BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraqi civilians bore the brunt Friday of a bloody start to Eid al-Fitr, as a US air raid killed 15 women and children, and a sinister suicide attack on a playground shocked a northern town.
There were angry statements from Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and from an influential Sunni clerics' association after the US strike, which also killed 19 insurgents.
In a rare admission that it had taken civilian lives, the US military said it regretted the deaths of the women and children and had launched an investigation after the operation northwest of Baghdad on Thursday evening.
Further north in Tuz, near the oil city of Kirkuk, a suicide bomber on Friday exploded a cart of sweets in a crowded playground, killing a child, a father and wounding 20 children, officials said.
Police Captain Hiwa Abdullah said the father, who had come to the playground with his children for Eid, had tried to prevent the suicide bomber from setting off his explosives but failed.
The attacker survived but one of his legs was torn off in the blast and he was taken to hospital in Kirkuk.
Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, is traditionally a day when families visit relatives and head to public parks for picnics and relaxation.
It was met with further bloodletting Friday when a car bomb ripped through a police patrol in a crowded square in central Baghdad, killing two policemen and two civilians and wounding 15 people, security officials said.
The attack came around noon (0900 GMT) when Tahrir Square was crowded with shoppers stocking up for the holiday festivities.
Hours in to the post-Ramadan celebrations in the capital on Thursday a suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into an Internet cafe packed with young men. At least eight people were killed and 25 wounded.
The US military, meanwhile, tried to explain why women and children had been killed in its air raid near Lake Tharthar, a massive body of water about 100 kilometres (62 miles) northwest of Baghdad and a redoubt of the insurgency.
A first strike killed four insurgents after intelligence reports had indicated that members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq were meeting near the lake, once a popular fishing spot of the late dictator Saddam Hussein.
But survivors regrouped at another location south of the lake and coalition forces and insurgents exchanged small arms fire at a building there, the military said.
"Responding in self-defence, supporting aircraft engaged the enemy threat," a statement said, referring to a second air strike.
"After securing the area, the ground force assessed 15 terrorists, six women and nine children were killed, two suspects, one woman and three children were wounded, and one suspected terrorist was detained," it said.
The killings were fiercely condemned by Sheikh Bashar al-Fayadh, spokesman for the influential Muslim Scholars' Association, Iraq's main Sunni clerics' organisation.
"Iraqis should unanimously call for the departure of the (US) occupation," Fayadh said in a statement. "We have enough bloodletting of Iraqis."
He also urged action by the world community.
"Where are the human rights organisations? Score and sometimes hundreds of Iraqis are slaughtered every day and no one takes any action."
According to the latest UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) report into human rights abuses in Iraq, released on Thursday, 88 civilians were killed in air strikes by the US military in the three months between April and June.
The report criticised the American military for not making public its findings on inquiries into incidents in which civilians are killed.
Thursday's killing of 15 women and children comes amid Iraqi outrage after a government report found that guards from US private security firm Blackwater killed 17 civilians "unprovoked" in a central Baghdad square last month.
"In a short span of time, security companies kill without reason many citizens while the occupying forces attack Iraqi towns and cities, especially Jayzani," said a statement from Sistani, Iraq's predominant Shiite cleric.
A double US air strike one week ago on the village of Jayzani al-Imam, 30 miles north of Baghdad, killed 25 people US commanders said were Iranian-linked militants but which Iraqi authorities said included women and children.
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