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US Officials Apologize for 'Friendly Fire' Incident - 2003-09-13

U.S. officials have apologized for what they are calling a friendly fire incident near the Iraqi town of Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghad. At least eight Iraqi police and one Jordanian security guard were killed in the incident, and nine other people were wounded.

The coalition's chief military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel George Krivo, Saturday expressed deep regrets for what he called "the unfortunate incident."

"Today, the coalition has initiated an investigation into the incident to get a full accounting of the facts," he said. "We wish to express our deepest regrets for this incident to the families who have lost loved ones and express our sincerest condolences."

Officials say the investigation is being headed by a U.S. Army brigadier-general, who was not in the chain of command of the forces in Fallujah.

The apology came as angry residents of Fallujah buried their dead, firing shots into the air and shouting anti-American slogans. Local clerics in the predominantly Sunni city declared a one-day strike and three days of mourning beginning Sunday. They also issued a declaration demanding the U.S. forces leave the city.

The coalition spokesman said the casualties occurred during a three-hour firefight with what he called unknown forces. Local officials said the uniformed policemen were chasing suspected thieves in the middle of the night, when they came close to a U.S. military checkpoint and were fired upon.

The wounded were taken to a nearby Jordanian field hospital, which was also damaged by gunfire during the incident.

Hours later two American soldiers were killed and seven wounded during a raid in the nearby town of Ramadi. U.S. troops have been raiding houses in the area in recent weeks, looking for weapons and for guerrillas who almost daily have been attacking coalition forces in the region.

On Saturday, two U.S. soldiers were wounded by a grenade in Ramadi, and four were injured by an improvised bomb near the northern city of Mosul.

The latest violence comes as foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council met in Geneva to discuss a proposal to include the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq.

France has suggested that the U.S.-led coalition hand back sovereignty next month and hold elections early next year. However, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the proposal unrealistic. U.N. officials characterized the gathering as a preliminary meeting.

A State Department spokesman, meanwhile, announced that Secretary Powell will visit Iraq and Kuwait after the Geneva meeting.