Inquiry after US air strikes kill 15 women and children

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A spokesman for Iraq's Shiite-dominated government yesterday called the killings of 15 women and children in a US ground and air assault "a sorrowful matter" but said civilian deaths are unavoidable in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The American military promised a thorough investigation into the events surrounding the raid in a Sunni area northwest of Baghdad.

Bombings struck a police patrol in the capital and children playing in a park in northern Iraq, while the country's Sunni Arab minority began celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Fearing more violence, Baghdad authorities imposed a ban on streetside parking after a series of car bombings in recent days.

The US military assault targeting senior al-Qaida leaders near the Lake Tharthar, about 50 miles northwest of the capital, inflicted one of the heaviest civilian death tolls in the offensive against the terror network in recent months. Nineteen insurgents and six women and nine children died in the raid, the military said.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the area targeted by American forces was a known base for insurgents, whom he accused of hiding among civilians.

"The issue of 15 civilian victims is a sorrowful matter, but confronting al-Qaida is an essential and vital issue," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "They shouldn't have any place among the civilians."

"We are in a war against those diabolical and wicked groups; therefore during military operations there might be innocents killed," he added. "The victims are an unavoidable matter in fighting al-Qaida."

Investigations are under way into the September 16 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians allegedly by Blackwater USA guards protecting a US Embassy convoy in Baghdad, and the shooting deaths on Tuesday of two Armenian Christian women by security contractors working for Australian-owned Unity Resources Group. Both companies said their employees were responding to what they perceived as a threat.

In northern Iraq, a bomb planted among toys in a cart left near a children's playground in the religiously mixed city of Tuz Khormato, 130 miles north of Baghdad, killed two people, including a child, and wounded 17, police Col. Abbas Mohammed said.