BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – U.S. tanks shelled a mosque in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi on Friday after coming under rocket-propelled grenade and machinegun fire from the building, the U.S. military said.
A doctor at Ramadi hospital told Reuters three people had been killed and 22 wounded by the U.S. fire, which the U.S. military said was provoked by a “complex attack” that also included hand grenades and improvised explosives.
“Coalition forces returned fire in self defence, using escalation of force procedures, and finally fired several main gun rounds from M1 tanks into the mosque in order to defeat the attackers,” the military said in a statement.
The mosque suffered serious structural damage to the dome and minaret, it said, adding that one soldier had been slightly hurt in the attack.
U.S. forces generally refrain from damaging religious buildings but say they will attack them if fired upon. They accuse militants from both Sunni and Shi’ite factions of using mosques for military purposes.
Ramadi is the capital of the restive Anbar province, a centre of the Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces. American forces have come under frequent attack in Ramadi, one of the most violent cities in Iraq.
U.S. armour, notably the Abrams M1 main battle tank, rarely open fire with their main guns, particularly in urban areas, because of the destructive power of their high-explosive shells.
U.S. forces cordoned off the area around the mosque after allowing ambulances to remove the casualties, residents said.