The United States military acknowledged dropping a 500-pound bomb on the wrong house outside the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, killing five people. But the man who owned the house said the bomb killed 14 people — including seven 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 leading members of the Sunni Arab community in efforts to persuade them to participate in Jan. 30 elections, which they have threatened to boycott. Violence also continued, with at least nine Iraqis killed and several kidnapped.
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 air strike. 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 at 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.
An Associated Press photographer said from the scene 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 other developments:
Militants abducted three senior Iraqi officials, beheaded a man who worked for the U.S. military and killed at least eight others, officials said Saturday, a day after a U.S. general warned that insurgents may be planning "horrific" attacks ahead of the scheduled Jan. 30 elections.
On Friday, Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy chief of staff for strategic communications in Iraq, said Friday the United States has no intelligence indicating specific plots by the militants. But he said American leaders expected a rise in attacks.
"I think a worst case is where they have a series of horrific attacks that cause mass casualties in some spectacular fashion in the days leading up to the elections," Lessel said.
"If you look over the last six months, they have steadily escalated the barbaric nature of the attacks they have been committing. A year ago, you didn't see these kinds of horrific things," he said.
The escalating insurgency in Iraq is believed to be led by minority Sunnis, who dominated the country during Saddam Hussein's regime. The militants are against the landmark election set for later this month.
In the election — the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932 — the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
This week has seen a string of assassinations, suicide car bombings and other assaults that killed nearly 100 people, mostly Iraqi security troops, who are seen by the militants as collaborators with the American occupiers.
Authorities in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit said Saturday that gunmen abducted a deputy governor of a central Iraqi province, two other senior officials and their driver as they were returning from a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most prominent Shiite leader, in the holy city of Najaf to discuss national elections.
The delegation was stopped and the members kidnapped about 40 miles south of Baghdad on Friday. The area is in the so-called "triangle of death," a string of Sunni-controlled towns that have been the scene of frequent attacks.
The U.S. military said the delegation was traveling in two cars of which one managed the escape militants' ambush.
"Those insurgents and terrorists who intimidate and resort to kidnapping public officials are the true enemies of the Iraqi people," said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien.
In Baqouba, insurgents beheaded a translator who was working with the U.S. army after breaking into his house, police said Saturday.
An Iraqi policeman was killed by masked gunmen as he was leaving his house the southern Dora neighborhood of Baghdad.
Col. Khamees Jassim Khirbit, a ranking police official in the tense city of Ramadi was gunned down and his car was set ablaze, police said. Another senior police official, Lt. Col. Abed Ahmed, who supervised police operations in the volatile Anbar province, was shot dead on a street in central Ramadi.
A Basra municipal council member, Majid Hilal al-Tamimi, was seriously injured Saturday after gunmen opened fire at him outside the City Hall, police officials said. One of al-Tamimi's guards was killed and his driver also died.
A booby-trapped car blew up Saturday at a gas station in Mahaweel, about 35 miles south of Baghdad. One man was killed and several others were injured, police said.
In Baghdad's western neighborhood of Khadraa, gunmen killed Abboud Khalaf al-Lahibi, deputy secretary-general of the National Front for Iraqi tribes — a group representing several Iraqi tribes — his aide, Ibrahim al-Farhan, said. A bodyguard was killed and three others wounded in the attack, he said.
Also on Saturday, gunmen kidnapped Mohammed Khodr, a representative of the Human Rights Organization in Iraq in the town of Riyadh, some 28 miles southwest of Kirkuk, police said.
The U.S. military said Saturday that 48 suspected insurgents were detained in separate search operations in different parts of Iraq on Friday.
Also on Friday, a U.S. soldier was killed in a non-hostile vehicle accident in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said. The incident is under investigation, and the Marine's name was being withheld pending notification of the family.