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August 18, 2017

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U.S. bombs Iraq house, kills family

A U.S. air strike on a house in northern Iraq killed six members of an Iraqi family, prompting anger on Tuesday among minority Sunni Arab political leaders and the local police chief.

The U.S. military said aircraft bombed the building in the northern oil refining town of Baiji late on Monday when three men were spotted from the air going into the house after digging a hole that troops suspected was for a roadside bomb.

Baiji police said six people were killed and three wounded when the house was obliterated. Among the casualties were two police officers, one killed, the other wounded, they added. The youngest casualty was 14, the local police chief said.

"I absolutely confirm there were no terrorists in this house," police chief Colonel Sufyan Mustafa told Reuters.

"Even if there had been, why didn't they surround the area and detain the terrorists instead?"

Grievances over U.S. military action are widespread among the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and the latest controversy comes as Sunnis wrangle for a role in a new government following an election last month that their leaders said was rigged by the Shi'ite majority.

A handful of international election monitors are coming to Baghdad to try to help resolve the row over the results, but the Electoral Commission said again it was confident only an insignificant number of ballots would be ruled out for fraud and that it would be able to confirm results within a few days.

A statement issued by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division in response to an inquiry about the deaths in Baiji said soldiers monitoring film from a reconnaissance drone spotted three men apparently digging a hole by a road around 9 p.m. (1800 GMT).

Pilots were alerted, the military said: "The individuals... were followed from the air to a nearby building. Coalition forces employed precision-guided munitions on the structure."

A U.S. spokesmen gave no casualty figure and had no immediate comment on whether a roadside bomb had been found.

A local official of the biggest Sunni Arab political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, called for demonstrations: "This is a historic crime and another catastrophe for the people of Baiji.

"If there were gunmen or criminals in that house, is it right to blow up the whole family?" said Ali al-Ajeel.

Hussein al-Falluji, a prominent lawyer and a national leader of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Accordance Front, said: "Once again the occupiers have shown their barbarism. They never learn from their mistakes... People's resentment is increasing."

Last week, the military said an air strike killed 10 people near the nearby town of Hawija after pilots tracked men who had been spotted digging by a roadside.

Baiji has seen considerable rebel violence, including efforts by insurgents to disrupt oil and fuel flows through its refinery, the biggest in Iraq. The closure of the refinery last month has caused serious shortages in fuel across the country, although the plant reopened again late on Monday.

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