BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — U.S. warplanes and helicopters bombed two villages near the restive city of Ramadi, killing an estimated 70 militants, the military said Monday, though witnesses said at least 39 of the dead were civilians.
On referendum day, a roadside bomb killed five U.S. soldiers in a vehicle in the Al-Bu Ubaid village on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi.
On Sunday, a group of about two dozen Iraqis gathered around the wreckage; they were hit by U.S. airstrikes, the military and witnesses said.
The military said in a statement that the crowd was setting another roadside bomb when F-15 warplanes hit them, killing around 20 people, described by the military as “terrorists.”
But several witnesses and one local leader said they were civilians who had gathered to gawk at and take pieces of the wreckage, as often occurs after an American vehicle is hit.
A tribal leader, Chiad Sa’ad, said the airstrike killed 25 civilians, and several other witnesses said the same thing, though they refused to give their names out of fear for their safety.
The other deaths occurred in the nearby village of Al-Bu Faraj.
The military said a group of gunmen opened fire on a Cobra attack helicopter that had spotted their position. The Cobra returned fire, killing around 10. The men ran into a nearby house, where gunmen were seen unloading weapons when an F/A-18 warplane struck the building with a bomb, killing 40 (Iraqis), the military said.
Witnesses said at least 14 of the dead were civilians. First, one man was wounded in an airstrike, and when he was brought into a nearby building, warplanes struck it, said the witnesses, who refused to give their names over concerns about their safety.
An Associated Press stringer later saw the 14 bodies and the damaged building. He said residents, many of them crying, removed the bodies and buried them, some in wooden coffins, others simply wrapped in white cloth. One of the bodies was that of a boy who appeared to be between the ages of 10 and 15, the stringer said.
Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is a stronghold for (Iraqi resistance), and few people cast ballots there during Saturday’s referendum.
A U.S. Marine was also killed by a bomb Saturday in the town of Saqlawiyah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. The weekend’s U.S. military fatalities brought to at least 1,976 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count
Associated Press 2005