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Clashes, charges mark anniversary of war's start

US forces caused death of family, official alleges

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post / March 20, 2006

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BAGHDAD -- Clashes between US forces and suspected insurgents, and fresh allegations of American troops killing Iraqi noncombatants, marked the third anniversary yesterday of the start of the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq.

In Duluiyah, a stretch of farms along the Tigris River about 45 miles north of Baghdad, soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division's 3d Heavy Brigade Combat Team battled insurgents, the US military said in a statement.

The statement said American troops were responding to insurgents who opened fire with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades in the area, predominated by Sunnis. Seven of the attackers were killed, and two US soldiers were wounded.

A top police official as well as a resident who claimed he saw the fighting said US troops also shot and killed a family of three during house-to-house searches after the firefight.

''I saw corpses on the ground that I believe were of armed men who had clashed with the American forces" and with the Iraqi army, said Ahmad Hashem, the resident. ''Then the American soldiers appeared and started searching homes. They raided a house which was close to my home and killed a man named Ahmad Khalaf Hussein, his wife, and his 10-year-old son," Hashem said.

The police official gave the same account. Western news agencies also reported civilian deaths in the fighting. The US military, in the statement from spokesmen in Baghdad, said it knew of no civilian deaths in the engagement.

US military officials said the fight was not connected to another ongoing offensive, Operation Swarmer, in which US and Iraqi forces have been searching for Sunni insurgents and weapons caches in the arid countryside between the Tigris River and Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died in the war, from US and Iraqi military actions, insurgent attacks, and, increasingly, raids blamed on government-allied Shiite Muslim squads that allegedly operate both inside and outside Iraq's new, Shiite-dominated security forces.

US military officials announced last week that they had ordered a further investigation into a deadly incident four months ago in the town of Haditha in far western Iraq.

At least 15 civilians were killed in the incident on Nov. 19. The military's original statement on Nov. 20 said that the civilians and a US Marine were killed by a roadside bomb. Time magazine reported yesterday that US officials are now investigating whether Marines killed the 15 civilians, including seven women and three children, after the insurgent bombing that killed their fellow Marine.

The news magazine said it had given military officials accounts from a doctor and survivors that said the 15 unarmed townspeople were killed as they hid in their houses, or tried to run to safety, as Marines searched the area after the bombing. Time said it had also given the military a videotape showing some of the bodies. It quoted unidentified military officials as saying that Marines had believed US troops were coming under fire from the houses, and that the initial investigation indicated that Marines, rather than a bomb, had killed the 15.

''We take these allegations very seriously, and I believe the fact that two additional investigations are ongoing concerning this incident clearly demonstrate that," a US military spokeswoman in Baghdad, Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, said in an e-mail yesterday.

A roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol yesterday morning in Baqubah, killing a policeman and injuring 10 other people, according to Lieutenant Colonel Fakhri Tamimi Hassman, an official with the Diyala provincial police. Baqubah is about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

In Baghdad, the bodies of three men who had been bound hand and foot and shot were found dumped in the west of the city, and another man was shot dead yesterday as he left a Shiite mosque, news agencies reported.

The number of execution-style killings in Baghdad has climbed to an average of about 30 a day since mid-2005, according to Baghdad morgue figures. Many of the killings have allegedly been carried out by militias or police forces allied to Iraq's governing Shiite parties.