Thirteen Iraqis working in poultry farms in a village near the restive city of Baquba were killed during overnight US raids in the area, Iraqi police and a rights organisation said Tuesday.
The US military also said it was pressing ahead with murder charges against three of its soldiers for killing three Iraqi detainees, while Japan for its part ordered its 600 troops to leave Iraq.
Iraqis sitting near bodies of their relative outside a local hospital in the restive city of Baquba. The US military said it killed 15 "terrorists" during overnight raids in farmland near the restive town of Baquba but Iraqis insisted the dead were innocent poultry farm workers.(AFP/Ali Yussef)
The workers had been sleeping in the fields of Bushaheen village in an area known as Al-Salam (peace), some 90 kilometres (55 miles) northeast of Baghdad, said an Iraqi police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said that in addition to the 13 killed, four others were wounded and 10 people arrested.
The report was backed up by Hadi al-Azzawi from a human rights organisation in the restive city of Baquba, while the main hospital in the city said it had received 13 bodies.
Hussam Shamel, a farmer in the area, told AFP that two of his brothers were killed, while his father and another brother were arrested by US forces.
A US military spokesman in Baghdad acknowledged there was an incident in the area but refused to give details, saying the raids were part of an ongoing campaign against militants of the Al-Qaeda terror network in Iraq.
Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a US air strike on June 7 on his safe house near Baquba.
And on June 12, the US military said it killed seven Al-Qaeda-linked operatives in the village of Hashmiyat in an air strike after US soldiers patrolling the area came under fire.
But witnesses said the incident was triggered when a guard in the village mistook US soldiers in the distance for gangs and began firing towards them. Two of the dead were children.
Meanwhile, US military spokesman Major William Wilhoite said there was enough evidence to charge three soldiers accused of murdering three male Iraqi detainees last month.
"There is enough evidence pointing towards them (soldiers) and that they will be charged" for murder of the three detainees near Muthana Chemical Complex in Salaheddin province, Wilhoite told AFP.
The soldiers are currently held in pre-trial confinement awaiting a hearing.
Staff Sergeant Raymond L. Girouard, Specialist William B. Hunsaker and Private First Class Corey Clagett are accused of killing the detainees and of covering up their crime by saying they were shot dead as they tried to escape.
It was unclear who the detainees were and why they were taken into custody. A US military statement said only that they died during an operation May 9 near Thar Thar Canal in Salaheddin province.
The case is the latest in a series involving allegations that US troops killed Iraqi civilians.
The most serious to date are claims that US marines went on a rampage at Haditha in western Iraq on November 19, killing 24 civilians including 10 women and children after a marine was killed by a roadside bomb.
On Tuesday, Japan ordered a pullback of troops from the southern Muthanna province, ending its first military mission since World War II to a country where fighting is under way.
The mission, which has helped reconstruct the relatively peaceful area around the southern city of Samawa since January 2004, is the first of its kind since Japan was forced by the United States to renounce war after World War II.
The troops have suffered no casualties and never even fired their state-of-the-art weapons.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday that Iraqi forces would take over responsibility for the largely peaceful and sparsely-populated southern province of Muthanna.
In violence on the ground, at least people were killed across Iraq on Tuesday, including five in Baghdad where a massive security crackdown was in its seventh day.
A car bomb in the Jamila neighborhoud in the populous Shiite district of Sadr City left three killed and 19 wounded, while two people were killed and 28 wounded in an explosion at a second-hand clothes market off Al-Tayaran Square on the east bank of the Tigris River, an interior ministry official told AFP.
A second car bomb in the restive Saydiyah neighbourhood in southwest Baghdad wounded three others.
Since the launch of the security operation last week at least 70 people have been killed in attacks and bombings in the capital, including the Baratha mosque bombing last Friday.
Iraq's Minister of State for National Security Shirwan al-Waili said the attacks in Baghdad indicated that insurgents had a better intelligence network.
"The latest bout of violence can be attributed to the far more superior intelligence capabilities of the terrorists," Waili said in an interview published in the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper.
"We must confront the terrorists with the same weapon: intelligence," he said, adding that insurgents had found creative ways to get around the restrictions on their movements.
In the southern city of Basra, where a state of emergency was declared last month, a suicide bomber killed one woman and wounded three others at a retirement home.
The British military said the bomber himself survived the blast and was admitted to hospital.
Copyright © 2006 AFP