U.S. Says 3 Iraqis Killed In June Were Law-Abiding

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 28, 2008

BAGHDAD, July 27 -- The U.S. military acknowledged Sunday that American soldiers killed three "law abiding" Iraqi civilians last month as the Iraqis traveled to their jobs at the Baghdad airport. The military had initially said the soldiers acted in self-defense after being fired upon by "criminals."

In fact, no weapons were found in the civilians' car, the military said, adding that an investigation concluded that neither the soldiers nor the civilians were to blame for the incident.

"This was an extremely unfortunate and tragic incident," Army Col. Allen W. Batschelet, chief of staff for the 4th Infantry Division, said in an e-mailed statement. "Our deepest regrets of sympathy and condolences go out to the family."

The announcement comes as the United States and Iraq are embroiled in delicate negotiations over a security pact that will govern U.S. military operations and jurisdiction after a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year. The Iraqis have demanded that U.S. soldiers no longer be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

Their arguments have been bolstered recently by high-profile incidents in which U.S. troops have been found to have killed civilians. Last week, U.S. Special Forces killed the son and nephew of the governor of Salahuddin province in northern Iraq, prompting U.S. military officials to issue a statement saying they would offer condolences.

Last month, a U.S. military operation near Karbala resulted in the death of a man identified by some officials as a cousin of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and by others as a close associate of his. U.S. officials said troops acted in self-defense, but the incident sparked widespread anger among Iraqi officials.

The family of Hafeidh Aboud, one of the three civilians killed on their way to the airport last month, said late Sunday night that the U.S. soldiers responsible should be prosecuted either in the United States or in Iraq.

"Why did they do this to us? My father liked the Americans very much," said Mohammed Hafeidh Aboud, 21, one of Hafeidh Aboud's seven children. "The American soldiers are guilty. Why did they do this? Why?"

The shooting took place June 25 as Hafeidh Aboud was on his way to Rasheed Bank, where he had worked for 33 years. In the car with him were employees Suroor Ahmed, 32, and Maha Youssef, 31.

Around that time, a convoy of American soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), were traveling in the vicinity, the military said. One of the vehicles developed mechanical problems and pulled off along a road adjacent to the airport.

About 8:40 a.m., as soldiers tried to repair the vehicle, Aboud's Opel approached the rear of the parked convoy, according to the military and witnesses. The military said in a statement that the car was speeding toward the soldiers, who viewed it as a threat. "When the vehicle failed to respond to the soldiers' warning measures, it was engaged with small arms fire," the statement said.

The three civilians died instantly.

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