BAGHDAD, Iraq – The United States military said it dropped a 500-pound bomb on the wrong house outside the northern city of Mosul (search) on Saturday, killing five people. The man who owned the house said the bomb killed 14 people, and an Associated Press photographer said seven of them were children.
The strike in the town of Aitha, 30 miles south of Mosul, came hours before a senior U.S. Embassy official in Iraq met with leaders of the Sunni Arab community to apply political pressure against their threat to boycott Jan. 30 elections. The Arab satellite broadcaster al-Jazeera said the Sunnis asked the Americans to announce a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
Violence also continued, with at least eight Iraqis killed.
American officials repeatedly have insisted the vote go ahead, but it is an extremely delicate time, with Iraq's government perceived by many as closely tied to the U.S.-led coalition.
Late Saturday, a U.S. military statement said an F-16 jet (search) dropped a 500-pound GPS-guided bomb on a house that was meant to be searched during an operation to capture "an anti-Iraqi force cell leader."
"The house was not the intended target for the airstrike. The intended target was another location nearby," the military said in a statement.
The homeowner, Ali Yousef, told Associated Press Television News that the airstrike happened at about 2:30 a.m., and American troops immediately surrounded the area, blocking access for four hours. The brick house was reduced to a pile of rubble, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.
An Associated Press photographer said from the scene that 14 members of the same family — seven children, four women and three men — were killed, and six people were wounded, including another child in the house and five people from neighboring houses. By evening, all 14 victims had been buried in a nearby cemetery, Yousef said.
The U.S. military statement said coalition forces went to the area to provide assistance and said five people were killed. It said there was no other damage.
"Multi-National Force Iraq deeply regrets the loss of possibly innocent lives," the statement said, adding that an investigation was underway.
American troops recently sent more troops to Mosul, which has seen heavy clashes in recent weeks between insurgents and American forces. U.S. officials acknowledge the area is still too unsafe for the elections to take place there safely.
The election is the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932, and the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. Sunni leaders have urged the vote be postponed, largely because areas of Iraq where they dominate are far too restive for preparations to begin.
In particular, the Association of Muslim Scholars (search), a powerful Sunni Muslim group, has demanded the vote be put off and threatened a boycott. On Saturday, a senior embassy official met in Baghdad with members of the group, U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan said. He described the surprise meeting as an "exchange of views."
"A senior officer in the embassy met with them to discuss how participation would benefit the Sunni community," Callahan said.
He would not identify the American official who participated, but he said it was not Ambassador John Negroponte.
Earlier, al-Jazeera reported that the Americans met with Harith al-Dhari, the association's general secretary, and several others. It reported that al-Dhari asked the United States to announce a timetable for withdrawing its forces from Iraq.
Callahan would not say if that was discussed, but it is unlikely the United States would consider such a request. In Washington, President Bush expressed optimism Friday about the Jan. 30 elections, saying they will be "an incredibly hopeful experience," despite rising violence and doubts that the vote will bring stability and democracy.
Authorities in Saddam Hussein's (search) hometown of Tikrit said Saturday that gunmen abducted a deputy governor of a central Iraqi province and two other senior Sunni officials after they met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most prominent Shiite leader, in the holy city of Najaf to discuss the elections. A fourth person also was abducted.
The officials were kidnapped about 40 miles south of Baghdad on Friday. The area is in the so-called "triangle of death," a string of Sunni-controlled towns that has been the scene of frequent attacks.
The U.S. military said the delegation was traveling in two cars, one of which escaped the ambush.
"Those insurgents and terrorists who intimidate and resort to kidnapping public officials are the true enemies of the Iraqi people," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien said.
A Shiite Muslim cleric close to al-Sistani (search) said the kidnappings of Tikrit's deputy governor and three other officials meant to "prevent any contacts" between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims. The insurgents are believed to be primarily Sunni.
"They don't want to see a delegation from Tikrit visiting a Shiite religious leader," Jalaludine al-Saghir said.
At least eight more people were killed in ambushes and attacks, capping a brutal week of assassinations, suicide car bombings and other assaults. The attacks killed about 100 people, mostly Iraqi security troops, who are seen by the militants as collaborators with the American occupiers.
Iraq's insurgents repeatedly have targeted police and security forces, which tend to be poorly armed and less trained than their American counterparts, resulting in higher casualty counts.
A State Department report to Congress this week said despite "considerable progress" in recent months, the performance of Iraqi security forces has been mixed.
While overall capabilities have improved, "recent insurgent activity has tested Iraqi security forces and their efforts to develop and perform."
In other violence, insurgents in Baqouba beheaded a translator working with the U.S. Army, police said Saturday. An Iraqi policeman was killed by masked gunmen as he left his house in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood.
A booby-trapped car exploded Saturday at a gas station in Mahaweel, about 35 miles south of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 19, including two critically, said Dr. Mohemmed Dhia, head of Hilla Surgical hospital.
In Baghdad's western Khadraa neighborhood, gunmen shot dead Abboud Khalaf al-Lahibi, deputy secretary-general of the National Front for Iraqi tribes — a group representing several Iraqi tribes, said his aide, Ibrahim al-Farhan. A bodyguard was killed and three others also were wounded, he said.