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US troops strike site in Fallujah; 11 said dead

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- A US air strike on the rebel-held city of Fallujah in western Iraq last night killed 11 people and wounded 17 at a wedding party, with women and children among the casualties, a hospital doctor said today.

Rafah al-Hayat said the raid, the latest of several in Fallujah against targets that US officials say are used by foreign militants, occurred about midnight.

The US military said the "precision strike" had hit a safe-house being used by the network of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"Credible intelligence sources confirmed Zarqawi leaders were meeting at the safe-house at the time of the strike," an unusually detailed statement said.

"Intelligence sources confirmed that the safe house was being used by the group to meet and plan attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Security Forces, and Multi-National Forces."

It said such strikes had killed several Zarqawi leaders in the past month, including Mohammed al-Lubnani and Abu Anas al-Shami, described as Zarqawi's number two man and spiritual adviser, who were killed in September.

Residents and local doctors say many of the raids inflicted civilian casualties in a city held by Sunni insurgents since a US assault in April failed to dislodge them.

Zarqawi has become the US military's top target in Iraq and a $25 million reward has been offered for information that leads to his capture or death.

His Tawheed and Jihad group has claimed responsibility for some of Iraq's deadliest suicide bombings, as well as the beheading of several foreign hostages.

The US statement said more than a dozen precision strikes had been carried out against what it called Zarqawi operational sites in and around Falluja since September, leading to the killing or capture of a large percentage of his leadership.

The US military said an air raid on Sept. 16 destroyed a planning cell that included several suicide bombers.

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