American troops may have executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians and then ordered an air strike to obliterate the evidence, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

Mostly overlooked in the uproar surrounding Wikileaks' latest release of a deluge of diplomatic cables is an unclassified cable in which a United Nations inspector challenges the U.S. military's account of what happened during a raid on the Iraqi town of Ishaqi. Philip Alston, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, wrote to a U.S. embassy with fresh evidence supporting the charge that American troops intentionally killed civilians. The U.S. military has ignored his requests for more information, as has the Iraqi government.

The tragedy is that this elaborate system of communications is in place but the [U.N.] Human Rights Council does nothing to follow up when states ignore issues raised with them, Alston wrote to McClatchy.

Firefight Accounts Differ

In March of 2006, Iraq was engulfed by sectarian bloodletting. In the midst of the soaring violence U.S. forces, backed by helicopter bunships, raided a house in Ishaqi, a town about 80 miles northwest of Baghdad that is in an area then considered to be highly dangerous. For about 25 minutes, the troops found themselves in an intense firefight.

From there, the accounts diverge. U.S. military spokesmen said that an al-Qaida in Iraq operative was captured from the house, and that the ferocity of the fight had reduced the structure to rubble.A subsequent military investigation exonerated troops of any wrongdoing. But angry Iraqis pointed to 10 civilian deaths and demanded that the government take action.

Alston's cable notes that autopsies conducted on the 10 civilians killed during the raid determined that they had been handcuffed and shot in the head. Of the 10 people killed, four were women and five were children younger than the age of five. Alston also disputed the idea that the house was destroyed in the firefight, maintaining that it was still standing until the U.S. called in an airtstrike.

Troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them, Alston wrote. After the initial MNF [Multi-National Force] intervention, a U.S. air raid ensued that destroyed the house.

Alston's account matches that of the Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit, a regional security center set up with American military assistance and staffed by U.S.-trained Iraqi police officers. McClatchy noted that the cable also backed up what neighbors and the doctor who performed the autopsies told Knight-Ridder -- which is now owned by McClatchy -- immediately after the incident.

The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals, the Joint Coordination Center's report said.