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Military: 15 women, children killed in Iraq operation

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: 15 Iraqi civilians die during an operation targeting al Qaeda in Iraq
  • NEW: Weapons of three U.S. soldiers -- two dead, one missing -- found in raid
  • U.S. defense chief: British troop reductions in Iraq had U.S. approval
  • Source: Top Marine suggests Marines be the prime force in Afghanistan
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(CNN) -- Fifteen Iraqi civilians -- all women and children -- were killed by coalition forces during an operation targeting senior leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, according to the U.S. military, which claimed the victims were put in harm's way through the actions of the terrorist group.

Nineteen terrorists were also killed in the operation, conducted in the Lake Thar Thar region. Six people were wounded and one suspect was detained.

The military received intelligence that al Qaeda in Iraq leaders were meeting in the area and were conducting surveillance, according to a written statement.

The civilians killed included six women and nine children, the military said. Two suspects, one woman and three children, were wounded.

"We regret that civilians are hurt or killed while coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism," said Maj. Brad Leighton, a spokesman for Multi-National Forces-Iraq, in the statement. "These terrorists chose to deliberately place innocent Iraqi women and children in danger by their actions and presence."

Meanwhile, weapons belonging to three U.S. soldiers -- two dead and one missing after an attack in May -- turned up in a house raid this week, military officials in Iraq said.

Two U.S. M-4s, one M-203 grenade launcher and an M-249 squad automatic weapon belonging to the soldiers were among other weapons and explosives found Tuesday in a house south of Baghdad, according to a statement issued by Multi-National Corps-Iraq.

Officials matched the serial numbers of the weapons with the soldiers, the statement said.

The weapons belonged to Spc. Alex Jimenez Jr., Sgt. Anthony Schoeber and Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr. Their military observation post outside Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, was attacked by insurgents on May 12.

Schoeber was killed in the attack, and Anzack's body was pulled from the Euphrates River 11 days later.

Jimenez and another soldier, Pvt. Byron Fouty, have been missing since the attack. In June, coalition forces found the identification cards of Jimenez and Fouty during a raid on a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq safe house, about 90 miles north of the site of the attack. The U.S. military has classified the two as missing-captured.

Nine Iraqis were detained during Tuesday's raid and are being held for questioning, the military said. Officials could not say if any of the detainees had information regarding the fate of the missing soldiers.

In other violence across Iraq on Thursday at least nine people were killed and 22 others were wounded.

A suicide car bomb detonated outside a popular cafe in eastern Baghdad, killing at least five people and wounding 20, according to an Interior Ministry official. Most of those killed were young men.

Two civilians died when a roadside bomb targeting a U.S. military convoy detonated in western Baghdad, the official said.

Earlier Thursday, an Iraqi police officer and an insurgent were killed in gunbattles north of Baquba, according to a Diyala province security official. Two police officers were wounded.

Five unidentified bodies were found in the capital city Thursday, bringing the total to 67 found so far in October in Baghdad, according to an Interior Ministry official. In September, 301 bodies were found; in August, 428 were found.

Other developments

  • The Marine Corps has suggested reducing its forces in Iraq and move them to Afghanistan, a senior U.S. military official said. Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, has proposed the Marines become the prime U.S. combat force in Afghanistan while the Army takes the lead in Iraq, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday said Britain's plan to halve the number of troops it has in southern Iraq had the approval of Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq. Gates insisted that Britain's pullback in Basra "is the product of a joint agreement between the United States and Great Britain in terms of the role of British forces in the south."
  • The names of two women killed earlier this week by members of an Australian security company who fired on their car in Baghdad were obtained by CNN Thursday. Geneva Jalal Entranik, 30, and Marouni Ohnis Manok, 48, were both Christian Armenian Iraqis, according to their families. The two died Tuesday when members of a Unity Resources Group security team fired on their car.
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    CNN's Mike Mount, Jomana Karadsheh and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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