BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. airstrike guided by a remote-controlled surveillance plane killed several members of a household in a volatile Sunni Arab area of northern Iraq, several witnesses said, touching off anger Tuesday among some Sunni leaders.
A statement released by the U.S. military said cameras on the unmanned aircraft showed three men digging a hole beside a road about 9 p.m. Monday, seen as preparation for planting a bomb. The drone followed the men to a nearby house in the town of Baiji, about 125 miles north of Baghdad.
Manned aircraft swooped in about 10:30 p.m., hitting the house with precision guided munitions, the statement said.
Drone surveillance aircraft, some armed with missiles, are being used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan to spot targets. Videotape from the planes’ cameras is monitored from remote stations in Iraq, at other bases in the Middle East, and at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
The Monday night airstrike, near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, heightened already simmering tensions between American troops and Sunnis, who dominate the insurgency. U.S. forces, under the command of Gen. George W. Casey, have begun seeking ways to reduce the number of troops to shrink the U.S. footprint in Iraq.
Area residents reported that at least six members of an extended family were killed and three were rescued in the airstrike. The head of the household, Gadban Hussein, was in critical condition after having all four limbs amputated, a local hospital spokesman said in a telephone interview. The dead included three of Hussein’s sons and a daughter, all high school students, and his wife, the witnesses said.
Sunni leaders condemned the attack for causing the “bloodshed of innocent children” and accused the U.S. of conducting terrorism.
“If such incidents would occur in any other country, I can imagine their reaction,” said Nasir Ani, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab political party. “But in Iraq, it is just like any other news.”
In other violence, eight people were killed Tuesday in three attacks in Baghdad. Gunmen attacked a car carrying construction workers in a western neighborhood, killing three, police Capt. Qasim Hussein said. Another car carrying civilians was fired on in the same area, killing two people, said police 1st Lt. Thair Mahmoud. Three civilians elsewhere in Baghdad were shot to death, police said.