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Death Toll From 'Friendly Fire' Incident at 18, say Kurdish Officials - 2003-04-06

Kurdish officials say 18 Iraqi Kurdish fighters were killed and 44 others wounded Sunday when the convoy they were traveling in was mistakenly attacked by U.S. fighter planes. U.S. Central Command says it is investigating the report. A senior Iraqi Kurdish official was among those wounded.

According to eyewitness reports, a convoy carrying Iraqi Kurdish fighters and U.S. Special Forces troops came under fire near the town of Kalak, in an area recently captured from Iraqi forces.

The U.S. military's Central Command said it is investigating reports that some Americans may be among the dead. A U.S. spokesman added that its investigators will try to find out exactly what happened.

Hoshiyar Zebari, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, known as the KDP, the stronger of the two Kurdish factions controlling northern Iraq, confirmed that Wajeeh Barzani, the younger brother of KDP leader, Massoud Barzani, was among the injured.

"He is one of the commanders, it is true. He was an effective commander, in fact, but he is one of the commanders, not the only commander. The KDP has many, many such commanders of that quality, and even more professional, maybe. So definitely, it will not affect the overall operation or planning that we are having now with the coalition forces. But we take it this is a war situation, and these things can happen," he said.

Mr. Zebari also said Peshmerga Iraqi-Kurdish fighters and U.S. forces have carried out similar operations to solidify the Kurdish lines in about six other areas, involving close air support from U.S. fighter planes.

According to media reports, Mr. Barzani has been flown to Turkey for treatment. A senior Turkish official was unable to confirm those reports but said it was highly likely.

Relations between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds remain strained over Kurdish demands for autonomy from Baghdad. Turkey fears such demands will rekindle separatist sentiment among its 12 million Kurds.