By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 8 -- U.S. forces used precision-guided munitions to kill 13 Sunni insurgents west of Baghdad on Thursday and aided Iraqi officials in the detention of a deputy cabinet minister accused of funneling money to a Shiite militia, the U.S. military said.
A doctor and a resident of the area said women and children were killed in the airstrike, but a military spokesman denied there were any civilian casualties.
The strike in Amiriyah targeted two suspected safe houses used by insurgents, a military statement said. U.S. forces said they later detained five suspected insurgents and found weapons including armor-piercing ammunition.
Ahmad Mansoor al-Zubaie, who lives near the scene of the airstrike, said it was aimed at two houses, but destroyed two additional homes.
Another resident, Muhammad Khalaf al-Zubaie, said women and children were killed in the attack.
Muhammad Ismail, a physician who works at Fallujah General Hospital, said more than 30 people wounded or killed in the attack were brought to the hospital. He said in a telephone interview that women and children were among the dead.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, said no civilians were killed. "After an airstrike we put what we call boots on the objective," he said. "We send in an exploration team to see what effect we had. They would see 40 civilians killed in an airstrike and we would report that if it had happened."
Muhammad al-Zubaie also said the target of the attack was Abu Sihail al-Zubaie, a leader of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Also Thursday, U.S. and Iraqi officials detained a deputy minister of health accused of funneling millions of dollars to the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, according to the U.S. military and Health Minister Ali Hussein al-Shamari.
Shamari called the detention a "kidnapping" and criticized the way the officials took Hakim al-Zamili, one of his deputies. "They broke a door, they broke a window. And they humiliated my employees badly," Shamari said in an interview.
The U.S. military said in a statement that a senior Health Ministry official "is suspected of being a central figure in alleged corruption and rogue infiltration" of the ministry by the Mahdi Army. The statement did not name Zamili.
The detained official allegedly orchestrated several kickback schemes that directed millions of dollars to the militia "to support sectarian attacks and violence targeting Iraqi civilians," the U.S. military statement said. The military also said the senior health official had been implicated in the deaths of several ministry officials.
Shamari said he was not in a position to dispute the allegations, but said the military should have gone through proper channels before making the arrest.
Two deadly incidents involving American private security companies were disclosed Thursday.
Snipers working for one company fatally shot three guards working at the state-run al-Iraqiya television station in Baghdad on Wednesday morning, the director of the station's parent company said in an interview.
The security contractors were accompanying foreign dignitaries who were visiting the Justice Ministry, which is across the street from the station's headquarters, said Habib al-Sadr of the Iraqi Media Network.
Sadr said the three slain guards, Azhar Abdullah Ali, Nibras Muhammad Dawood and Sabah Salman Hassoon, were all in their early 20s. "Not a single bullet was shot toward the ministry building," he said.
The Iraqi guards "had full control of themselves not to attack back. I gave orders, personally gave orders, not to shoot back so that things didn't get worse and we didn't lose more men."
Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, said the incident was under investigation.
It was unclear what company the contractors worked for and whether they were escorting U.S. diplomats.
Also Thursday, defense contractor KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary formerly known as Kellogg Brown and Root, said U.S. military personnel fatally shot a KBR truck driver and wounded another employee near a checkpoint outside a military facility in Balad, north of Baghdad.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the truck driver who was killed," Halliburton spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said in an e-mail. "The wounded truck driver was transported to the Air Force Theater Hospital and has since been treated and released."
Another KBR employee, Hector Patiño, 58, was killed Jan. 13 in the Green Zone in Baghdad in another apparent friendly-fire incident.
Norcross said she could not release the names of the employees shot Wednesday. The U.S. military in Baghdad did not respond to an e-mail inquiry about the incident.
Fintor, the embassy spokesman, said the death was under investigation.
KBR has lost 98 employees to "hostile action" in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, Norcross said.
Also Thursday, the military disclosed the deaths of four Marines killed in two incidents in Anbar province in western Iraq.
In Balad, a police official said armed men dressed in Iraqi military uniforms attacked a farmhouse northeast of the city early Thursday, killing 16 members of a Sunni family and wounding two. The home belonged to Amar Fadhil Rufaie, said Capt. Hassan al-Rufaie.
A neighbor, Amad Rufaie, said 12 cars entered the farm area and heavy gunfire ensued. When he went to see what had happened, he found 18 people on the ground, all but two of them dead. Many people in the area belong to the Rufaie tribe.
Correspondent Joshua Partlow and special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, Naseer Nouri and Waleed Saffar contributed to this report.