US troops kill seven women and children at checkpoint

Another civilian killed as troops fire on truck speeding towards another roadblock
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The Independent Online

American troops shot and killed seven Iraqi women and children yesterday when the van in which they were travelling failed to obey orders to halt at a checkpoint near the city of Najaf in southern Iraq.

American troops shot and killed seven Iraqi women and children yesterday when the van in which they were travelling failed to obey orders to halt at a checkpoint near the city of Najaf in southern Iraq.

Hours later, US Marines killed another Iraqi civilian at another roadblock. His passenger was seriously wounded. The man's pickup truck was riddled with bullets after it sped towards an Allied roadblock on the main highway outside the southern town of Shatra today.

Pentagon officials said the seven dead near Najaf were among 13 women and children in the vehicle. Soldiers first fired warning shots into the air, and then into the engine of the van, but failed to bring it to a halt.

"As a last resort the soldiers fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Inside they found 13 women and children. Seven of the occupants were dead," a spokesman said. Two others were wounded, while the remaining four were huddled in the van, uninjured. "Initial reports indicate the soldiers responded in accordance with 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 spokesman said.

An investigation was under way, he added.

The incident is exactly the kind the US and Britain most wished to avoid in a war in which the manner of victory is as important as victory itself.

But it bears out grim predictions that such tragedies are all but inevitable when jumpy local coalition commanders decide to take no chances.

Precisely that happened in Najaf at the weekend, when a taxi turned into a suicide car bomb as it was being examined at a checkpoint, and four US soldiers were killed. The Iraqi government delivered a chilling warning immediately after that attack that it had at least 4,000 volunteer martyrs lined up ready to give their lives in the struggle against American and British invaders.

Since then, even stricter precautions have been in force – possibly leading to the killing of the seven women and children.

Fears of suicide attacks on other British or American targets were heightened last night after a pick-up truck carrying extra cans of petrol smashed into the main gatepost of the British embassy in Iran and burst into flames, three days after the embassy was besieged by anti-war protesters.

The cause of the incident, in which the driver died, was being investigated the Foreign Office said. There were no casualties among embassy staff, many of whom live within the compound in central Tehran. The small pick-up truck hit the wall close to the embassy's main gates around 10:15pm (1945BST) and burst into flames.

"It's improbable that this was a suicide attack, but the case needs more investigation," said Ali Taala, general director of security and political affairs at Tehran's governor's office.

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