Death toll climbs to 56 in US air raid on northern Iraq

Published August 31st, 2005 - 05:47 GMT

The death toll from Tuesday's US air strike in northern Iraq has climbed to at least 56, according to Iraqi sources. The air raid, the second in less than a week, was reportedly carried out in an attempt to target Al Qaeda members wanted by the US.

Multiple air strikes centering around the town of Qaim near the Syrian-Iraqi border were reported early Tuesday morning.  “At least 56 people were killed in the airstrikes carried out by US forces near Qaim close to the Syrian border,” one Iraqi source told <i>AFP</i>.

US military sources could offer no exact numbers of casualties, but said that “There was a total of three strikes targeting terrorist safe houses... Abu Islam (a reported Al-Qaeda operative) and several associates are believed killed.” In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon. They added that "two 500 pound precision-guided munitions were expended on each terrorist safe house." 

Iraqi eyewitnesses, on the other hand reported that several family homes were targeted in the attack, killing many civilians and pinning others beneath tons of rubble. 


An Iraqi eyewitness at the scene said that one building targeted was occupied by three families consisting of around 35 family-members. He added that of the 35, only five had reportedly escaped and that others remained trapped inside. The same source said that in another home at least 15 were most likely killed. 


Other buildings in the nearby town of Suleiman were also targeted according to Iraqi sources, including a medical clinic. At least one medical staff member was reportedly killed in the attack, according to Iraqi sources. 

<b>Clashes continue while constitution contarversy looms</b>

Iraqi authorities stated fighting had broken out in the area between a tribe that supports foreign fighters and another that backs the government.


Meanwhile on Monday night, in what appeared to be an attempt to undermine Iraq's oil industry, gunmen killed a security official in Iraq's North Oil Company as well as a friend of his who was accompanying him, according to Reuters. In Tal Afar, a city in northern Iraq, a U.S. Army helicopter made a forced landing Monday night under hostile fire, and one soldier was killed and another wounded, the U.S. military said. 


On the political front, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad expected changes in the draft constitution, just two days after Shiite and Kurdish negotiators bypassed Sunni negotiators and finished it. "I believe that a final, final draft has not yet been, or the edits have not been, presented yet, so that is something that Iraqis will have to talk to each other and decide for themselves," Khalilzad told reporters.


Earlier, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, Ghazi Al Yawer, a Sunni, expressed criticism on Monday of the country's recently proposed constitution draft, giving voice to thousands of Sunni Arabs who oppose the document. 

Al Yawer said that he was considering asking his supporters to vote the constitution down in the upcoming October referendum in which the document will be presented to the Iraqi public for approval, according to Reuters.

On Monday thousands of Sunnis took to the streets carrying posters of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in protest, hightening concerns that current violence in the country may escalate.

Al Yawer referred to the current Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish leadership as a "dictatorship of the majority."

In 2004 the US named Al Yawer president of the caretaker of the Iraqi government, making him one of the nation's two vice presidents after January's national elections. The other  vice president, Rowsh Nouri Shaways, is a Kurd.

Al Yawer's bitterness suggested that even more moderate Sunnis are feeling alienated in their struggle for representation in Iraq.

Sunnis are mainly opposed to wording in the draft that supposedly erodes the Arab identity of Iraq, as well as portions that would let provinces unite as powerful regions with a strong central government.


Sunnis fear that doing so would strengthen oil rich Kurdish and Shiite regions of the country while isolating less affluent Sunni areas. They also oppose the removal of former Baath party members from government under the constitution.

Sunnis have the numbers needed to bring down the constitution, which requires a two third majority for approval, but not the resources, education or organization ability.


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