Controversy erupted Friday over a US air strike that killed 20 Iraqis that the military called "terrorists" but local people, including police, said included women and children.
AFP journalists who visited the village of Taima northwest of Baghdad in the aftermath found and photographed relatives weeping over many mangled bodies, including those of at least two children.
Police provided the names of 17 dead people, which included those of four women, and indicated that nearly everyone was related. AFP passed photographs of the dead to the US military for comment.
"We've checked with the troops who conducted this operation -- there were no children found among the terrorists killed," US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver told AFP.
"I see nothing in the photos that indicates those children were in the houses that our forces received fire from and subsequently destroyed with the airstrike," he added.
All accounts of the incident agree that shortly after midnight US aircraft conducted an air strike that devastated two houses 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Baghdad, destroying them and killing their inhabitants.
According to the US military, the site was a hideout of "Al-Qaeda terrorists" who opened fire on coalition forces with a heavy machine gun. Coalition forces returned fire, killing two of the attackers.
"Despite efforts to subdue the remaining armed terrorists, Coalition Forces continued to be threatened by enemy fire, causing forces to call in close air support ... resulting in 18 more armed terrorists killed," it said.
A search of the area revealed that two of the "armed terrorists" were women, as well as turning up numerous weapons -- including rocket-propelled grenades, a suicide bomb vest and materials for making roadside bombs.
"Al-Qaeda in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations, unfortunately," said the US military statement.
Photographs showing weapons and explosives accompanied the release.
Garver said the women would have been confirmed as combatants in a "battle damage assessment" of the site following the incident.
"If there is a weapon with or next to the person or they are holding it, they are a terrorist," he said.
Garver could not confirm whether the coalition troops involved were American or from a coalition ally. "There are some units we don't talk about," he said.
Amr Alwan, the local mayor of Ishaqi, a nearby town, vigorously disputed the US military's account.
"This is the third crime done by Americans in this area of Ishaqi. All the casualties were innocent women and children and everything they said about them being part of Al-Qaeda is a lie," he said.
Near the site of the blast, weeping relatives displayed the bodies of the victims, many of them hideously maimed by the force of the blast. At least two of the bodies were of young children and one of an adolescent.
Local police provided AFP with the names of 17 victims, four of them women. The names seemed to indicate that the victims were members of two extended families living in neighbouring houses.
The first house held the remains of Mohammed Hussein Jalmud, Hamdiya Mahmud (female), Ghazi Mohammed Hussein, Widad Ahmed Hussein (female), Naif Mohammed, Muwafaq Mohammed, Radam Mohammed, Hisham Mohammed, Hadhal Mohammed, Saddam Mohammed and Salam Ahmed Hussein.
House number two was home to Mahmud, Hussein, Khalifa Ali, Riyad Mahmud, Hamdiya Kamel (female), Jabr Mahmud and Adhra Mahmud (female).
"Unfortunately, terrorist propaganda cells have been known to exaggerate or falsify information in response to successful Coalition operations," said Garver.
Conflicting accounts about US military operations are common, and Friday's dispute was not the first such controversy in this insurgent-prone area just south of Samarra in Salaheddin province.
In March, the US reported that an airstrike in the nearby town of Ishaqi that killed an insurgent, two women and a child, while locals said 11 people, including four women and five children, were shot dead by US soldiers.
The BBC later showed images of the bodies of several women and children bearing gunshot wounds. Subsequent investigations into the incident by the US military absolved American soldiers of any wrongdoing.