Baghdad — A U.S. attack killed 19 insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, northwest of the capital Thursday - one of the heaviest civilian death tolls in an American operation in recent months. The military said it was targeting senior leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq.
American forces have applied fierce and determined pressure on militants, especially al-Qaida in Iraq, since the full contingent of additional U.S. troops arrived June 15. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has recently confronted top American commander Gen. David Petraeus about what he sees as overly aggressive U.S. tactics that harm innocent civilians, according to Iraqi officials.
The military statement detailing Thursday's air and ground assault said soldiers were acting on intelligence reports about an al-Qaida meeting in the Lake Tharthar region. The southern reaches of the big, man-made lake are about 50 miles northwest of the capital.
The American account said U.S. surveillance confirmed "activity consistent with the reports and supporting aircraft engaged the time-sensitive target." The first air attack killed "four terrorists," said the statement.
The military said it then tracked some of those who escaped the initial attack to a place south of Lake Tharthar. It said ground forces moved on the site and came under fire. Air support was called in.
"After securing the area, the ground force assessed 15 terrorists, six women and nine children were killed," the statement said. Two suspected al-Qaida members, a woman and three children were wounded, according to the military account.
The military said its troopers "were reviewing information from the scene (of Thursday's attack) as well as assessing the level of damage involved."
The statement also issued regret "that civilians are hurt or killed while Coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism."
On Oct. 5, a pre-dawn U.S. raid on Khalis, a Shiite city north of Baghdad, killed 25 people when U.S. troops called in airstrikes after meeting a fierce barrage while hunting suspected smugglers of arms from Iran to Baghdad. Village leaders said the victims included civilians, but the military insisted the 25 killed were militants.
President Bush ordered the 30,000 American forces to Iraq to stanch sectarian violence and give the government breathing space to foster reconciliation among the country's warring Sunni and Shiite Muslims. U.S. forces have chalked up notable success against militants, but the government has become nearly deadlocked and made no progress on healing wounds among Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups.
Also Thursday, the U.S. military revealed that rockets fired from a nearby abandoned school struck Camp Victory, U.S. military headquarters near Baghdad Airport, killing two members of the U.S.-led coalition and wounding 40 other people on the sprawling headquarters for U.S. forces in Iraq.
Most troops stationed at the base are American but there are small contingents from other countries. The military said those wounded in Wednesday's attack included two "third-country nationals," meaning they were not Americans or Iraqis.
Petraeus said 107 mm rockets were used. A number of other rockets also were found at the launching site, he said, adding the military had strong leads about who was behind the attack. A U.S. military official said the rockets were fired from an abandoned school nearby.
Both the Iraqi officials and the U.S. military official spoke on condition of anonymity because they lacked authorization to release information.