U.S. airstrike kills at least 7 Iraqis in friendly fire, local forces say

At least seven Iraqi police and allied militia members died in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike early Saturday that was targeting armed insurgents, Iraqi forces said.

Iraqi soldiers take up position during a military operation southwest of Fallujah city in the western province of Al Anbar. On Saturday, at least seven Iraqi police and allied militia members died in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike that was targeting armed insurgents in the province. Photo by Nawras Aamar/EPA
Iraqi soldiers take up position during a military operation southwest of Fallujah city in the western province of Al Anbar. On Saturday, at least seven Iraqi police and allied militia members died in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike that was targeting armed insurgents in the province. Photo by Nawras Aamar/EPA

The airstrike was in support of an Iraqi military raid that was searching in the Anbar province town of al-Baghdadi for an Islamic State leader who was convening with members of a “terrorist cell” in Baghdadi. After the militant was arrested, the Iraqi forces encountered an armed group of policemen and locals they thought were hostile. U.S. helicopters opened fire, according to a statement from Joint Operations Command, which coordinates Iraqi forces and the coalition.

Iraqi and U.S. officials in Baghdad are investigating the incident.

Anas al-Ani, the head of the health directorate in Anbar province, said at least seven people died and 18 were wounded.

Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, said it provided support but wouldn’t confirm whether it involved airstrikes in the vicinity.

In the Twitter post, he said that U.S. air support only comes at the request of or by approval of the Iraqi military.

“NO unilateral coalition operations in Iraq,” Dillon, said in the tweet.

Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a critic of American military presence in Iraq, said in a statement to The Washington Post: “American occupation proves its tyranny, its arrogance and its blatant aggression against the Iraqi government, its independence and its sovereignty, by indiscriminately and unjustly bombarding Baghdadi district which claimed innocent lives.”

He demanded that the “aggressors” be punished.

Qais al-Khazaali, the head of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militias, also blasted the airstrike.

“It begs important and dangerous questions about the American military presence in Iraq…and the justifications for its presence after the demise of Daesh [Islamic State] militarily,” he said after the raid.

The U.S.-led coalition has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq, and the United States and Iraq want to maintain a presence there to ensure Islamic State doesn’t re-emerge.

By Allen Cone