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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
Fourteen killed in Falluja strike
Fourteen people have died in a US air strike on a house in the flashpoint Iraqi city of Falluja, doctors say.

Hospital sources said women and children were among the dead.

Deputy US Secretary of State Richard Armitage, on a visit to Baghdad, said the strike had been authorised by Iraq's interim government.

He said Washington was no longer taking a lead role in developments, adding: "We didn't just strike off on our own, a sovereign nation had to agree."

Mr Armitage arrived in Baghdad on Sunday for talks with top Iraqi officials - the highest-ranking US official to visit Iraq since the handover of sovereignty on 28 June.

In other developments:

  • In Tikrit, another militant stronghold, US troops and the Iraqi National Guard arrested a former senior commander of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, Sufyan Maher Hassan, on suspicion of planning attacks against Iraqis and coalition forces.

  • Iraq's government lifted a publication ban on the al-Hawza newspaper of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, closed by the former US-led coalition in March on charges of inciting violence.

  • Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the interim government would announce 43 new ambassadors on Monday to countries including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which have severed diplomatic links with Baghdad.

Al-Qaeda suspect

The US military said the latest air strike - the sixth on the city in the past month - was aimed at "a known terrorist fighting position in southern Falluja".

JULY RAIDS ON FALLUJA
A Falluja resident picks through the rubble of a house following a US air strike in June
1 July: Four killed
5 July: 10 killed
18 July: 10 killed

It said the attack targeted positions used by about 25 fighters loyal to a top al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The operation was conducted with intelligence from both Iraqi and international forces and authorised by the interim Iraqi government, it said in a statement.

Local residents say the bombs hit a civilian home.

"We heard the sound of jet fighters and then we heard four explosions in the house occupied by civilian residents," Lt Saad Khalaf of the police force in Falluja told the Associated Press news agency.

Zarqawi
Zarqawi is the prime suspect in a number of attacks
Residents gathered at the damaged house, shouting "God is Great".

The raid came hours after a suicide attack in Baghdad targeted Iraq's justice minister.

Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan was uninjured, but five people were killed, including four of his bodyguards.

A militant group linked to Mr Zarqawi - Tawhid and Jihad - said it had carried out the attack against "the justice minister of the apostate government".

Bounty

The US has increased to $25m its reward offer for the capture of the Jordanian-born militant it accuses of masterminding a string of massive suicide bombings in Iraq.

In turn, his militants offered a $285,000 reward for anyone who could kill Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi - the latest in a string of threats by Zarqawi-linked militants.

Mr Zarqawi is also said to have been involved in the beheading of two hostages, American Nick Berg and South Korean Kim Sun.

Falluja, about 50km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, suffered some of Iraq's worst violence in April when US marines and insurgents clashed in the streets. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed.

An all-Iraqi force has been in charge of the mostly Sunni Muslim city since May, following the month-long siege by US troops in April.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"Eyewitnesses say at least one of the strikes hit a house"



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