BAGHDAD (AFP) – The US military said on Monday that its forces accidentally killed nine Iraqi civilians, including a child, during weekend raids against Al-Qaeda fighters south of Baghdad.
The raid, one of a number of incidents in recent months involving the killing of civilians, occurred on Saturday near the town of Iskandariyah in an area known as the Triangle of Death.
Three more civilians including two children were wounded “as coalition forces pursued Al-Qaeda,” the military said in a statement.
Witnesses claimed as many as 20 people, including 17 members of a single family, were killed in a US air strike in the area, which is a stronghold of fiercely anti-American insurgents.
“Shortly after the incident, coalition forces leaders met with a sheikh representing the citizens of the local area,” the US statement said.
“The incident is under investigation. We offer our condolences to the families of those who were killed in this incident, and we mourn the loss of innocent civilian life.”
The military gave no further details.
But a statement from a hardline group of Sunni clerics known as the Muslim Scholars’ Association said US warplanes had bombarded an area known as Al-Khanassa, near Al-Madain, which lies to the northeast of Iskandariyah.
“Twenty people were killed in this major attack, including 17 members of the Imad Salim family,” said the association, which is suspected of links to several insurgent groups including Al-Qaeda and now based in Amman.
Around 50 people were arrested along with the imam of a local mosque, Ibrahim al-Nasser, the clerics said, condemning “these crimes committed by the occupier which continue day after day.”
“The site of the incident is well known as a bastion of those who reject the occupation,” it added.
Early last month, Iraqi security officials said three civilians were killed by US military fire in two incidents in the province of Diyala, one of the most dangerous regions of the country.
The military said at the time it was investigating the claims.
Diyala is currently the focus of a massive sweep against Al-Qaeda, known as Operation Iron Harvest and part of the Phantom Phoenix assault targeting insurgents across the country launched on January 8.
In October last year, a US air strike north of Baghdad killed at least 15 women and children, one of the largest losses of civilian life in a single American operation since the war began, the military said.
Meanwhile, the US army also announced on Monday the death of a soldier whose vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in east Baghdad on January 31.
The latest death brings to 3,945 the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, according to an AFP tally based on independent website www.icasualties.org.