( News.com.au ) A DOUBLE US air strike on an Iraqi village killed about 25 suspected Iranian-linked insurgents today, the military said, as Iraqi officials claimed women and children were among the dead.
The strikes on Jayzani Al-Imam, 50km north of the capital, came after a ground operation ran into trouble against insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades, the US military said.
The operation was launched to capture an insurgent commander linked to Iranian intelligence agents and believed to be smuggling weapons from Iran, accused by the US of fuelling sectarian conflict in Iraq, it said.
"There were two air strikes; one helicopter, one fixed-wing. There was continued fighting between the two air strikes," US Major Winfield Danielson later said.
Iraqi police spokesman Khudhayir al- Timimi said women and children were among the dead and wounded in the raid, but the Americans said they had no knowledge of civilian casualties.
"Twenty-five people were killed and 40 others wounded, including women and children, in the US air strike that targeted Al- Jayzani ," Mr Timimi said.
Witnesses said US helicopters attacked Jayzani Al-Imam, near the mainly Shiite town of Al- Khalis , about 2am, destroying at least four houses.
A witness saw at least four trucks, each carrying several bodies from the village, being driven through Baghdad to the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf for burial. One of the dead was clearly an elderly man.
Ahmed Mohammed, 31, said he had travelled with 15 wounded, among them women and children, to the Medical City Hospital in Baghdad.
"There are 24 bodies on the ground in the village and 25 others wounded in Al- Khalis hospital," he said.
Major Danielson said he had received no reports that any Iraqi civilians were killed as a result of the US air strikes.
"I can say that we had personnel on the ground who engaged a hostile force, and they didn't assess that there were any women or children present in the area," he said.
"Coalition forces only engage hostile threats and take every precaution to protect innocent civilians," he said.
The US military said the target of the operation was a "Special Groups commander believed to be associated with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Force".
Special Groups is a term for what the US military says are secret Shi'ite cells that wage acts of "terrorism" in Iraq with the financial and military backing of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards units.
The decision to carry out the air strikes came when US forces saw an insurgent carrying what appeared to be an anti-aircraft weapon, according to the military.
"Perceiving hostile intent, supporting aircraft engaged, killing an estimated 25 criminals and destroying two buildings," their statement said.
Danielson said the operation's main quarry, the Special Groups commander, appeared to have escaped.
"We do not believe he was in the area at the time of the engagement and we have not assessed him as one of the terrorists killed," he said.
In other operations targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq today, the US military said it had killed 12 insurgents: seven in Baghdad; one in Yusufiyah , south of the capital and another in the northern city of Kirkuk .
It said at the weekend it had seized sophisticated Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles that were being used by insurgents in the war-torn country.
Today's clash comes a fortnight after US forces detained Iranian Mahmudi Farhadi in northern Iraq, prompting Tehran to close its border with the Kurdish autonomous region.
The US military claims Farhadi is an officer in the covert operations arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, accused by American commanders of helping Shi'ite militias involved in Iraq's bloody sectarian conflict.