| Iraqis inspect bodies of children allegedly killed in the US attack in Ishaqi, 90 km north of Baghdad. (Reuters)
Ishaqi (Iraq), Dec. 8 (Reuters): Iraqi and US officials gave sharply differing accounts of an overnight raid and air strike today in which up to 20 people were killed, with a town mayor accusing American troops of killing five children.
The US military issued a statement saying ground forces with air support killed 18 men and two women in the Thar Thar area of Salahaddin province, north of Baghdad. It suspected all of being al Qaida militants and said it found weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and explosive suicide vests.
In the village of Jalameda, near Ishaqi, 90 km north of the capital, police said they found the bodies of 17 dead civilians in the rubble of the family homes of brothers Mohammed Hussein Jalmoud and Mahmoud Hussein Jalmoud. Grieving relatives showed the bodies of five children wrapped in blankets to journalists.
Captain Nasser Abdul Majeed said that the 17 included six women and five children. They had been sent to the regional capital Tikrit to determine the cause of death.
The houses, surrounded by open fields, were flattened in the raid, leaving little but rubble and twisted steel rods.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said the statement on al Qaida referred to the Ishaqi incident. It is an area where the Sunni insurgency is active. Earlier, Ishaqi police and the mayor put the death toll as high as 32.
“The Americans have done this before but they always deny it,” Ishaqi mayor Amer Alwan said by telephone. “I want the world to know what’s happening here.”
In March, Ishaqi police and officials accused US troops of tying up and shooting dead six adults and five children and then calling in an air strike to destroy the house. An investigation by the US unit involved concluded there was no wrongdoing.
It did, however, also find that there were up to nine “collateral deaths” of civilians, as opposed to the three which the military originally reported.
That incident was one of a handful involving civilian deaths that came to light in the past year which have been investigated by the U.S. military, including the deaths of two dozen civilians in the town of Haditha in November 2005.
At least five Marines are expected to be charged soon with offences, possibly including murder, US officials have said. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said shortly after taking office in April that he was losing patience with reports of US troops killing civilians. Many Iraqis believe unjustified killings by US troops are common, but few have been confirmed by officials.