Marines bomb mosque, 40 dead

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Fighting in Fallujah and Neighboring Ramadi has killed 15 Marines since Monday and was part of an intensified uprising involving both Sunni and Shiites that now stretches from Kirkuk in the north to the far south.

Marines, in the third day of an intense campaign to pacify this Sunni Muslim city, waged a six-hour battle around the mosque with the militants holed up inside before a Cobra helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at the base of its minaret, and an F-16 dropped the bomb, said Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne.

Witnesses said the strike came as worshippers had gathered for afternoon prayers.

In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told CNN that from photos of the mosque he had seen, “the actual mosque structure itself” was not damaged.

“It is a holy place, there is no doubt about it,” Kimmitt added. “It has a special status under the Geneva Convention that it can’t be attacked.

“However, it can be attacked when there is a military necessity brought on by the fact that the enemy is storing weapons, using weapons, inciting violence and executing violence from its grounds,” he said.

Temporary hospitals were set up in private homes to treat the wounded and prepare the dead for burial. There was no immediate confirmation of the number of dead.

With confirmation of the latest Marine deaths, the American death toll since the war was at least 628.