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IRAQ: Casualties of war

March 27, 2008 |  5:38 pm


Three Iraqi children are among seven civilians killed in a recent U.S. air strike, the latest such mistake to occur on the battlefield. A military statement said Wednesday's incident in Tikrit, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, also left three women and a man dead. It added that five people it identified as "terrorists" also were killed.

"Multi-National Force - Iraq sincerely regrets when there are civilian casualties during our operations to rid Iraq of terrorism," said Navy Capt. Vic Beck, a U.S. military spokesman.

Nobody knows how many Iraqi civilians or U.S.-allied security forces have been killed in such friendly fire incidents, which have been reported widely in the Los Angeles Times. The teenage son of a Times staff member was killed last April, and earlier this month we told the tale of Batul Abdul Hussein, whose son, an Iraqi police officer, was killed when U.S. forces mistook his patrol for insurgents.

Photo: Batul Abdul Hussein looks at a photograph of her son, Wesam Saleh, who was killed in a friendly fire incident involving U.S. forces in February 2007. (Saad Khalaf)

The latest announcement brings to at least 51 the number of non-combatants that the U.S. military confirms have been killed in error since last October. Iraqis speculate that the number is far higher, and U.S. military officials have acknowledged that they often have no way of confirming how many people have died in the wake of military operations, which can occur in dark and confusing circumstances.

Wednesday's incident was a good example. Iraqi sources had led troops to a building suspected of harboring insurgents, and the people inside were ordered to come out. When they did not, ground troops approached the building but came under heavy fire, according to a U.S. statement.

Air support was called in and fired from the air, sparking fiery blasts that indicated the building was being used to store weapons or explosives. In the chaos, some people fled the building, but not everybody.

After it collapsed, the civilians' bodies were discovered. It was unclear if U.S. fire killed them.

In an interview in February, Beck said that in the confusion war, civilians are bound to fall victim to stray gunfire or to be caught up in military action.

That is especially true in Iraq, where insurgents often use civilians as shields, Beck said. "It's very, very difficult to comprehend when you're not on the ground," he said. "But the nature of this enemy doesn't care about the safety of women, children and other people around."

--Tina Susman in Baghdad