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US to review Iraqi raid for civilian deaths

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military will look into whether American warplanes and helicopter gunships killed civilians during a raid on suspected militants near the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, the White House.

Asked for President George W. Bush’s reaction to the deaths on Sunday of about 20 civilians, including children, spokesman Scott McClellan disputed the reports.

“The military has said otherwise at this point,” he said. “The military has review mechanisms in place, and when there are questions raised they look into those matters and so that’s something that, obviously, they will look into.”

U.S. forces killed about 70 people near Ramadi on Sunday. Local police said about 20 of those who died in the strikes were civilians, including some children who had gathered around the wreckage of an American military vehicle.

The U.S. military said on Monday it believed all those hit were “terrorists.”

A U.S. military statement said at least 20 suspected militants were killed when an F-15 aircraft bombed a group of men burying a roadside bomb — one of the deadliest weapons in the insurgent arsenal.

Fifty other militants were killed in a series of separate strikes, the statement added, saying military commanders had no indications of any U.S. or civilian casualties in the operation.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said in response to questions from reporters that “we have no indications that the allegations of civilian casualties is accurate.” He said U.S. commanders on the ground were checking again with troops on the scene to verify there were no civilians in the area.

Whitman said wreckage had been cleared away from a previous insurgent attack and that “a truck with a number of insurgents returned to that place and were in the process of implanting another IED (improvised explosive device) into the same location.”

“That is when the (U.S.) commander called for that airstrike,” he told reporters. “Airstrikes are used when the tactical situation dictates. And what we do is target only enemy combatants. Every attempt is made to limit any collateral damage or injury or death to civilians.”

McClellan told reporters, “Our military goes out of the way to target the enemy and to bring to justice the terrorists and those who are seeking to prevent democracy from taking hold through violent means.”