Baghdad, Iraq The U.S. military said it dropped a 500-pound bomb on the wrong house outside the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, killing five people. The man who owned the house said the bomb killed 14 people, and an Associated Press photographer said seven of them were children.
The strike in the town of Aitha, 30 miles south of Mosul, came hours before a senior U.S. Embassy official in Iraq met with leaders of the Sunni Arab community to apply political pressure against their threat to boycott Jan. 30 elections. The Arab satellite broadcaster al-Jazeera said the Sunnis asked the Americans to announce a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
American officials repeatedly have insisted the vote go ahead, but it is an extremely delicate time, with Iraq's government perceived by many as closely tied to the U.S.-led coalition.
Late Saturday, a U.S. military statement said an F-16 jet dropped a 500-pound GPS-guided bomb on a house that was meant to be searched during an operation to capture "an anti-Iraqi force cell leader."
"The house was not the intended target for the airstrike. The intended target was another location nearby," the military said in a statement.
The homeowner, Ali Yousef, told Associated Press Television News that the airstrike happened about 2:30 a.m., and American troops immediately surrounded the area, blocking access for four hours. The brick house was reduced to a pile of rubble, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.
The photographer said that 14 members of the same family -- seven children, four women and three men -- were killed, and six people were wounded, including another child in the house and five people from neighboring houses. By evening, all 14 victims had been buried in a nearby cemetery, Yousef said.
The U.S. military statement said coalition forces went to the area to provide assistance and said five people were killed. It said there was no other damage.
"Multi-National Force Iraq deeply regrets the loss of possibly innocent lives," the statement said, adding that an investigation was under way.
American troops recently sent more troops to Mosul, which has seen heavy clashes in recent weeks between insurgents and American forces. U.S. officials acknowledge the area is still too unsafe for the elections to take place there safely.
The election is the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932, and the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. Sunni leaders have urged the vote be postponed, largely because areas of Iraq where they dominate are far too restive for preparations to begin.
In particular, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a powerful Sunni Muslim group, has demanded the vote be put off and threatened a boycott. On Saturday, a senior embassy official met in Baghdad with members of the group, U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan said. He described the surprise meeting as an "exchange of views."