US-Iraq raid causes 'massacre' of civilians
BALAD, Iraq- A US-Iraqi raid north of Baghdad on Saturday killed a tribal sheikh and two of his family members, police said, as local leaders condemned what they branded a "massacre" of civilians.
US forces said the operation aimed to nab a wanted insurgent but officials in the village of Rufayat, 70 kilometres (45 miles) from the capital, said the raid targeted a family with no ties to insurgent groups.
"A joint raid using helicopters took place in Rufayat at around 1:00 am (2200 GMT on Friday) against the house of Hamid Hassan," said police Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed al-Baladawi.
"They killed three people, including the sheikh, and seven were wounded," he added, noting that four of the wounded were women. All of the casualties were members of the same family.
Hassan, 65, is the leader of a branch of the Rufayat tribe.
US forces confirmed that the raid took place, but did not give precise casualty figures, and said it was carried out to detain a wanted insurgent.
"Earlier this morning, there was an ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) counter-terrorism operation in Balad in search of terrorists wanted by an Iraqi warrant," Colonel Barry Johnson said.
"US advisers were there at the request of the government of Iraq to assist in the operation. As the team came near the house, they received fire and fired back in self defence."
US First Lieutenant Joseph Larrew said the insurgent who was being targeted was Firas Yasin Ahmad, who "is wanted by Iraqi authorities for suspected involvement in terrorism."
Larrew did not immediately specify if Ahmad was captured during the raid.
He added that American and Iraqi forces did not suffer any casualties, and said the incident was under investigation.
Rufayat tribal sheikh Yusuf Ahmed Hussein, however, said the family only opened fire "because they thought they (US and Iraqi forces) were insurgents."
Adel al-Sumaidaie, who heads the security committee of the provincial council of Salaheddin where Rufayat is located, described the raid as a "massacre against civilians."
"We will not let them (US troops) go free after this action -- We will chase them in all the international courts because of the criminal action they have carried out today."
Rufayat village, once a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency against the US military, lies on the outskirts of Balad.
Under the terms of a bilateral security agreement, American troops are authorised to take part in joint counter-terror operations and fire their weapons in self-defence.