BAGHDAD - Angry residents of a village north of Baghdad fired into the air and chanted "God is greatest" as they buried the victims of a U.S. air strike that the country's Sunni leaders condemned as a massacre.
Car bombs exploded in cities north and south of the capital, killing 10 people and wounding scores, while in Washington President Bush called on Republicans and Democrats to work together on a new strategy for Iraq.
"THE PEOPLE OF ISHAQI CONDEMN THE MASS KILLING BY THE OCCUPATION FORCES"
A policeman tries to keep order as residents protest against an overnight U.S. raid and airstrike in Ishaqi, 90 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, December 9, 2006. REUTERS/Nuhad Hussin
"Now it is the responsibility of all of us in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, to come together and find greater consensus on the best way forward," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
His call followed the release this week of recommendations by a high-level bipartisan panel which described the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating" and urged Washington to begin a regional diplomatic effort and boost U.S. training for Iraqi army units.
The U.S. military said the air strike on the village of Jalameda, near Ishaqi, 90 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad on Friday targeted al Qaeda militants who had clashed with troops. It said 18 men and two women were killed.
But local officials in Jalameda said there were 17 victims and that they included six women and five children. Relatives showed the children's bodies to journalists.
In March, Ishaqi police and officials accused U.S. troops of tying up and shooting dead six adults and five children and then calling in an air strike to destroy the house. An investigation by the U.S. unit involved concluded there was no wrongdoing.
Hundreds of chanting residents of Jalameda, a predominantly Sunni village, marched through Ishaqi on Saturday firing shots and carrying banners that read: "The people of Ishaqi condemn the mass killing by the occupation forces".
The bodies, wrapped in white cloth, were laid out in rows on the ground as residents prayed over them. They were later buried.
"We ask the Americans to be merciful. They kill civilians alleging they are terrorists. Ishaki is a catastrophe," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the biggest Sunni political bloc in parliament.
The Sunni Muslim Scholars Association also "strongly condemned the massacre" and accused U.S. soldiers of planting explosives and weapons at the scene to justify the air strike.
In fresh violence, a suicide car bomber killed seven people and wounded 44 in a crowded market in the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala on Saturday, hospital sources said.
At about the same time, three people were killed and three wounded in a car bomb explosion in the ethnically mixed northern city of Mosul.
The country is gripped by a wave of bloodletting between majority Shi'ites and once-dominant Sunnis after the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in February.
The U.S. military also reported the deaths of two Marines in Anbar province, the heartland of an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces, who the Iraq Study Group said in its report this week should begin pulling out by early 2008.
Bush has reacted coolly to that proposal as well as one urging the United States to hold direct talks with Iran and Syria, which he accuses of fuelling the violence with their respective support for Shi'ite militants and Sunni insurgents.
But he is under pressure for a shift in strategy in the unpopular war with sectarian violence rising and a growing number of Americans unhappy with his handling of the conflict.
While Bush said he would consider all of the group's 79 recommendations, he also said he would await other reviews by the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council expected soon.
"I want to hear all advice as I make the decisions to chart a new course in Iraq," Bush said.
Sectarian violence has continued largely unabated in Iraq. More than 2,900 U.S. troops have died and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Additional reporting by Ghazwan al-Jibouri in Tikrit, Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, and Mariam Karouny in Baghdad
Copyright © Reuters Ltd 2006