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At least five killed by off-target U.S. bomb

A U.S. warplane on Saturday mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on a house in a village near the northern city of Mosul, killing several Iraqis, according to witnesses and the U.S. military.

South of Baghdad, meanwhile, insurgents abducted and killed a Sunni Muslim official as he returned from a trip to persuade a Shiite Muslim leader to support delaying Iraq's Jan. 30 election.

The airstrike by an F-16 fighter plane early Saturday on the village of Aitha, 30 miles south of Mosul, was part of "a cordon and search operation to capture an anti-Iraqi force cell leader," the military said in a statement. The satellite-guided bomb struck a house that "was not the intended target. . . . The intended target was another location nearby."

The statement said that five people were killed and that the military "deeply regretted the loss of possibly innocent lives." The owner of the house told news services that the bomb killed 14 people, including seven children.

The death tolls could not be independently reconciled, and the military said an investigation of the incident was under way.

Later Saturday, on the highway between Baghdad and Najaf to the south, the body of Ali Ghalib, the head of the provincial council for Salahuddin province, was found riddled with bullets.

Ghalib was abducted on the road Friday afternoon while returning to Tikrit from Najaf, where he had sought to persuade Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani to support a six-month delay in the nationwide ballot, according to Shuaib Dujaili, a Tikrit official who had been traveling on the same road.

Nearby, in the village of Mahaweel, a car bomb exploded near a roadblock manned by Iraqi police and soldiers. The Reuters news agency reported four people were killed and 19 wounded.

Also . . .

SERGEANT SENTENCED TO SIX MONTHS IN DROWNING CASE: An Army platoon sergeant who ordered his soldiers to throw Iraqis into the Tigris River was sentenced Saturday to six months in military prison, but will not be discharged. Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins was convicted Friday of two counts of aggravated assault, assault consummated by battery and obstruction of justice. He was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and making a false statement. Perkins, 33, and another soldier were accused of ordering soldiers to push two Iraqis into the river in Samarra in January 2004. Prosecutors say Zaidoun Hassoun, 19, drowned and his cousin, Marwan Hassoun, climbed out the river. Defense attorneys contended Zaidoun may still be alive.

CENTRAL COMMAND CHIEF OF STAFF SEES "ROUGH RIDE': The chief of staff of U.S. Central Command in Tampa is predicting stepped-up insurgent attacks in the three weeks leading up to the Iraqi election. "It's going to be a rough ride for the next few weeks," Marine Maj. Gen. John G. Castellaw told the Orlando Sentinel. "What you're seeing here is a program of intimidation."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.