U.S. warplanes and helicopters bombed two villages near the restive city of Ramadi, killing an estimated 70 militants, the military said Monday, though witnesses said at least 39 of the dead were civilians.
The violence on Sunday occurred a day after Iraq voted on, and apparently passed, a landmark constitution that many Sunnis opposed. As officials continued to count the millions of paper ballots Monday, the constitution seemed assured of passage after initial results showed minority Sunnis had fallen short in an effort to veto it.
A foreign election observer confirmed that apparent outcome in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission would announce the official results, which are expected on Tuesday.
The acceptance of the constitution would be a major step in the attempt to establish a democratic government that could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Sunday that violence will continue in Iraq, even if the new constitution is adopted. She said support for the insurgency would eventually wane as the country moves toward democracy.
On referendum day, a roadside bomb killed five U.S. soldiers in a vehicle in the Al-Bu Ubaid village on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi. On Sunday, a group of about two dozen Iraqis gathered around the wreckage; they were hit by U.S. airstrikes, the military and witnesses said.
The military said in a statement that the crowd was setting another roadside bomb when F-15 warplanes hit them, killing around 20 people, described by the military as "terrorists."
But several witnesses and one local leader said they were civilians who had gathered to gawk at and take pieces of the wreckage, as often occurs after an American vehicle is hit, reports Washington Post. I.L.