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Iraq fury over US air raid

TIKRIT: Eight family members, including three women, were killed in a US air strike near executed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit yesterday, sparking anti-American demonstrations.

Large crowds protested against the US raid after the main weekly Muslim prayers in the city, capital of Salaheddin Province.

"America is the enemy of God," protesters chanted.

The US military confirmed aerial strike against a house, but said the target was an Al Qaeda operative and not the women inside.

But neighbours and Iraqi officials claimed the dead were from a poor family that had been uprooted by sectarian violence and had no links to the insurgency. Iraq's largest Sunni Arab bloc denounced the killings.

"Even if, as they claim, a man attacked them, that does not give them the excuse to target women and children," said Salim Abdullah Al Jubouri, a spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Scores of local residents also marched to the site, chanting "God is Great" and "We condemn this inhumane act".

US troops surrounded the house in the village of Al Dawr, where Saddam was captured in December 2003, and ordered its occupants to come out but they did not respond, the American military said.

It said an armed man emerged after a one-hour standoff and the troops killed him and bombed the house.

The US statement said their main target was a "suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) terrorist alleged to lead improvised explosive device facilitation and brag about his victims."

"Sadly, this incident again shows that the AQI terrorists repeatedly risk the lives of innocent women and children to further their evil work," US military spokesman Colonel Jerry O'Hara said.

He said surveillance teams observed two other people running away from the building and taking shelter in a neighbouring mosque.

One was later arrested with the help of Iraqi forces.

Abdul Kareem, a close relative of the victims, said he saw US troops surround the house in the early hours. "Then helicopters targeted it," he said.

A doctor at Tikrit General Hospital said the bodies of eight people were brought in and the victims appeared to have died of injuries consistent with an air strike.

The preacher of Adwar's main mosque demanded that the Iraqi government take legal measures against the US soldiers who carried out the raid and demand an explanation from the US Army.

In other operations, US troops captured five wanted men and detained three additional suspects.

Two Iraqi army officers and a policeman were killed in separate attacks in the restive province of Diyala.

Gunmen killed a woman near her house in Tuz Khurmato, 170km north of Baghdad, police said.

A roadside bomb wounded six people including two policemen when it struck their patrol in the district of Yarmouk, western Baghdad.



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