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US raid targeting Al Qaeda takes heavy toll on civilians

Total of 6 women, 9 children killed, with 19 militants

A crowd gathered in a marketplace in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk yesterday at the scene of a car-bomb attack that killed at least seven people and wounded 50 others; it was one of several suicide bombings across the country, with the death toll reportedly reaching 35. A crowd gathered in a marketplace in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk yesterday at the scene of a car-bomb attack that killed at least seven people and wounded 50 others; it was one of several suicide bombings across the country, with the death toll reportedly reaching 35. (Slahaldeen Rasheed/reuters)

BAGHDAD - A US attack killed 19 insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, northwest of Iraq's capital yesterday in one of the heaviest civilian death tolls in an American operation in recent months. The military said it was targeting senior leaders of Al Qaeda.

American forces have applied fierce and determined pressure on militants, especially Al Qaeda, since the full contingent of additional US troops arrived in Iraq on June 15. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has recently confronted the top American commander, General David Petraeus, about what he sees as overly aggressive US tactics that harm innocent civilians, according to Iraqi officials.

The military statement detailing yesterday's air and ground assault said soldiers were acting on intelligence reports about an Al Qaeda meeting near Lake Tharthar. The southern reaches of the big, man-made lake are about 50 miles northwest of the capital.

The American account said US surveillance confirmed "activity consistent with the reports and supporting aircraft engaged the time-sensitive target." The first air attack killed "four terrorists," said the statement.

The military said it then tracked some of those who escaped the initial attack to a place south of Lake Tharthar. It said ground forces moved on the site and came under fire. Air support was called in.

"After securing the area, the ground force assessed 15 terrorists, six women, and nine children were killed," the statement said. Two suspected Al Qaeda members, a woman, and three children were wounded, according to the military account.

The military said its troopers "were reviewing information from the scene."

The statement also expressed regret "that civilians are hurt or killed while Coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism."

Last Friday, a predawn US raid on Khalis, a Shi'ite city north of Baghdad, killed 25 people when US troops called in air strikes after meeting a fierce barrage while hunting suspected smugglers of arms from Iran to Baghdad.

Village leaders said the victims included civilians, but the military insisted the 25 killed were militants.

President Bush ordered the 30,000 American forces to Iraq to stanch sectarian violence and give the government breathing space to foster reconciliation among the country's warring Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. US forces have chalked up notable success against militants, but the government has become nearly deadlocked and made no progress on healing wounds among Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups.

The US military announced the combat death of a soldier Wednesday in eastern Baghdad.

At least 35 Iraqis were killed or found dead in attacks nationwide yesterday, as suicide car bombers struck a market in the northern city of Kirkuk and a cafe in eastern Baghdad.

Also yesterday, the US military revealed that rockets fired from a nearby abandoned school had struck Camp Victory, the sprawling headquarters for US forces in Iraq, killing two members of the US-led coalition and wounding 40 other people.

Most troops stationed at the base near Baghdad Airport are American but there are small contingents from other countries. The military said those wounded in Wednesday's attack included two "third-country nationals," meaning they were not Americans or Iraqis.

Petraeus said 107mm rockets were used. A number of other rockets also were found at the launching site, he said, adding the military had strong leads about who was behind the attack.

Both the Iraqi officials and the US military official spoke on condition of anonymity because they lacked authorization to release information.

US bases in Iraq frequently face rocket or mortar attacks, but Camp Victory is well-entrenched on the capital's western outskirts and such heavy casualties are rare.

On Sept. 11, one person was killed and 11 were wounded in a rocket attack on the complex, which includes lakeside palaces formerly used by Saddam Hussein that now house the headquarters of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. The US military said a 240mm rocket provided to Shiite extremists by Iran was used in that attack.

By contrast, the US-protected Green Zone, which houses the American and British embassies and the Iraqi government headquarters in central Baghdad, is far more vulnerable and has faced a series of deadly strikes in recent months.

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