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U.S. says 15 Iraqi civilians killed in raid against militants

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. military acknowledged that it killed 15 civilians and wounded four others in an operation Thursday targeting alleged senior leaders of the group Al Qaeda in Iraq in a region northwest of Baghdad. The statement said 19 suspected insurgents also were killed.

The military said it acted on an intelligence report that insurgent leaders were meeting near Tharthar Lake, between Anbar and Salahuddin provinces, and sent in air and ground forces, killing four suspected militants. A second assault was launched against a site south of the lake, to which the militants were believed to have fled. The second attack killed six women and nine children, as well as 15 suspected militants, a U.S. military statement said.

Three children and one woman were injured, and a suspected militant was detained, the statement said.

Also late Thursday, a suicide car bomber struck a cafe in east Baghdad, killing five people and injuring 25. In addition, police said five bodies were recovered around the capital.

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Earlier in the day, a truck bomb exploded at a market in Kirkuk, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, killing seven and injuring 50.

In Washington, families of three victims of a Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater USA, the private security firm involved in the incident, in which as many as 17 Iraqis were slain. Blackwater has said its guards opened fire after coming under attack.

The suit accuses the firm of negligence in its employment and training practices, saying Blackwater had created and fostered “a culture of lawlessness among its employees, encouraging them to act in the company’s financial interests at the expense of human life.”

The suit, believed to be the first filed in connection with the incident, does not specify an amount for damages.

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Lawyers for the three families, and a fourth man who was wounded in the incident in Nisoor Square, said they were pursuing the case in U.S. courts because an order issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority on its last day in power in Iraq in 2004 granted private contractors immunity from prosecution. The full effect of the order is in dispute.

“Since it occurred in Iraq, and contractors are not subject to jurisdiction there, we went to the second-best jurisdiction,” said Susan Burke, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. “In a more colloquial manner, we went to where the bad guys are.”

Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater, declined to respond to the allegations in the suit, citing ongoing investigations of the incident, but said the firm “will defend itself vigorously.” Citing Blackwater Chief Executive Erik Prince’s testimony before Congress last week, she added, “We are Americans, working for America, protecting Americans.”

The U.S. government, which hired Blackwater, was not named as a defendant.

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

Times staff writers Saif Hameed, Said Rifai and Saif Rasheed contributed to this report.


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