Between six and 14 members of an Iraqi family were reported dead yesterday after US warplanes obliterated a house in the northern oil town of Baiji. Enraged local officials described the attack as unjustified and said it had killed an innocent family, including one member who worked for the Iraqi police.
"I absolutely confirm there were no terrorists in this house," police chief Colonel Sufyan Mustafa told Reuters. "Even if there had been, why didn't they surround the area and detain the terrorists instead?" People at the scene of the blast said seven bodies were recovered from the rubble, including at least two children.
A police official in the regional capital, Tikrit, said six people were killed and three wounded, although an official at the Joint Coordination Centre, which liaises between US and Iraqi forces in Salahaddin province, said 14 died. Officials named the householder as Ghadhban Nahi Hussein.
A statement from the US 101st Airborne Division said troops monitoring images from an unmanned reconnaissance drone on Monday night had observed three men "as they dug a hole following the common pattern of roadside bomb emplacement".
The statement continued: "The individuals were assessed as posing a threat to Iraqi civilians and coalition forces, and the location of the three men was relayed to close air support pilots. The individuals left the road site and were followed from the air to a nearby building. Coalition forces employed precision guided munitions on the structure."
The statement did not say whether a roadside bomb was later found at the site.
Baiji has been the scene of numerous rebel attacks, including efforts by insurgents to disrupt oil and fuel flows through its refinery, which is the biggest in Iraq. The closure of the refinery last month has caused serious fuel shortages across the country, although the plant reopened again late on Monday.
US forces have increasingly been using air power rather than ground troops to attack suspected insurgents. During the first quarter of last year, such airstrikes averaged five a month but had risen to 50 a month by the final quarter.
According to figures issued by the Iraqi interior ministry yesterday, 4,020 civilians were killed in violence last year. The figure, which was lower than that issued by some organisations, did not include more than 1,000 killed at a religious festival in August, when rumours of a suicide bomber caused a stampede on a bridge.
The figures indicated 1,241 police officers and 475 Iraqi soldiers also died last year. In addition, 1,734 people described as terrorists were said to have been killed.
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