Dozens of Iraqis die in US air strikes

US warplanes and helicopters have bombed two villages near the city of Ramadi where witnesses say at least 39 civilians have been killed, while the US army says the air strike has killed an estimated 70 fighters.

    A US army statement says there were no civilian casualties

    On Sunday, a group of about two dozen Iraqis gathered around the wreckage of a US vehicle destroyed the previous day by a roadside bomb. The people were hit by the US air strikes, the military and witnesses said.

    The air strike hit the crowd which had gathered around to look at the wreckage of the vehicle and to pick pieces off it - as often occurs after an American vehicle is hit. The vehicle was destroyed on election day.

    Chiad Saad, a tribal leader, and several witnesses who refused to give their names to protect their security, said 25 civilians were killed in the attack.

    Basim al-Dulaimi, a doctor at Ramadi hospital, said he had received 25 dead and eight wounded and said relatives had told him the victims had been hit in aerial bombardments.

    Heavy gunfire

    Residents reported heavy gunfire and clashes in central and eastern parts of the city, which is west of Baghdad, throughout Sunday.

    The US military, however, said the crowd was setting another roadside bomb in the location of the blast that killed the Americans the day before.

    Ramadi has been the scene of
    frequent attacks on US soldiers

    The US statement also said there were no reports of any US or civilian casualties in the operation.

    F-15 warplanes hit them with a precision-guided bomb, killing about 20 people described in the statement as "terrorists".

    The other deaths occurred in the nearby village of Al-Bu Faraj.

    The US military said a group of armed men opened fire on a Cobra attack helicopter that had spotted their position. The Cobra returned fire, killing about 10 people.

    The men ran into a nearby house, where armed men were seen unloading weapons. An F-18 warplane struck the building with a bomb, killing 40 fighters, the military said.

    Witness account

    Witnesses said at least 14 of the dead were civilians.

    First, one man was wounded in an air strike, and when he was brought into a nearby building, warplanes struck it, said the witnesses, refusing to give their names for concern about their safety.

    An Associated Press stringer later saw the 14 bodies and the damaged building.

    The weekend's US military fatalities brought to at least 1976 the number of US service members who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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