BAGHDAD – U.S. troops hunting for a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militant raided a house Friday and killed seven people, including three women, drawing an angry protest from Iraqi officials that all the victims were civilians.
The U.S. military said the raid in Adwar – a Sunni town 70 miles north of Baghdad and just south of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit – targeted an extremist responsible for suicide attacks and roadside bombings.
Neighbors and Iraqi officials claimed all the dead were from a poor family that had been uprooted by sectarian violence and had no links to the insurgency. Iraq’s government demanded that those responsible for the raid be punished.
The dispute comes as the United States and Iraq are negotiating a security agreement to replace the U.N. mandate for foreign forces, which expires at year’s end. Iraqi negotiators have insisted on oversight of U.S. military operations and the lifting of blanket immunity for American troops and security contractors.
U.S. airstrikes and conflicting claims about civilian deaths have been common throughout the war, prompting public outrage and underscoring the challenges faced by American forces fighting enemies who live among the population and don’t wear uniforms.
Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab bloc denounced Friday’s raid. “Even if, as they claim, a man attacked them, that does not give them the excuse to target women and children,” said Salim Abdullah al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front.
Dozens of people marched to the site chanting “God is great” and “We condemn this inhumane act.”
Abdullah Hussein Jibara, deputy governor of Salahuddin province, said he did not accept the initial explanation given by the Americans.
“We think that this tragedy could have been avoided if there were real coordination between U.S. forces and Iraqi authorities,” Jibara said. “We condemn this random targeting of civilians, including women and children.”
The preacher of Adwar’s main mosque, Amir al-Douri, called on the Iraqi government to take legal measures against the U.S. soldiers who carried out the raid and to demand a full explanation from the U.S. Army.
The toll in Friday’s operation was the deadliest inflicted by U.S. forces in weeks, amid a relative calm due to security gains over the past year.
According to the U.S. command, troops acting on tips surrounded a house believed to be holding the suspected insurgent leader. They called for those inside to surrender during an hourlong standoff, but opened fire when an armed man appeared in a doorway, killing the main suspect, the command said.
The troops then called in an airstrike that killed three other suspected insurgents and three women, the military said, adding that an Iraqi child was pulled from the rubble and taken to a U.S. base for medical treatment.
Iraqi police and hospital officials put the death toll at eight and some said two men and a woman were shot down at the gate as they tried to surrender.