U.S. military kills civilians in Iraq, apologizes

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 27, 2007 

BAGHDAD — For the second day in a row, U.S. soldiers on Tuesday killed Iraqi civilians when they fired on a vehicle that they thought was a threat, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. military also reported that two soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Salah ad Din province. Two other soldiers were wounded. The military provided no further details on the incident and didn't release the names of the dead.

The shooting deaths of the civilians took place in the al Shaab neighborhood of northern Baghdad. Two people died and four were injured when an American soldier fired at a minibus that was transporting workers to a bank operated by the Iraqi Finance Ministry, the military said in a statement. But Iraqi police and employees at al Rasheed Bank said that four people were killed, including three women, and that two were injured.

The minibus was driving near a U.S. military outpost when it ended up on a road where only car traffic is permitted, the military said. American soldiers signaled the minibus to stop, and when it didn't, one of them fired a warning shot.

A military official familiar with the incident said the warning shot struck the pavement in front of the vehicle and broke apart, spraying the minibus with pieces. The official asked not to be named because he wasn't authorized to speak in detail about the incident.

A spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq acknowledged the deaths of the civilians. "We regret when civilians are killed, and we do feel terrible about it," the spokesman, Maj. Brad Leighton, said. He said the incident was under investigation.

On Monday, a child and two men were killed when they rushed through a U.S. military roadblock while the military was conducting an operation in Bayji, north of Baghdad. U.S. soldiers opened fire on the vehicle; only when they searched the car did they discover the child inside.

The back-to-back incidents come as U.S. and Iraqi officials prepare to negotiate a treaty that will set new rules to govern U.S. military activities in Iraq. The announcement of the negotiations was part of a "declaration of principles" that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and President Bush signed on Monday.

Under the agreement, the U.N. authorization that permits U.S. troops to operate in the country will be extended for one final year. After that extension expires in December 2008, a U.S.-Iraq treaty will set the terms for continued U.S. operations.

Those terms are to be negotiated by July 31 and are likely to be influenced by growing Iraqi impatience with the deaths of civilians during U.S. military operations.

Maliki has long been a critic of civilian deaths and what he says are U.S. troops' breaches of Iraqi sovereignty. As recently as August, he criticized the U.S. military for raids in two Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad that the U.S. said killed "eight terrorists" but that residents said killed and wounded civilians.

"There were big mistakes committed in these operations," Maliki said then. "The terrorist himself should be targeted, not his family."

On Tuesday, Saad Abdul Wahid, a bank employee, said he called one of the women aboard the minibus after he'd heard of the shooting from a colleague.

Through tears, she told him that the bus was hurrying to pick up passengers when a shot rang out from a nearby Humvee, he said. The driver tried to reverse. He couldn't, and before it was over four people were dead, she said.

"Nidhal, Ishraq, Um Tha'er and..." Wahid recalled her saying through tears, listing the names of the dead women. But before she could utter the last name, she broke into heavy sobs.

Wahid said that the woman told him that the minibus stopped because the driver was injured. An American soldier ran over and quickly realized what had happened.

"We are sorry; we are so sorry," the soldier said.

"Is sorry enough to bring back our friends to life?" Wahid asked. "They keep making their mistakes day by day and we are paying too much."

(McClatchy special correspondent Hussein Kadhim contributed to this report.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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