Iraqi Civilians Die in Raid, Complicating Pullout Talks
BAGHDAD — For the second time in a week, a joint Iraqi-American raid aiming at insurgents resulted in the killing of civilians.
Witnesses in the village of Ishaqi, just south of Tikrit, said Iraqi and American forces opened fire on civilians and threw grenades early Friday as they conducted the raid. The villagers said the forces were responding to gunfire from people in the village and then fired back, killing a 13-year-old boy and an off-duty police officer.
American military officials acknowledged that there was an operation but offered few details.
“This was an Iraqi-planned and -led counterterrorism operation,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, an American military spokesman, said in a statement. “The operation was enabled by U.S. support that included helicopters. Also, there was a small number of U.S. advisers taking part in the operation, although it was predominantly Iraqi forces, and they were in charge of all activities on the ground.”
General Buchanan said that “because of the fighting that ensued” additional American forces responded. “They secured the area but were not engaged in the operation,” he said. The statement did not say if the original American forces on the ground fired their weapons.
A spokesman for the Iraqi special forces declined to comment.
The operation, coming so soon after a botched raid on July 30, is sure to complicate politically fraught talks over whether American troops should remain in Iraq after the end of the year.
Amid pressure from American officials, who privately say some troops should remain, the Iraqi government announced on Wednesday that it would begin negotiations about a continued American troop presence.
Some politicians were already railing against the Americans for Friday’s raid, criticizing troops in the local press for once again violating Iraq’s sovereignty.
According to American military officials, the operation in Ishaqi was singling out a cell of insurgents who were assembling explosives. It remains unclear whether the insurgents were found.
On Friday, the officials said that they had provided helicopter support, explaining that it might have given the false impression that the raid was an American operation. They also said the Iraqi forces were often mistaken for Americans because of their equipment and techniques.
But on Saturday, after further questions based on eyewitness reports that Americans were involved, the military issued the statement saying some American troops had participated.
A local official and two witnesses said that the firing started when a villager shot at the forces because he believed they were thieves.
“We heard gunfire near our house, and my son woke up and went to the garden because he was afraid,” said the boy’s mother, Nagia Gamas, 51. “They shot him and my husband.”
The raid on July 30 in the grape farming village of Al Rufait left three dead, including a tribal sheik, and there were conflicting reports about whether the troops were shot at before opening fire. The United States military said that Americans had participated along with the Iraqis, but the raid was controversial partly because its target was not found. Local officials say that while the village may have once harbored insurgent sympathies, it is not a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency.
The Americans would like to have some troops remain in Iraq in part to serve as a counterweight to Iran.
Many high-ranking Iraqi politicians and military personnel believe they need the Americans’ help in training. But others, in particular the influential cleric Moktada al-Sadr, say that keeping the troops in Iraq is just a continuation of the occupation.
For Muhammad Farhan, a 62-year-old farmer in Ishaqi, the political debate has become personal. He said Iraqi and American forces knocked down his door around 2 a.m. Friday, tied him and three of his relatives up and took them outside.
He said that the Iraqi and American forces searched his house, stole a check from him and took his brother’s passport. “The Americans were telling us we are liars and terrorists,” Mr. Farhan said. “Why do you attack us? We are just innocent people.”