BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A bomb hidden in a cart of toys killed two children and wounded 17 others in a playground in northern Iraq on Friday, the first day of a national holiday to celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The attack came the day after U.S. forces killed nine children and six women in an air strike northwest of Baghdad targeting suspected al Qaeda leaders. The U.N. mission in Iraq urged U.S. forces to conduct a “vigorous” probe into the strike.
Police Colonel Abbas Mohammed said a would-be suicide bomber pushed the cart into a play area in the predominantly Shi’ite northern town of Tuz Khurmato. He said the bomber was wounded.
The town’s mayor, Mohammed Rasheed, told Reuters two boys aged between 10 and 12 had died and another 17 people under the age of 18 had been wounded in the deadly attack.
A youth with a smashed, bloodied face and mangled hand lay on a hospital bed in the nearby city of Kirkuk after the attack.
A man prayed by an injured boy while doctors wreathed the chest, arms and shoulders of another with bandages.
The U.S. military said it was conducting a “thorough investigation” of Thursday’s strike by attack helicopters near Lake Thar Thar, about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Baghdad.
The incident, on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, is likely to reignite tensions between Washington and Baghdad, which has repeatedly criticized U.S. forces over the number of Iraqi civilians killed in military operations.
There was no immediate response from the Iraqi government, which was shut down for the Muslim holiday.
The civilian death toll in the U.S. attack was one of the largest acknowledged by U.S. forces from an air strike since former president Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.
“Civilians are getting caught far too often between warring combatants,” said U.N. mission spokesman Said Arikat. “We certainly hope that they do pursue this vigorously and that these findings will be made public and lessons learned.”
In the same operation, the U.S. military said it also killed 19 insurgents in strikes on two locations. The strikes targeted suspected leaders of al Qaeda, accused of attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces, tribal leaders and civilians across the country.
“We are doing a thorough investigation to understand the events that surround the incident, especially since there was a significant loss of civilian life,” U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told Reuters.
“In every instance we take as many precautions as possible to ensure innocent lives are not at risk,” he said. “We are committed to working with the affected families and taking care of their needs.”
The U.S. military has stepped up efforts to target insurgents in Baghdad and surrounding provinces since an extra 30,000 troops came into the country earlier this year.
The U.S. security crackdown is credited with a marked drop in civilian and U.S. deaths in September. But the relentless suicide attacks, sectarian killings and roadside bombs still accounted for almost 900 civilians dead, or about 30 a day.
In its latest human rights report on Iraq, published on Thursday, the United Nations called on U.S. forces to investigate the killing of civilians in air strikes or raids by ground forces and make the findings public.
Iraqi civilians have borne the overwhelming brunt of violence since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, with tens of thousands killed across the country.
The United Nations also called for probes to determine whether private security contractors in Iraq have committed war crimes by killing civilians and for governments to ensure that the rule of law is applied.
The killing of 17 Iraqis in a shooting involving U.S. security firm Blackwater last month has created tensions between Baghdad and Washington and sparked calls for tighter controls on private contractors, who are immune from prosecution in Iraq.
Additional reporting by Ross Colvin