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Iraqi Officials Challenge U.S. Air-Strike Claims

20 June 2004 -- Iraqi officials are challenging U.S. assertions that a deadly air strike in Al-Fallujah yesterday hit a hideout used by Al-Qaeda fighters.

The U.S. strike killed at least 20 Iraqis, and destroyed a house that the United States says was used by Muslim militants commanded by Abu Mu'sab al-Zarqawi, the top Al-Qaeda operative in Iraq.

But today Iraqi Brigadier Nouri Aboud, a member of the Al-Fallujah Brigade in charge of security in the city, said there was no evidence to suggest the site was anything but the home of an Iraqi family. Aboud said the bodies found at the scene included women and children and elderly.

Al-Fallujah police chief Colonel Sadar al-Janabi also criticized the U.S. strike, saying it was a "destabilizing" move.

However, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said his government had been told of the air strike in advance, and he welcomed such a blow on terrorists anywhere in Iraq.

"We were informed just a time -- a short time -- before the action [in Al-Fallujah] took place," Allawi said.

Al-Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, has been at the center of guerrilla resistance to U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced today that another U.S. soldier has been killed in Iraq.

The military did not say where the soldier was killed, only that it happened yesterday.

The U.S. military also said three Iraqis were killed and 11 other people wounded -- including two U.S. troops -- in overnight clashes in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City.

In Baghdad today, an explosion rocked the center of the city, killing at least one person and wounding several others.

(RFE/wire reports)