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March 31, 2003

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U.S.: Troops Killed at Least 7 Civilians
U.S. Says Troops Killed at Least Seven Iraqi Civilians at Checkpoint When Driver Failed to Stop

The Associated Press

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DOHA, Qatar March 31

U.S. troops shot and killed at least seven Iraqi civilians some of them children in a van at checkpoint Monday in southern Iraq when the driver did not stop as ordered, U.S. Central Command said.

The soldiers were from the 3rd Infantry Division, which lost four soldiers Saturday at another checkpoint when an Iraqi soldier dressed as a civilian detonated a car bomb in a suicide attack.

The Central Command said initial reports from Monday's confrontation indicated the soldiers followed the rules of engagement to protect themselves.

"In light of recent terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the soldiers exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary loss of life," the statement said.

However, Monday's deadly shooting near the southern Iraqi city of Najaf is likely to stoke opposition to the U.S.-led invasion among Iraqis in the Shiite Muslim region, where Washington had hoped for a popular uprising against President Saddam Hussein.

Instead, U.S. forces have faced stubborn resistance by Saddam's forces in Najaf and other cities in southern Shiite strongholds.

According to an account by the Central Command, the van approached the U.S. Army checkpoint Monday afternoon. Soldiers motioned for the driver to stop but were ignored. They then fired warning shots but the vehicle moving toward the checkpoint. Troops then shot into its engine. As a last resort, the military said, soldiers fired into the passenger compartment.

Two other civilians were wounded at the checkpoint on a highway near Karbala, according to a Pentagon official and Central Command. The military is investigating.

"They tried to warn the vehicle to stop, it did not stop," Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace said on PBS-TV's "The New Hour with Jim Leherer." "And it was unusual that that vehicle would be full of only women and that the driver was a woman. So we need to find out why it was that they were acting the way they did."

The military statement said 13 women and children were in the van. But The Washington Post, whose reporter is embedded with the 3rd Infantry, said 15 people were in the vehicle and 10 were killed, including five children who appeared to be younger than age 5. One of the wounded was a man not expected to live, the Post reported on its Web site.

The newspaper described the vehicle as a four-wheel-drive Toyota crammed with the Iraqis' personal belongings.

In its description of the shooting, the Post quoted a 3rd Infantry Division captain as saying the checkpoint crew did not fire warning shots quickly enough.

The Post describes the captain watching through binoculars and ordering the soldiers by radio to fire a warning shot first and then shoot a 7.62 mm machine-gun round into the vehicle's radiator. When the vehicle kept coming, the captain ordered the soldiers to "stop him!"

About a dozen shots of 25 mm cannon fire were heard from one or more of the platoon's Bradley fighting vehicles, the Post said.

The captain then shouted over the radio at the platoon leader, "You just expletive killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!" according to the Post.

"It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen, and I hope I never see it again," Sgt. Mario Manzano, 26, an Army medic with Bravo Company of the division's 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, told the Post.

U.S. medics evacuated survivors of Monday's shooting to allied lines south of Karbala, according to the Post. One woman was unhurt. Another, who had superficial head wounds, was flown by helicopter to a U.S. field hospital when it was learned she was pregnant, the Post said. U.S. troops gave three survivors permission to return to the vehicle and recover the bodies of their loved ones, the newspaper said.

Medics gave the group 10 body bags, the newspaper reported, and U.S. officials offered an unspecified amount of money to compensate them.

photo credit and caption:
U.S. Army soldiers run for cover near the Euphrates River which the U.S. Army siezed in Al Hindiyah, Iraq Monday, March 31, 2003. The Army's Task Force 4-64, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, took the bridge with heavy Iraqi resistence as part of its campaign to move north towards Baghdad. (AP Photo/John Moore)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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