U.S. Strike Leaves 2 Women, Child Dead, Angering Iraqis
At least five people, including two women and a child, were killed early Friday in a raid in Baqubah by U.S. special operations forces targeting suspected insurgents.
U.S. military officials said two of the men killed in the city, northeast of Baghdad, were believed to be associates of a senior leader of the Al Qaeda in Iraq group, previously headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was killed in June by a U.S. airstrike. At least 25 people were wounded in the raid Friday.
In Al Anbar province, a Marine was killed “due to enemy action,” the U.S. military announced.
In Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, seven Iraqi police officers and soldiers were killed in a raid in which 60 suspected insurgents were captured, military officials said.
Although local officials praised the raid in Baqubah, the operation was met with fury.
Baqubah residents and political leaders accused the United States of excessive force, saying there was no need to fire missiles, bombs or artillery shells.
“They demolished three houses with children in them just because they wanted two insurgents?” said Raad Dahlaki, the chief of the Baqubah municipal council. “Why couldn’t they just detain the men? Why did they have to demolish these three houses?”
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said American forces used “aerial fires” -- an assault by helicopter, fighter plane or artillery -- to attack several houses in Baqubah after the troops were fired on from rooftops and men were seen on the roofs possibly positioning themselves for an attack.
“They were twice given verbal instructions for all occupants to exit the buildings and failed to do so,” Johnson said.
Although the neighborhood has seen violence before, it had grown calmer recently and residents were beginning to work with the Americans, Dahlaki said. The death of the women and the child, however, threatens to turn the area against the U.S. forces.
“That neighborhood is going to change their attitude; they are going to be more anti-American,” Dahlaki said. “Once again there will be roadside bombs targeting Americans.”
U.S. officials said the men targeted in the attack had connections with foreign fighters operating in the area and had been linked to attacks on Iraqi civilians. U.S. forces detained four men in the operation, officials said.
Witnesses said afterward that an interpreter working with the Americans said he had repeatedly called for people to leave the building. Some residents said they were not able to hear any such instruction. Others said they did not realize the attackers were American and thought they were part of a militia aligned with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr.
Residents said the raid occurred about 3 a.m. The mayor of Baqubah, Khalid Sanhari, said he wanted to know why the American troops could not have waited until after dawn, when it would have been clear who was conducting the assault. The neighborhood where the raid took place is mostly Sunni, and Sanhari said the Americans would have acted more judiciously in a Shiite neighborhood.
“This is an excessive use of force,” he said. “If this village was Shiite and people were shooting at the Americans, I am certain nobody would bomb it.”
As sectarian violence has escalated into an undeclared civil war in Iraq, Sunni residents in Baqubah have been increasingly fearful of Shiite death squads.
Fawzi Ahmed, a 45-year-old neighbor, said at least some members of the military unit that carried out the attack were not dressed in standard uniforms. When he spotted the unit before the attack, he thought it might be a militia group. Ahmed said he realized they were U.S. forces only when he heard them speak English.
“We did not recognize them as Americans, because some of them were wearing black shirts,” Ahmed said.
Army Special Forces personnel do not always wear standard uniforms in Iraq and some grow mustaches or beards.
An Army spokesman said 25 people were treated at a U.S. military medical center, and 17 of the most seriously injured were taken to the American military hospital in Balad.
Dahlaki, the council member, said U.S. forces entered a known insurgent home about a week ago and killed two men. He said there was no anger over that operation.
“People think the Americans have the right to kill people who kill Americans,” Dahlaki said. “But they cannot kill or injure innocent people.”
Omer Mijbil Dulaimi, who lives about 300 yards from the scene of the raid, said the child killed in the attack was the 3-year-old grandniece of the owner of the homes, who was also killed.
U.S. military officials said they regretted the deaths of the civilians.
“It is always tragic when noncombatants are caught up in these raids,” Johnson said. “And we regret the loss of civilian lives when going after Al Qaeda members or any other terrorists or insurgents.”
The raid in Mahmoudiya was praised by local officials, who said the Iraqi security forces had shown their ability to operate independently and deal a severe blow to Sunni insurgents. Mahmoudiya Mayor Muayed Fadil praised the police and army for avoiding civilian casualties while disrupting the insurgents and fighting with little help from the Americans.
“This is the largest operation we have seen in this area,” he said. “It will take the insurgency a while to recover.... And the success today will strengthen the confidence of the police and army.”
U.S. military officials said soldiers with Iraq’s 6th Army Division had received a tip that 10 to 15 armed men were attacking a house in Mahmoudiya. Officials said five insurgents were killed in the fighting and the others tried to flee in a truck, pursued by Iraqi security forces.
The insurgents abandoned the truck, which was destroyed by a U.S. attack helicopter, and ran into nearby canals.
Mahmoudiya Police Chief Ali Adnan Younis said that after the initial patrol was fired on, police and army units sent reinforcements and the fight was joined by 80 police officers and about 100 soldiers.
Fighting was fierce as the Iraqi security forces picked their way through an orchard and reed-choked canals looking for the fighters.
U.S. officials said five insurgents were killed, 13 wounded and 47 arrested. Iraqi officials put the insurgent death toll at 12. U.S. ground forces did not directly participate in the fight, Iraqi officials said.
“The insurgents never expected the police and army would go through the thick reeds on foot,” Younis said. “This is the biggest blow to terrorists in our sector so far.”
Times staff writers Shamil Aziz and Saif Alazzawi in Baghdad and a special correspondent in Baqubah contributed to this report.