Iraqis Decry U.S. Airstrike That Killed Civilians

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 13, 2007

BAGHDAD, Oct. 12 -- Iraqis voiced outrage Friday over a U.S. military airstrike that killed an estimated 15 civilians -- nine children and six women, one of the highest reported civilian death tolls from an American bombing in months.

The bombing occurred Thursday evening after U.S. troops raided a suspected leadership meeting of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq that was taking place south of Lake Tharthar, near the city of Samarra in western Iraq. The U.S. military's account of the violence said troops were shot at during the raid and called in an airstrike in self-defense. In addition to the civilians killed, the U.S. military estimated that 19 suspected insurgents died.

"This could have been done through the infantry," said Ibrahim al-Khamas, a Samarra city council member. "But the American Army prefers the easiest solution, which is the air bombardment."

The bombing came just before Eid al-Fitr, the religious celebration that concludes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"This airstrike was excessive, as usual, which led to the fall of civilians," Khamas added. "People here are now carrying great hatred against the Americans after the raid. This airstrike turned their Eid to grief."

The U.S. military provided little further information Friday but said it was investigating the incident with local officials and tribal leaders. A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Winfield S. Danielson III, said the initial death tolls of combatants and civilians were estimates. Of the 15 civilians initially reported killed, all were women and children, and it was unclear whether the U.S. military considered all the males killed to be insurgents.

An elder in the town of Tharthar, Mohammed Mukhlis al-Darraji, said the bombing took place in an area called al-Samacha, Arabic for "fishermen," the occupation of many people living around the lake. Darraji said the victims included infants, but acknowledged that "this area is one of al-Qaeda's favorites."

Mohammed al-Samarrae, 34, said his pregnant cousin was killed in the bombing. He expressed a mix of dismay at her death and the weariness of life after more than four years of war.

"Where can anybody be safe from Bush's democracy?" he asked. "Whenever we want to open a new chapter with the Americans, to forget the past and try all over again, they drag us into violence, weapons and fighting again. And to sympathize with al-Qaeda against them. All because of their inconsideration for our blood."

Some Iraqis called the U.S. airstrike a success. Amar Abdul Kareem, a member of a group of tribal leaders in Salahuddin province who are collaborating with the U.S. military against al-Qaeda, said the important aspect of the raid was killing the suspected insurgents. As for the civilians, he said, "God have mercy on them."

"If they did not die in the raid, the terrorists would have killed them with car bombs," he said. "I am confident that the American military did not deliberately want to harm any of the Iraqis, and did not intend to spoil the joy of Eid."

Violence continued in the capital on Friday, when a car bomb exploded near a popular market in central Baghdad. The blast near Tahrir Square killed five people, including two policemen, and wounded 10, Iraqi police said.

Also, in Tuz Khurmatu, near Kirkuk in northern Iraq, a bomb hidden amid toys in a carriage exploded on a playground, killing two people and wounding 12, police said.

Other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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