U.S. Assault Kills 8 Civilians, Iraq Asserts

Bodies lie in a house in Dawr, Iraq, after a U.S. attack.
Bodies lie in a house in Dawr, Iraq, after a U.S. attack. "This operation is tantamount to a crime, and we have to investigate," a Sunni lawmaker said. (Sabah Al-bazee - Reuters)
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By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 20, 2008

BAGHDAD, Sept. 19 -- U.S. soldiers killed eight Iraqi civilians, including three women, during a raid and airstrike Friday north of Baghdad, according to Iraqi officials and witnesses. But the U.S. military said soldiers were legitimately targeting Sunni extremists of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

A U.S. military spokesman acknowledged late Friday that U.S. soldiers did not know there were women and children inside the building they attacked in Dawr, a town southeast of Tikrit. The women were not believed to be members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the spokesman said.

"These women were inadvertently killed as a result of lawful force directed at the suspected terrorists," said Navy Lt. Patrick Evans, the spokesman.

But witnesses and officials said those killed were members of a family that had sought refuge in Dawr, where former president Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003. They included a policeman, a gym owner, a lawyer and college students, said neighbors and relatives. Some members were shot dead as they tried to flee the house or surrender, witnesses said. The military said seven people were killed.

The assault came as the U.S. and Iraqi governments were negotiating a security agreement to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The Iraqi government is demanding that U.S. soldiers no longer have immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law for criminal acts, part of a move to exert stricter controls over U.S. forces in Iraq.

Senior Iraqi lawmakers and officials charged Friday that U.S. soldiers used excessive force and demanded that an inquiry be launched.

"This operation is tantamount to a crime, and we have to investigate the commander that planned the operation and the soldiers who shot the bullets," said Ayad al-Sammarai, a prominent Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni political party. He said the incident was even more reason to assert control over U.S. forces. "In the next security agreement, we want to minimize the mistakes and minimize the victims," he added.

Evans said the U.S. troops followed proper procedures based on intelligence reports and "lawfully engaged" their targets who showed "hostile intent."

The U.S. military said in a statement that it was targeting a local al-Qaeda leader who had orchestrated suicide bombings.

"Forces surrounded the building and called for its occupants to surrender. Despite nearly an hour of multiple calls and warnings that the force would engage them, the individuals inside refused to come out," the statement said. "An armed man appeared in the doorway, and coalition forces, perceiving hostile intent based on the man's actions, engaged him. Later he was determined to be the suspected terrorist."

In a dramatically different version of events, witnesses said U.S. troops descended on a hamlet of 40 to 50 homes that is part of Dawr.

"At around 3 a.m., American forces sealed off the area and then raided the homes of the neighbors, including my home," said Ahmad Khudier, 38, a guard at a nearby school. "They handcuffed me and then took my wife and children and put them inside a room, and told them not to scream or do anything. About one hour later, we heard shooting and shortly after that the sound of airplanes and explosions."

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