Tribal allies angry over air strikes

A034378517.jpgUS forces said they had killed 25 suspected insurgents in operations targeting Al Qaeda fighters near the capital, but Sunni Arab tribal leaders accused them on Thursday of pro-US fighters.The head of a Sunni Arab tribal group that has turned against Al Qaeda and joined forces with the US military told Reuters US aircraft had ed his men late on Tuesday night, 45, as they manned checkpoints just north of Baghdad.

US forces have formed alliances with Sunni Arab tribes in western Iraq and in provinces around Baghdad, offering mostly paid employment to nearly 70,000 tribal fighters and former insurgents as part of its strategy to combat Al Qaeda.

The US military said it launched an operation late on Tuesday targeting suspected associates of senior Al Qaeda leaders in Tarmiya, which is close to Taji. Troops backed by aircraft killed 25 gunmen, it said.

“Coalition forces observed several armed men in the target area and, perceiving hostile intent, called for supporting aircraft to engage,” it said in a statement. It did not say whether the gunmen had fired on the soldiers, but US military spokesman Major Winfield Danielson said troops had engaged a “hostile force” and that three weapons caches had been found in the area containing anti-aircraft weapons and surface-to-surface missiles.

The head of the Taji “Awakening Council”, which is aligned to US forces, Sheikh Jassem, said the weapons belonged to the Islamic Army. Elements of the nationalist Sunni insurgent group have recently begun to work alongside the US military to fight Al Qaeda.

“Yes there were anti-aircraft weapons, but they belonged to the Islamic Army, who have made a deal with the Americans to keep them to hit Al Qaeda,” Jassem said. He said the US assault on his men began late on Tuesday night in the Nebaei area near Taji and lasted about 12 hours.

“The Americans in Taji are our friends. If the attack was a mistake, we just want to know the reasons. If they attacked us deliberately, then we will decide what to do,” Jassem said.

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