By LAUREN FRAYER, AP, Feb. 4, 2008
BAGHDAD - The U.S. military said Monday it accidentally killed nine Iraqi civilians during an operation targeting al-Qaida in Iraq — the deadliest known case of mistaken identity in recent months.
In northern Iraq, Turkish warplanes on Monday bombed some 70 Kurdish rebel targets, the Turkish military said. It was the fifth aerial attack against Kurdish rebel bases there in two months.
Also Monday, 15 suspected militants were killed in U.S. raids targeting a possible hideout for a senior al-Qaida in Iraq leader northeast of Baghdad, the military said.
The Iraqi civilians were killed Saturday near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of the Iraqi capital, Navy Lt. Patrick Evans told The Associated Press.
Evans did not say exactly how the civilians died, but said the killings occurred as U.S. forces pursued suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants. The incident is under investigation, he said.
Iraqi police said the victims, including two women, were in two houses in the village of Tal al-Samar, which was bombed by American warplanes late Saturday. They were all Sunnis, an officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The U.S. planes struck after an American convoy came under enemy fire in Tal al-Samar and soldiers called for air support, the Iraqi officer said.
"We offer our condolences to the families of those who were killed in this incident, and we mourn the loss of innocent civilian life," Evans said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.
The Turkish bombings early Monday hit the Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk regions of northern Iraq, the Turkish military said on its Web site.
Turkey has frequently targeted members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in cross-border raids into Iraq, where thousands of the rebels are based. The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades.
Since Dec. 16, the Turkish military has confirmed five cross-border aerial raids into Iraq, though Iraqi Kurdish officials have reported other airstrikes. Turkey's military says the raids have killed as many as 175 PKK rebels.
Adem Uzun, a member of the rebel command, said 15 to 20 Turkish jets bombed rebel areas in northern Iraq, according to Firat, a Kurdish news agency. Uzun told a Denmark-based Kurdish television station that the rebels had not suffered casualties, the agency reported.
The United States — which like Turkey and the European Union considers the PKK a terrorist organization — has cautioned Ankara against a large incursion into Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, fearing it could disrupt one of Iraq's more stable regions.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said Monday they will meet later this month to negotiate future relations and the long-term presence of American forces in Iraq. The U.S. currently has about 160,000 troops in Iraq under a United Nations mandate that has been extended on a yearly basis since the 2003 invasion, but Iraqi officials have said they will not renew it after 2008.
In the raids targeting a possible al-Qaida in Iraq hideout northeast of Baghdad, the military said it had no information about whether the targeted leader was among those killed or captured. Eight suspected militants were detained in the raids.
Separately, 14 al-Qaida linked militants were detained in other raids Sunday and Monday in northern Iraq, including four suspects seized during an operation targeting the leader of a suicide bombing cell in the volatile city of Mosul.
Iraqi police said at least five Iraqis died in separate attacks elsewhere, including a Foreign Ministry attache, Waleed Haithem, when gunmen opened fire on his car in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour.
Two policemen were also killed when a roadside bomb exploded on their patrol in northeast Baghdad's Azamiyah area. And gunmen opened fire on a bus east of Baqouba, killing two passengers, police said.
An al-Qaida front group said in a statement posted on the Web that it was launching its own campaign in Mosul, and urged volunteers to carry out suicide attacks on U.S. troops, Iraqi Shiites and Kurdish troops.
The Sunni militant group, known as Mosul's regional command of the Islamic State of Iraq, said its campaign would be a "vengeance raid" but gave no details.
Iraqi officials have said a military push to clear al-Qaida-linked insurgents from Mosul is imminent.
Also Monday, criticism mounted among some Sunni lawmakers over a new law that will allow thousands of Saddam Hussein-era officials to return to government jobs. One Sunni bloc's leader predicted the legislation would have a "short life."
The measure — issued a day earlier by the Iraqi presidency council — is the first of 18 key U.S.-set benchmarks to become law, and the Bush administration views it as central to mending deep differences between minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds and the majority Shiites. But it was issued without the signature of Iraq's Sunni vice president, and the presidency council itself plans to seek changes in the bill — clouding hopes it would encourage reconciliation.