A US military helicopter air strike on Wednesday night killed eight civilians, including two children and an elderly man, north of Baghdad, police officials said yesterday.
Colonel Mudhher al-Qaisi, police chief in the town of Baiji, said the attack was on a group of shepherds in a car in a farming area. Relatives said some of those killed were fleeing on foot after the US military arrived in the area.
“This is a criminal act. It will make the relations between Iraqi citizens and the US forces tense,” al-Qaisi said.
A US military spokeswoman, Lieutenant-Colonel Maura Gillen, said the helicopter fired after noting “suspicious activity.”
UN officials have expressed concern at the number of civilians killed in air strikes in Iraq and said more care must be taken in military operations to protect them.
Resident Ghafil Rashed said his brother and son were killed in the raid.
“The Americans raided our houses ... People start fleeing with their children, then the aircraft started bombing people in a street along the farm.”
The US military said the incident was under investigation.
“Coalition forces regret the loss of innocent civilian lives,” said Navy Captain Gordon Delcambre in a press statement. “Terrorists continue to show their disregard for human life by endangering children with their illegal and violent activities.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to the southern holy Shiite city of Najaf yesterday in order to meet Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Voices of Iraq news agency reported.
The talks come amid further government discussions on a possible Cabinet reshuffle.
Al-Sistani, who lives in Najaf, is a recluse who rarely makes public appearances. But he wields considerable political influence.
Al-Sistani backs al-Maliki’s Shiite United Iraqi Alliance but he also promotes national reconciliation and the integration of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority into the political process.
Al-Maliki is also currently conducting talks with the main Sunni bloc of the Iraqi Accord Front over its possible return to the Cabinet.
In related news, two Iraqi journalists were killed in separate incidents in Baghdad and Diyala on Wednesday, police and their employers said yesterday.
Wissa Ali Ouda, a reporter for private television station Afaq, was killed by a sniper as he was heading home, his editor-in-chief Khazaal Ghazi said.
The body of another journalist, Haidar Hashem al-Husseini, was found in the town of Baquba northeast of Baghdad on Wednesday, two days after he was kidnapped, a local police official said.