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Pentagon Probes Killing of Iraqi Women, Children in Checkpoint Incident - 2003-04-01

The Pentagon is investigating the deaths of at least seven women and children who were shot by U.S. forces Monday as the car they were traveling in approached a military checkpoint.

A Pentagon statement says soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division fired on a civilian vehicle when it failed to stop at a military checkpoint. The statement says warning shots were fired, but were ignored by the driver. The Pentagon says the soldiers shot into the passenger compartment only as a last resort.

The statement says that in light of recent "terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the soldiers exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary loss of life."

Preliminary information indicates the soldiers at the checkpoint correctly followed the rules of engagement, according to Sergeant Major Dwight Brown, Senior Enlisted Advisor to U.S. Commander General Tommy Franks, who spoke on NBC television.

"I can tell you that checkpoints have procedures that soldiers are trained to go through each time they man a checkpoint and there have been no indicators that say that the soldiers there did not follow the exact procedures that they have been trained to do over the years," said Sgt.-Major Brown.

Contradicting the Pentagon statement, a reporter for The Washington Post newspaper who is traveling with the 3rd Infantry Division reported that 10 people in the vehicle were killed, including five small children.

The newspaper described the vehicle as a four-wheel-drive Toyota crammed with the Iraqis' personal belongings.

In its account of the shooting, the newspaper quoted an Army captain as saying the soldiers at the checkpoint did not fire warning shots quickly enough.

The newspaper reported at the time of the incident, soldiers were "edgy" after four American troops were killed by a suicide bomber at a similar checkpoint last Saturday.

Sergeant Major Dwight Brown said Iraqi tactics such as suicide bombings, false surrenders, and using women and children as human shields are not stopping coalition forces from taking significant measures to avoid civilian casualties.

"Obviously that is something that service members, whether they are coalition or Americans, would prefer not to be confronted with," Sgt.-Major Brown said. "But they are trained to react under all circumstances. Again, they are implementing measures that will not put unnecessarily civilians' lives at risk. It is unfortunate that the folks that we are fighting against would use those measures, but those folks out on the ground with the coalition are going to take every measure possible not to unnecessarily wound or kill innocent civilians."

Sergeant-Major Brown said while the rules of engagement have not changed, soldiers may widen the distance at checkpoints between a potential threat and the troops in an effort to avoid civilian deaths.