'Why did they shoot? We have no weapons'

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The Independent Online

It was a routine foot patrol. As we made our way up a broad boulevard, in the distance I could see a car making its way toward us. As a defence against potential car bombs, it is now standard practice for foot patrols to stop oncoming vehicles, particularly after dark.

It was a routine foot patrol. As we made our way up a broad boulevard, in the distance I could see a car making its way toward us. As a defence against potential car bombs, it is now standard practice for foot patrols to stop oncoming vehicles, particularly after dark.

"We have a car coming," someone called out, as we entered an intersection. We could see the car about 100 metres away. It kept coming; I could hear its engine now, a high whine that sounded more like acceleration than slowing down. It was maybe 50 yards away now. "Stop that car!" someone shouted out, seemingly simultaneously with someone firing what sounded like warning shots - a staccato measured burst.

The car continued coming. And then, perhaps less than a second later, a cacophony of fire, shots rattling off in a chaotic overlapping din. The car entered the intersection on its momentum and still shots were penetrating it and slicing it. Finally the shooting stopped, the car drifted listlessly, clearly no longer being steered, and came to a rest on a kerb. Soldiers began to approach it warily. The sound of children crying came from the car. I walked up to the car and a teenaged girl with her head covered emerged from the back, wailing and gesturing wildly. After her came a boy, tumbling on to the ground from the seat, already leaving a pool of blood.

"Civilians!" someone shouted, and soldiers ran up. More children - it ended up being six all told - started emerging, crying, their faces mottled with blood in long streaks. The troops carried them all off to a nearby sidewalk.

It was by now almost completely dark. There, working only by lights mounted on ends of their rifles, an Army medic began assessing the children's injuries, running his hands up and down their bodies, looking for wounds.

Incredibly, the only injuries were to a girl who suffered a cut hand and a boy with a superficial gash in the small of his back that was bleeding heavily but was not life-threatening. The medic immediately began to bind it, while the boy crouched against a wall.

From the pavement I could see into the bullet-mottled windshield more clearly, the driver of the car, a man, was penetrated by so many bullets that his skull had collapsed, leaving his body grotesquely disfigured. A woman also lay dead in the front, still covered in her Muslim clothing and harder to see.

Meanwhile, the children continued to wail and scream, huddled against a wall, sandwiched between soldiers either binding their wounds or trying to comfort them. The Army's translator later told me that this was a Turkoman family and that the teenaged girl kept shouting, "Why did they shoot us? We have no weapons! We were just going home!" After a delay in getting the armoured vehicles lined up and ready, the convoy moved to the main Tal Afar hospital.

The young children were carried in by soldiers and by their teenaged sister. Only the boy with the gash on his back needed any further medical attention, and the Army medic and an Iraqi doctor quickly chatted over his prognosis, deciding that his wound would be easily repaired. The Army told me that it would probably launch a full investigation.

Chris Hondros is a photographer with Getty Images and is embedded with US troops

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