The U.S. military said it planned to investigate whether appropriate force was used when soldiers called in an airstrike early Wednesday during a raid that left eight Iraqis dead.
Four men and four women were killed in the predawn clash at a house in Baqubah, a center of insurgent fighting 35 miles north of the capital.
Witnesses initially reported the incident as a mortar attack, but a statement released by the U.S. Army in the afternoon said the house was targeted while troops were searching for a suspected terrorist.
A U.S. military spokesman said at a briefing that the troops called in the airstrike after encountering small-arms fire.
“It was an escalation of force that occurred,” said Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the spokesman. “They did in fact ask for the people to come out of the home. They did not do that. Instead, they returned fire on the security forces.”
Family members and other witnesses said the attack was unprovoked.
A teenage girl said that her parents, brother and pregnant sister-in-law were among the dead, and that her family was gunned down by the soldiers.
“We heard a boom, then shooting and shouting inside the house,” Enaam Jassim Mohammed said. “I saw my father lying on the floor.”
Mohammed said she was making breakfast when the soldiers entered the house.
“The Americans were yelling at the rest of the family,” she said. “Then the Americans opened fire at my father, my mother and the rest. My brother was coming toward them. He was also shot.”
She said she ran into an adjoining room, where she found her sister-in-law on the floor.
“I was trying to wake up my brother’s wife, who was pregnant, hitting her on her face to wake up,” she said. “But I discovered that she was killed after seeing the blood over the floor and her body.”
She said two of her brothers were detained.
Another witness, interviewed on Iraqi television, said the troops shot first and continued to fire inside the house.
Caldwell confirmed that two injured Iraqis were detained. He would not give their identities. He said it was unknown whether they were suspected militants.
He also declined to name the suspect the troops were seeking, but an Army statement described him as being “tied to extremist leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq in ... Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.”
“Until we know whether or not we in fact got them, we would not want to state why we went there,” Caldwell said. “If they’re not the people in question, then those people would know we’re after them for sure.”
The military said the incident began as troops encountered small-arms fire from all around the neighborhood. Most of it subsided after the troops used a loudspeaker to tell those inside the house to come out.
“But intense fire continued coming from that one home, where announcements were being made to come out peacefully,” Caldwell said.
The Army statement said “coalition aircraft fired multiple rounds at the targeted building, neutralizing the enemy threat.” Caldwell declined to say what kind of aircraft was used. Witnesses said they saw helicopters in the area.
Sectarian violence subsided somewhat across the country Wednesday, but at least 20 killings were reported. The U.S. military also announced that a soldier on patrol was shot to death in southern Baghdad.
The Associated Press said at least 10 people were killed in a shootout near a Sunni mosque in the Hurriya neighborhood of Baghdad.
In Baqubah, two policemen were killed and two injured by a roadside bomb while transferring detainees. Two of the detainees were injured.
A car bomb exploded in a marketplace in the Baya neighborhood of west Baghdad, killing five and injuring eight.
A roadside bomb south of Baghdad injured three policemen.
A car escaped a double bombing in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood.
Maj. Raid Mijbil Abbas of the Interior Ministry’s major-crimes division was slain by armed men as he was driving in downtown Baghdad.
Car bombs killed two people in the northern city of Kirkuk, where an attack on a checkpoint late Tuesday left two Iraqi soldiers dead and three injured.
At Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, guards fought off an attack by gunmen as students left the campus for the day. There were no reported deaths or injuries.
Times staff writers Suhail Ahmad, Zeena Karim, Saif Rasheed and Raheem Salman in Baghdad, along with special correspondents in Baqubah and Kirkuk, contributed to this report.