BAGHDAD – The U.S. military acknowledged Sunday that American soldiers killed three law-abiding Iraqi civilians last month as they traveled to their jobs at the Baghdad airport. The military had initially said the soldiers acted in self-defense after being fired upon.
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.”
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 last month, said Sunday that the U.S. soldiers responsible should be prosecuted.
“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.”
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.
A convoy of American soldiers was trying to repair the vehicle. Aboud’s Opel approached the rear of the parked convoy, according to the military and witnesses. A military statement said 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 criminals, who were traveling in a northerly direction near Baghdad International Airport fired at the soldiers,” the military said in the statement, released the day of the incident. “The soldiers returned fire, which resulted in the vehicle running off the road and striking a wall. The vehicle then exploded. All three criminals were killed in the incident. A weapon was recovered from the wreckage.”
Relatives of the victims, as well as Iraqi police officials and employees of a private security firm, expressed skepticism at the time. The checkpoints in the area are numerous and rigorous.
A week after the incident, U.S. military officers offered $10,000 each to the families of the three victims, Mohammed Aboud said. He said the families refused the sum and demanded a written apology.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for an investigation.
On Sunday, the military said the investigation “confirmed no weapon was recovered from the vehicle” and that the initial statement rose out of “numerous soldier witnesses who strongly believe they were being fired upon from the vehicle.” Batschelet said, “We are taking several corrective measures to amend and eliminate the possibility of such situations happening in the future.”