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Iraq Transition

Iraq airstrikes kill dozens in Ramadi area

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military said Monday that coalition forces launched airstrikes Sunday in and around Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing "an estimated 70 terrorists."

But an Iraqi doctor who reported 20 people killed -- including six children -- and 25 wounded said all those were civilians.

An Iraqi Ministry of Health official also said one child was killed and two women wounded in the airstrikes. (Watch controversy over U.S. airstrikes -- 2:07)

Military officials said they had no reports of civilians killed.

"We do careful targeting to ensure minimum civilian casualties in the areas that the insurgents are operating," said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, director of the U.S.-led Combined Press Information Center.

In one operation Sunday, a precision-guided bomb killed up to 20 insurgents east of Ramadi after military personnel observed them planting a bomb at the site of Saturday's blast that killed five U.S. and two Iraqi soldiers, a U.S. military statement said.

"[They] were not terrorists -- they were only a bunch of civilians whose curiosity prompted them to gather around a destroyed Humvee," said Dr. Dhiya Fahdawi, who treated people at a hospital in Ramadi.

In the Abu Faraj region, north of Ramadi, about 50 insurgents were killed in operations surrounding a suspected insurgent safe house, the military said.

U.S. air patrols were observing a gathering at the suspected safe house when insurgents fired small arms at a U.S. helicopter team, a 2nd Marine Division statement said.

The copter team returned fire, killing at least 10 insurgents.

Later, a team of F/A-18s observed suspected insurgents loading vehicles with weapons and launched a precision-guided bomb, killing as many as 40 insurgents.

Up to three insurgents also were killed in a clash with coalition forces at the government center in Ramadi, the military statement said.

In violence Monday, a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a tent in Samarra, north of Baghdad, where people were mourning the killing of a Sunni religious leader, an official with Baghdad emergency police said.

Monday's blast killed two people and wounded two others, the official said.

Sheik Hikmat Mumtaz, the chief religious leader of the Ibu Baz Sunni tribe, was gunned down Friday in Samarra, the official said.

Residents reportedly told police that the sheik had urged people to turn out for Saturday's constitutional referendum.

Bush praises turnout

Meanwhile, election workers continued to count millions of paper ballots cast in the referendum.

If the constitution is approved, Iraqis would vote in December for a permanent government.

Although turnout figures and voting results will not be available for days, many observers in Iraq said that turnout appeared larger than in the January election for an interim government and that Sunni Arab participation seemed larger as well. (Full story)

U.S. officials also said fewer instances of violence occurred during Saturday's referendum than in the earlier election.

Journalists pressed President Bush on Monday about reports that Sunnis largely voted against the constitution. Many Sunnis have been reluctant to join the new government, and they are largely suspected of leading the insurgency.

In response, Bush praised the turnout, calling it "an indication that the Iraqi people are strongly in favor of settling disputes in a peaceful way; that they understand that working to find common ground in a constitution is much better for their future than relying upon killers and people who will kill innocent children and women for the sake of creating havoc."

"Secondly, I was pleased to see that the Sunnis have participated in the process. The idea of deciding to go into a ballot box is a positive development."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also praised the Iraqi people for braving threats of violence despite insurgent threats.

However, he said he did not expect that the vote would lead to a short-term reduction in violence.

"But at least they have chosen to use ballots and not bullets," Annan said. "And I hope this is a lesson that will auger well in the future."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the measure "had probably passed" but cautioned she did not know the final outcome.

Speaking to reporters in London, England, Rice said she had spoken Sunday with Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and that her comments were based on "the assessment of people on the ground."

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