly involved in several local attacks.Burbridge called it the largest search and detention operation that coalition forces have conducted in southern Iraq since the war began in March 2003. The coalition said the raid consisted of multiple missions that occurred at the same time.The Danish soldiers arrived from the north, while British armored vehicles drove in from the south, Burbridge said. Other British forces rode boats to the confluence of the Garmat Ali River and the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The operation was also supported by helicopters and jets, he said.One of the houses searched is near two large mosques, but the raid ended long before the main Friday services, said Capt. Tane Dunlop, another spokesman for multinational forces in Basra.In one house, he said, raiders found Katyusha rockets, roadside bombs, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.Hans Vedholm, spokesman for Army Operational Command Denmark, said coalition troops were tracking militants believed to be behind attacks on coalition forces. He called the operation a “huge success because no one was harmed.”British troops made the arrests while the Danes served as guides, he said, because the Danes were not allowed to detain people under their mandate in Iraq.”They found some weapons and small arms, and also heavy weapons and roadside bombs,” Vedholm said. Some British reserve forces were attacked by small arms fire, he added, but no casualties were reported.”It was very calm. They went into the houses, they arrested five people,” he said. “We have some evidence against them. It will now be used and they will put on trial in Iraq.”Elsewhere in Iraq on Friday:- Several mortar rounds struck about seven houses in the Nahrawan area in southeastern Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding 22, including men, women and children.- A suicide car bomber hit an Iraqi army checkpoint, killing three people and wounding 15, including five children, in Tal Afar. In March, President Bush called the city near the Syrian border an example of progress in securing Iraq.- A sniper shot to death an Iraqi translator who worked with U.S. troops in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad.- Police found 18 bullet-riddled bodies in Baghdad neighborhoods. Some were bound, blindfolded and bore evidence of torture.—Associated Press writers Thomas Wagner and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad and Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Sweden, contributed to this report.
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