FALLUJAH, Iraq (AFP) – At least seven civilians and two Iraqi soldiers were killed on Wednesday when shooting erupted after a joint US-Iraqi raid in the Sunni Arab former rebel bastion of Fallujah, Iraqi officials said.
The raid was the latest sign that, while Washington declared an official end to combat operations in Iraq on September 1, US troops continue to conduct joint operations and remain exposed to fighting.
The shooting occurred on Wednesday morning in the Jbeil neighbourhood of central Fallujah, long a base for Sunni fighters who waged an insurgency against US troops and the Iraqi government that peaked in 2006 and 2007.
A US military spokesman confirmed an “incident” had occurred in the city, west of Baghdad, and added that an investigation would be started, but declined to give further details. He confirmed at least one fatality.
“A joint force from Baghdad was ordered to raid a terrorist’s house in Jbeil,” said Major General Baha Hussein al-Karkhi, police chief for Anbar province, of which Fallujah is part.
“Clashes took place when the terrorists fired at the troops. Civilians were caught in the crossfire. Seven were killed and four wounded.
“In addition to the seven (civilians) killed, two Iraqi soldiers were also killed in the clashes.”
A vehicle ban was imposed on the city, and the area that was raided cordoned off by security forces, an AFP reporter said.
Fallujah police chief Brigadier General Faisal al-Essawi said five houses were raided.
He said eight civilians were killed, including two women and two children. He said the other four included a former colonel in the Iraqi army during the rule of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
Fallujah media chief Mohammed Fathi also said eight people were killed.
Dr Omar al-Delli at Fallujah hospital said four bodies had so far been received. Essawi said four other bodies had been taken away by the forces who conducted the raids.
US army Major Bryan Woods said an “incident” had occurred in Fallujah on Wednesday morning, and added “there was a report of a fatality” and that an investigation would be started. He did not give any more details.
US forces said combat operations in Iraq had concluded at the end of August but nearly 50,000 soldiers remain in the country with a mission to train Iraqi soldiers and police, and conduct joint counter-terror operations.
They are also allowed to fire their weapons in self-defence.
But since the September 1 declaration, US troops have shot at insurgents in Baghdad and restive Diyala province, north of the capital, and two American soldiers were killed by an Iraqi comrade after a row on an Iraqi base.
Violence has also spiked here in recent months, with July and August recording two of the highest monthly death tolls since 2008, according to Iraqi government figures.