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BAGHDAD — Enemy fighters are hiding among civilians during firefights, taking advantage of U.S. troops’ reluctance to shoot in their direction, a U.S. military spokesman says.

Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, said the recent deaths of Iraqi women and children during several operations were caused by insurgents who used them as human shields.

During one of the firefights, five girls and one boy, ranging in age from infant to teenager, were killed when a U.S. tank fired rounds from its 120 mm main gun into a house where enemy fighters were believed to have fled.

“There are elements out there, we assume, anti-Iraqi forces we’ve encountered, that have in fact placed themselves in the same proximity of civilians, knowing that American forces will always use as much precaution as possible to preclude the loss of any innocent life,” Caldwell said.

In each case, Caldwell said, the U.S. forces were going after persons related to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Anbar and Baghdad have been the deadliest of Iraq’s 18 provinces for U.S. forces. Its cities have become populated with enemy fighters targeting U.S. forces with roadside bombs and sniper attacks.

Another incident involving civilians happened Nov. 28 when a U.S. patrol discovered a roadside bomb in northeast Ramadi, the Anbar capital, according to a press release from the Camp Ramadi-based 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.

The troops saw two men retreat from the bomb’s trigger site and move to the roof of a nearby house.

As U.S. troops worked to disable the roadside bomb, enemy fighters fired with small arms from the house. The troops returned fire with small arms and machine guns, with limited success.

As the enemy fighters continued to fire upon the U.S. troops, the tank fired rounds into the house. During a later search of the rubble, dead children were found, along with one injured female. An enemy fighter was seen fleeing the area, according to the press release.

Local residents said the house was being used by insurgents as a safe house, the release stated.

On Saturday night in the town of Karmah, also in Anbar, coalition ground and air forces killed six insurgents while destroying two buildings that militants were using, the military said. Coalition forces found a weapons cache and the bodies of two women and a toddler boy in the destroyed buildings, the military said.

Caldwell said two other reports of civilians’ deaths or injuries during fighting could not be confirmed.

He said U.S. forces take precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

“In each case, the first thing we normally do is provide anybody with the ability to come out,” Caldwell said. “But if (coalition forces) take immediate small-arms fire, they will attempt to re-engage back.

“If it becomes such where we’d be unable to detain the people inside the building without the escalation of force, then they will escalate force to eliminate the threat.”

Caldwell said enemy fighters have recently been disguising themselves as women, among other tactics.

Some soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment in Ta’meem, one of Ramadi’s most enemy-laden suburbs, said they have seen children lined up across a road to obscure the soldiers’ view of insurgents planting roadside bombs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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