A plume of grey smoke billowed above Fallujah yesterday as the US military claimed they were making precision air strikes against insurgents in the city and local doctors said that civilians were being killed and wounded.
The US army said its warplanes had bombed houses because it had intelligence about the presence of fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the US sees as the guiding hand behind many attacks on its forces.
Dr Adel Khamis of the Fallujah General Hospital said at least 16 people were killed, including women and children, and 12 others were wounded. Video film showed a Red Crescent ambulance torn apart by an explosion. A hospital official said the driver, a paramedic and five patients had been killed by the blast.
"The conditions here are miserable - an ambulance was bombed, three houses destroyed and men and women killed," said Rafayi Hayad al-Esawi, the director of the hospital. "The American army has no morals."
The US air force has claimed repeatedly since the invasion of Iraq in March last year to be hitting hostile targets identified by US intelligence. During the war it made 50 air strikes to kill senior members of Saddam Hussein's regime some of which caused many civilian casualties. Only after the war did US Defence officials admit that all the air strikes had missed their target. On Sunday US helicopters fired rockets into a crowd in Haifa Street in central Baghdad killing 13 people including an Al-Arabiya television correspondent killed as he was reporting.
The escalating violence in Iraq is putting in doubt the feasibility of holding elections in January. The interim government has complete control of only a few cities such as Najaf where the opposition has been routed by the US army using its massive firepower. "Iraq is becoming fragmented like Lebanon with each community having some power," said Ghasan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator.
The US is now trying to reassert the authority of the interim government by bombing and the use of its air power but this is making the 138,000-strong US army in Iraq more unpopular by the day. High civilian casualties also create a backlash and act as a recruiting sergeant for insurgents.
Ironically one of the quietest cities in Iraq is Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town, where the US army agreed with local tribal leaders not to fire back with its artillery if it was mortared.