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Airstrike kills 14 in Falluja

Residents search the ruins of a building Friday following a U.S. airstrike in central Falluja.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An airstrike killed 14 people and wounded 16 during a wedding party, according to hospital officials in the unstable city of Falluja, but the U.S. military said its planes had targeted a terrorist safe house.

An emergency room doctor said the strike killed the groom and wounded several women and children.

The U.S.-led coalition statement had reported an airstrike at 1:15 a.m. on a safe house in northwest Falluja where terrorist leaders linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were meeting.

People are still searching for bodies underneath the rubble of the house, neighbors told a CNN journalist in the city.

The city's hospital said it received the dead and wounded from the wedding party around 2 a.m. (6 p.m. ET).

Also on Friday, an Arabic-language TV network said it has received a video showing the beheading of a man identified as British hostage Kenneth Bigley.

The British government and the U.S. military, however, haven't confirmed reports of his death.

The family of Ken Bigley, the British engineer who was taken hostage in Iraq three weeks ago, said Friday that he had been killed.

"We can confirm that the family has now received absolute proof that Ken Bigley has been executed," Phil Bigley said in a televised statement. (Full story)

Bigley was kidnapped in Baghdad on September 16 with two American colleagues, Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, who were subsequently beheaded.

In its ongoing operations in Fallja, the U.S.-led Multinational Forces report more than a dozen airstrikes since September on Zarqawi targets.

"A large percentage of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top leadership have been killed or captured following an intense and relentless campaign of strikes in the last month against the terrorist," the forces' report said. Iraqi officials and residents in Falluja report many of the targeted strikes have killed civilians.

Elections in jeopardy?

Violence also flared for a second night in Sadr City, a huge poor Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, despite an ambitious plan to establish peace there by the interim government and followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The peace initiative and the military attacks reflect the dual political and military initiatives by the interim government and U.S. forces to end the Iraqi insurgency, which is threatening elections scheduled for January to choose a transitional national assembly.

In the operations against the insurgency, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces took away rebel control of Samarra, 75 miles north of Baghdad, and are involved in an effort to root out rebels in northern Babil province, just south of the capital.

The U.S. military announced the Babil offensive on Thursday.

The forces plan to take out other insurgent strongholds in the coming weeks.

Many observers believe the instability could force the elections to be postponed, an eventuality that interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi opposes. There also is support from some quarters for the elections to move forward. A representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani Thursday issued a statement urging the polls to go forward and for wide participation.

Other developments

  • In central Baghdad, a rocket attack hit the Sheraton Hotel, setting off a fire and drawing machine-gun fire from U.S. positions . The lower level of the Sheraton, which houses Western journalists and foreign contractors, was damaged. There was no immediate word of casualties.
  • Task Force Baghdad troops detained a truck carrying more than 1,500 155-millimeter artillery rounds Thursday. This seizure is one of the largest by the task force to date.
  • L. Paul Bremer, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, on Friday defended his statements that coalition forces "did not have enough troops on the ground," widely viewed as critical of Bush's Iraq war plan. He labeled Sen. John Kerry's reactions to his remarks misleading in an op-ed piece for the New York Times.
  • The report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program entered the U.S. presidential campaign, as Republicans and Democrats used its conclusions Thursday to bolster their positions on the Iraq war. (Full story)
  • Insurgent attacks killed a 13th Corps Support Command soldier near Falluja and a 1st Infantry Division soldier near Beiji. The deaths bring the number of U.S. troop deaths reported since the Iraqi war began to 1,067, according to the U.S. military.
  • CNN's Ayman Mohyeldin, Kianne Sadeq and Ingrid Formanek and Brent Sadler contributed to this report.

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