US Bombers Kill 70 Iraqis

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US warplanes and helicopter gunships have carried out punishment raids on two villages near Ramadi, killing at least 40 Iraqi civilians.

In a statement yesterday, the US military claimed it had killed 70 insurgents on Sunday. This followed the deaths of six US Marines, five near Ramadi, on Saturday.

The statement said: ‘Coalition forces continue to aggressively pursue terrorists whose aim is to kill Iraqi civilians and coalition forces in an attempt to disrupt the political process.’

However, witnesses said US air strikes had been mounted on Sunday against a group of about two dozen Iraqi villagers gathered around the wreckage of a US vehicle destroyed the previous day by a roadside bomb.

The air strike hit the crowd, which had gathered around to look at the wreckage of the vehicle and to strip it of any useful parts or just take souvenirs – as often occurs after an American vehicle is hit.

A tribal leader and a doctor at Ramadi hospital, confirmed that 25 were killed in that air strike and eight were wounded.

Ramadi residents reported heavy gun fire and clashes in central and eastern parts of the city, west of Baghdad, throughout Sunday.

The US military however, claimed the villagers had been setting another roadside bomb at the location of the blast that killed five US Marines the day before.

The US statement also said there were no reports of any US or civilian casualties in the operation.

It said F-15 warplanes used a precision-guided bomb to kill about twenty people, who were described as ‘terrorists’.

Another fifty people were killed on Sunday in deadly raids on the nearby village of Al-Bu Faraj.

The US military claimed that a group of armed men opened fire on a Cobra attack helicopter that had spotted their position. The Cobra returned fire, killing about ten people, the military said.

The men ran into a nearby house, where armed men were said to be seen unloading weapons.

An F-18 warplane struck the building with a bomb, killing forty insurgents, the military said.

But witnesses said at least fourteen of the dead were civilians.

Meanwhile, the western Al Anbar and Salaheddin provinces have delivered a huge ‘no’ vote to reject the new Iraqi puppet ‘constitution’, it emerged as the first votes were counted yesterday after Saturday’s ‘referendum’.

Opponents of the constitution needed two thirds of voters in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces to vote ‘No’ for the proposals to fail.

Sunni Iraqis turned out in droves to vote in Fallujah, Mosul and Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit.

In the Sunni-dominated province of Salaheddin, which includes Tikrit, election official Saleh Khalil Farraj said that 71 per cent of voters had voted ‘No’.