BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's influential Association of Muslim Scholars and the country's largest Sunni Arab political party on Saturday condemned a deadly U.S. military attack they say killed civilians. Separately, a suicide car bomb struck near a Shiite shrine, killing at least five people.
The U.S. command said Friday's raid and airstrike killed 20 insurgents, but the association and the Iraqi Islamic Party joined a village mayor who alleged that the attack killed at least 19 civilians, including women and children.
On Saturday, about 1,000 residents of the predominantly Sunni village of al-Ishaqi in the volatile province of Salahuddin held a funeral for the 19 dead, shouting slogans such as "Down with the occupiers," "Long live the resistance," and "There is no God but Allah."
Also Saturday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside of the Al-Abbas shrine in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. The golden dome and minarets of the shrine did not appear to be damaged in video footage shown on Iraqi state TV, but the powerful blast set many parked cars on fire in a nearby street, and two Iraqi men with bloody faces could be seen running through heavy black smoke past the body of another victim of the attack.
Rahman Meshawi, the city's police spokesman, said five Iraqis were killed and 44 wounded, 15 of them seriously.
A main goal of Sunni Arab insurgent groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq has been to spark sectarian violence by attacking sites considered holy by the country's Shiite majority. Attacks by Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias, and revenge killings in mixed Sunni-Shiite areas of cities such as Baghdad, often kill scores of Iraqis a day.
Karbala is considered Iraq's second holiest Shiite city after Najaf, which is 45 miles to the southeast. Shiites make pilgrimages to both locations and bury their dead in large cemeteries there.
At least 47 other Iraqis were killed or found dead on Friday, including 25 who were struck in a mortar attack that night on a poor Shiite neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad.
The U.S. military also said roadside bombs killed three American soldiers and wounded two in and around Baghdad. On Saturday, officials said two Marines were killed in Anbar province.
Friday's coalition attack targeted Al Qaeda-linked militants in a predominantly Sunni area near Lake Tharthar in Salahuddin province northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said.
Ground forces returned fire when they were attacked while searching buildings, killing two insurgents, the U.S. military said. Under continuing fire, the troops called in air support, killing 18 insurgents, the command said, adding that two women were among those killed. "Al-Qaida in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations unfortunately," it said.
Searching the area, the coalition forces found and destroyed several weapons caches, including AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-personnel mines, explosives, blasting caps and suicide vests, the command said.
Amir Fayadh, the mayor of the al-Ishaqi village, and local police disputed the claim that the strike only killed insurgents, alleging that 19 civilians were among the dead. Fayadh said seven of those were women and eight were children.
On Saturday, Fayadh acknowledged that initial casualty reports from the scene had been too high, but he and police Capt. Mahmoud al-Daraji confirmed the final death toll of eight children, seven women and four men.
The residents holding Saturday's emotional funeral carried 19 coffins to a local cemetery on the rooftops of vehicles taking part in a procession.
On Friday, AP Television News video showed more than a dozen charred and bloody bodies, some of which appeared almost mummified with their faces unrecognizable. Angry villagers gathered around several of the bodies, which were covered in colorful wool blankets and laid out on the ground near the concrete rubble left by the devastated houses in the remote desert area.
An AP photo showed an Iraqi man who had pulled back one of the blankets and uncovered the face of one of the victims, who appeared to be a boy about 10 years old killed in the attack, lifting his head for the camera.
This spring, a U.S. military investigation cleared American soldiers of misconduct in a March 15 raid in al-Ishaqi in which Air Force planes destroyed a building believed to be hiding al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents. Villagers claimed the soldiers killed 11 Iraqi civilians before calling for the airstrike.
The Association of Muslim Scholars issued a statement condemning the attack that occurred on Friday, the day of worship in mostly Muslim Iraq.
The group of hard-line Sunnis, which has routinely opposed the "U.S. occupation" of Iraq, alleged that American soldiers entered two Iraqi homes, shot their large families to death, then planted bombs that blew up the buildings to make it look as if the Iraqis had died in a U.S. airstrike targeting insurgents.
The association said 32 civilians died in the attack, including four women and six children.
"The association condemns the massacre and urges international organizations and the media to show the world the reality of the fake slogans about human rights and freedom used by the Americans," the statement read.
The Iraqi Islamic Party is part of a Sunni bloc in Parliament that controls 44 of its 275 seats.
In a statement Saturday on its Web site, the party called Friday's attack "a new massacre by the American occupiers" and said it happened when U.S. soldiers shot 32 civilians, including women and children, in two houses, then destroyed them in an airstrike and claimed the victims were insurgents.