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Loss of Civilian Lives Regrettable But Unavoidable in War, says US General - 2003-04-01


U.S. forces in Iraq say they will stick to existing security procedures at checkpoints in Iraq in spite of the killing of unarmed civilians in separate incidents over the past two days.

Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, the deputy operations director for U.S. Central Command, says U.S. troops will maintain the right of self-defense as the main element of their rules of engagement.

General Brooks spoke with reporters after U.S. Marines shot and killed an unarmed Iraqi driver at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq Tuesday, hours after seven women and children traveling in a van died in a similar shooting by U.S. Army soldiers at a checkpoint near the central Iraqi town of Najaf.

In that incident, U.S. troops say they opened fire on the van after it ignored two warnings to stop.

General Brooks says investigations are under way into both shootings, but he accuses Iraqi troops of deliberately putting civilians into the firing line.

"We have not had a change in the rules of engagement in recent days," he said. "There is increased vigilance because of the tactics that we've seen used throughout the battlefield by the regime and the death squads that are out there."

U.S. troops are on edge after an Iraqi suicide bomber killed four U.S. army soldiers at a military checkpoint near Najaf on Saturday.

U.S. military briefers have constantly accused the Iraqi government of using civilians, especially women and children, as human shields and of issuing death threats to Iraqi men who refuse to fight for the regime.

"Our view is the blood is on the hands of the regime for the decision and the willingness to use their population this way," said General Brooks.

"While we regret the loss of any civilian lives, at this point they remain unavoidable as they have been throughout history," said General Brooks when asked if the checkpoint shootings would adversely affect the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to win support from the Iraqi people.

General Brooks says he has no evidence to confirm an accusation by Iraq's information minister that U.S. warplanes attacked a bus in western Iraq carrying international volunteers acting as human shields.