Monday, July 28, 2008

U.S.: Iraqi civilians killed by soldiers were unarmed


• U.S. military officials originally said an Iraqi civilian was shooting at troops
Military initially said a weapon was found in car, but now says there was no gun

• Investigation found troops shot three unarmed, "law abiding citizens of Iraq"

• U.S. military: Initial description based on troops reporting they were fired upon

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Investigators have determined three Iraqi civilians were unarmed and attacking no one when U.S. soldiers fatally shot them in western Baghdad last month, the U.S. military said Sunday.

U.S. military officials initially said at least one of the three Iraqis, who were riding in a car approaching the soldiers, started shooting, and that the soldiers returned fire. The military also initially said a weapon was later found in the car, and bullet holes were found in two of the soldiers' humvees.

But an investigation found the soldiers shot and killed three "law abiding citizens of Iraq," and that no weapon was found in the vehicle, a military release stated.

Also, the investigation determined only one humvee had a bullet hole, and that the bullet hole's source isn't known, said Lt. Steve Stover, a military spokesman.

Still, investigators determined "neither the soldiers nor civilians involved in the incident were at fault," the release said.

"This was an extremely unfortunate and tragic incident," said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multi-National Division-Baghdad. "Our deepest regrets of sympathy and condolences go out to the family.

"We are taking several corrective measures to amend and eliminate the possibility of such situations happening in the future."

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The shooting happened June 25 in the civilian area of Baghdad International Airport. U.S. soldiers "perceived the rapidly approaching vehicle as a threat" and opened fire "after the driver failed to respond to soldiers' warning measures," according to the military statement.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry countered the U.S. military's initial account of the incident, saying U.S. soldiers killed a male banker and two female employees as they were driving to work.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said its initial account "resulted from the numerous soldier witnesses who strongly believed they were being fired upon from the vehicle."

During initial questioning, the soldiers in the convoy said they "felt threatened and believed they saw flashes coming from the front passenger window," Stover said.

The military also said Sunday its initial report about a weapon in the victims' car came from a mistaken belief that Iraqi police had found one.

Mohammed Hafez, son of the slain bank director, said he was shocked by the findings of the investigation.

"My father was a good man. He was a very good man," he said. "I lost not only a father, he was also my friend."

The platoon involved in the incident was banned from conducting military operations during the course of the investigation, Stover said. The platoon returned to duty about two weeks ago after the investigation was approved.

Hafez said he wants the soldiers to stand trial. He said the U.S. military has apologized to his family, meeting with them twice and offering them $10,000 and a condolence letter. Hafez said his family turned down the money.

Stover confirmed the meetings, but not the offer of money.