US military admits it hit wrong target after bomb kills 14 Iraqis

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The Independent Online

Fourteen Iraqis were reported killed and five injured early yesterday morning after an American war plane obliterated a family house in the north of the country. The military said it was a mistake.

Fourteen Iraqis were reported killed and five injured early yesterday morning after an American war plane obliterated a family house in the north of the country. The military said it was a mistake.

The American authorities promised a full investigation after admitting that a 500lb bomb had been unleashed on entirely the wrong target, south-east of Mosul.

Television footage had earlier shown a house in the village of Aitha reduced to rubble, while locals inspected the damage.

Nearby there were rows of freshly dug graves where local people said the dead were buried. They reported that American military vehicles had surrounded part of the settlement overnight, shortly before the strike in the early hours of the morning. An official US statement said an F-16 jet dropped a satellite-guided bomb on a house that was meant to be searched: "The intended target was another location nearby."

American operations are under way to restore security to the area, where the police force has effectively collapsed, ahead of the 30 January elections. Military reinforcements have begun moving to the area and Iraqi security forces are also being beefed up.

The bombing took place hours before a senior American embassy official in Iraq met leading members of Iraq's Sunni Arab community to try to persuade them to take part in the elections, which they have threatened to boycott.

The violence aimed at disrupting the poll continued yesterday. A suicide car bomb tore through a petrol station in Mahaweel, in the "triangle of death" south of Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 19 others who had been queuing at the fuel pump, police said.

In a separate incident, three Sunni officials from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit were abducted on a road south of Baghdad. They had been returning from the holy city of Najaf, where they had held talks with Shia leaders to bridge sectarian divisions over the elections.

In the past week alone, insurgents have killed almost 100 people in bombings, ambushes and assassinations, mostly targeting fledgling security services - often from the majority Shia population - whom they regard as collaborators.

Under pressure to take action, the US military reported the capture of a man associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qa'ida ally thought to be responsible for many of the bloodiest attacks. The American authorities said the arrest marked "significant progress in the inevitable destruction of the ... Zarqawi terrorist network" in Mosul.

Last year, US forces mounted frequent air strikes on houses in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah ahead of a major ground offensive, claiming the houses were being used by insurgents.

In May, US marines outraged ordinary Iraqis when they attacked an isolated villa in western Iraq, claiming it was an insurgent base and killing 40. Survivors said they were all civilians.

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