BBC News – 2007-10-11 22:37:22
(October 12, 2007) — The US military in Iraq says 15 women and children were killed in an operation north of Baghdad in which 19 suspected insurgents also died. The air and ground assault was aimed at senior leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in the Lake Tharthar region, it said.
An initial air raid killed four rebels and then more air strikes were launched to back up US ground troops, a statement from the coalition said. A further 15 insurgents were found dead along with six women and nine children.
It is thought to be one of the biggest losses of civilian life in a single US-led operation since the war began.
The US military said the first air strike was launched after intelligence reports suggested senior members of al-Qaeda in Iraq were meeting in the Lake Tharthar area, 120km (75 miles) north of the capital.
The coalition said that after the first air raid suspects were observed fleeing to an area south of the man-made lake.
Ground forces attacked a building in which insurgents were believed to be hiding and were engaged by small-arms fire, the statement said. Further air strikes were then called in.
After securing the area, the troops found 15 dead suspected insurgents along with 15 dead civilians. Two suspected militants, one woman and three children were wounded and another suspect was detained, the statement said.
The BBC’s Justin Webb in Washington says the United Nations mission in Iraq has previously expressed concern about civilian deaths during air strikes by US-led forces.
Some 88 civilians were reportedly killed during air raids in the early part of this year, according to the UN.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has in the past expressed frustration with his allies over US military action resulting in civilian deaths.
Maj Brad Leighton, a Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman, said: “We regret that civilians are hurt or killed while coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism. “These terrorists chose to deliberately place innocent Iraqi women and children in danger by their actions and presence.”
Lake Tharthar was the location for one of executed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s grandest residences, the so-called Green Palace.
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Iraq Tells US to Ditch Blackwater
Iraq has demanded that the US end its association with private security firm Blackwater within six months. It accuses Blackwater guards of having deliberately fired on Iraqi civilians, killing 17 and injuring more than 20.
The government has demanded Blackwater pay $8m compensation to each family bereaved by last month’s shootings.
Private security employees are immune from prosecution in Iraq, but an FBI investigation into the killings raises the prospect of trials in the US.
The BBC’s Jon Brain in Baghdad says the now infamous Blackwater affair is continuing to cause huge strains between the Iraqi and US governments.
The new details of Iraq’s demands were outlined in an official report issued on Monday in Arabic and subsequently translated by international news agencies.
Blackwater denies its men acted improperly, while Washington, which depends on the company to protect its embassy staff in Baghdad, has declined to comment on the Iraqi report.
The report says in the time since Blackwater took over security for US diplomats in 2003, its guards have killed 38 Iraqi civilians and wounded about 50 in shootings.
It also says Blackwater’s licence to operate in Iraq expired in 2006, meaning it had no immunity from prosecution under the laws introduced by the US authorities in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
The Iraqi panel led by the defence minister calls for the US to hand over Blackwater guards to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.
The report says that on 16 September four Blackwater vehicles and two helicopters opened fire without provocation in two locations after a car bombing near a meeting involving a USAID official under Blackwater protection.
At least 14 Iraqi civilians were killed in Nisoor square, and two or three more were killed at the next intersection, the report says.
The compensation requested is higher than usual “because Blackwater uses employees who disrespect the rights of Iraqi citizens even though they are guests in this country”, the report said, as quoted by Associated Press.
Blackwater has not responded to the Iraqi government investigation but insists its employees came under fire first.
Blackwater is the main firm employed by the US state department to provide security for its staff in Baghdad and visiting officials and businessmen.
In the days following the incident, which caused widespread anger in Iraq, the interior ministry drafted legislation bring private security contractors under Iraqi law.
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