CNN – 2008-05-23 22:40:28
BAGHDAD, Iraq (May 22, 2008) — The US military “sincerely regrets” that it killed two children in a helicopter attack on militants linked to a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq leader, a colonel with Multi-National Force-Iraq said Thursday.
The U.S. military is investigating the operation against insurgents in northern Iraq’s Salaheddin province, just south of Baiji, it said in a statement Thursday.
An American chopper struck cars near a farm late Wednesday, killing eight people, including two children, Baiji police said. The U.S. military said the children were in a vehicle with militants.
The operation targeted al Qaeda in Iraq militants operating a weapons storage facility, Multi-National Force-Iraq said in its statement.
The militants “were believed to be associated with a suicide bombing network,” the military said.
“Sensitive intelligence further indicated that these individuals were directly associated with a suspected senior [al Qaeda in Iraq] foreign terrorist facilitator,” the military said.
“Unfortunately, two children were killed when the other occupants of the vehicle, in which they were riding, exhibited hostile intent.”
The military “sincerely regrets when any innocent civilians are injured that result from terrorists locating themselves in and around them. We take every precaution to protect innocent civilians and engage only hostile threats,” MNF-I spokesman Col. Jerry O’Hara said.
The U.S. chopper strike came on the same day two journalists were killed in Baghdad, one of whom by a “spiteful U.S. sniper,” according to Afaq TV, the station for which the cameraman worked.
The U.S. military said it has not confirmed any civilians died in its operation in the Ubaidi section of eastern Baghdad. However, 11 militants were among those killed, the military said.
“Coalition forces only engage hostile threats and take every precaution to protect innocent civilians,” the U.S. military said. “In this case, initial reports indicate all involved in this incident were [planting roadside bombs] or supporting that effort; they were positively identified as either committing a violent act or posed a threat to commit a violent act before each engagement.”
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said 14 people were killed in the fighting between U.S. forces and militants. An Interior Ministry official confirmed cameraman Wisam Ali Odah was among those killed and said the U.S. military opened fire on people after multiple roadside bombs detonated.
Afaq TV, which is affiliated with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, reported Odah was among 11 “civilians killed,” including two street cleaners.
Afaq on Thursday ran a black banner with Odah’s picture on the top left side of the screen. It also aired mourning programs and pictures of his coffin strapped to the top of a minivan as colleagues wailed and waved goodbye.
Meanwhile, Baquba police said the body of an Iraqi journalist kidnapped by gunmen was found two days after he was abducted.
Haidar Hasan, a reporter for al-Sharq, was found dead Thursday with bullet wounds to his head.
Before Odah’s and Hasan’s deaths, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press advocacy group, said 127 journalists and at least 50 media workers had been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
“Iraq remains the world’s deadliest nation for the press,” according to the group.
• A bomb attached to a guards’ cabin at the Algerian Embassy in western Baghdad exploded Wednesday, wounding five guards. The Interior Ministry confirmed the incident, saying the strike occurred in the Mansour neighborhood of the capital.
CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.