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GIs Fire On Iraqi Bus, Kill At Least 5

American troops fired on vehicles trying to drive through roadblocks in Baghdad and north of the Iraqi capital, killing at least five people - including a child - in two separate shootings, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

The shooting in Baghdad took place in a northern neighborhood known to be a Shiite militia stronghold as the driver collected employees of the Rasheed bank, police said. U.S. troops fired warning shots when the bus reached the U.S. roadblock Tuesday morning and tried to drive through, killing as many as four passengers - including three women, police and hospital officials said.

"As I understand it, some of the warning fire ricocheted and may have killed two to three individuals," said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman.

Smith said the driver was traveling in a lane restricted to passenger cars. In an earlier statement, the U.S. military said two people were killed in the shooting and four wounded. A manager at Rasheed bank also said the shooting claimed two lives.

A Rasheed employee wearing a bloodied white T-shirt who was hospitalized after the shooting said the passengers initially did not know whether the bus had been hit by bullets or bombs. He said U.S. troops immediately came to the bus to help

"Later, we found out that the American forces opened fire at us. But the thing that I cannot comprehend is that the same Americans who opened fire at us, came immediately to help us," the man, who identified himself only as Yasir, told AP Television News.

During a U.S. operation Monday against al Qaeda in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, American troops shot at a vehicle speeding toward a roadblock after firing warning shots, the U.S. military said in a separate statement. Two men in the vehicle were killed immediately, and a child traveling with them died later of his wounds.

"We regret that civilians are hurt or killed while coalition forces work diligently to rid this country of the terrorist networks that threaten the security of Iraq and our forces," Cmdr. Ed Buclatin, a U.S. spokesman, said in the statement. Two terror suspects were killed earlier in the operation, the military said.

In other developments:

  • A federal grand jury investigating Blackwater Worldwide heard witnesses Tuesday as a private lawsuit accused the government contractor's bodyguards of ignoring orders and abandoning their posts shortly before taking part in a Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.
  • The military said two U.S. soldiers were killed in an explosion north of Baghdad. They're the first U.S. combat deaths reported in five days. And in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, police said a burst of violence has killed at least 11 Iraqis, including seven who died when a suicide bomber attacked a police headquarters.
  • Iraq's top Shiite cleric renewed his call for an end to sectarian violence in the country and for Sunni and Shiite Muslims to unite, according to a Sunni cleric who met him Tuesday in this holy city south of Baghdad. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's plea for peace and unity came as a group of Sunni and Shiite clerics met in Najaf in the latest attempt by clerics from both sects to stem the violence.
  • U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday signed a deal setting the foundation for a potential long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq, with details to be negotiated over matters that have defined the war debate at home - how many U.S. forces will stay in the country, and for how long. The agreement between Mr. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirms that the United States and Iraq will hash out an "enduring" relationship in military, economic and political terms.

    The Shaab neighborhood in northern Baghdad where Tuesday's shooting took place is the same district where masked gunmen on Sunday killed 11 relatives of a journalist critical of the Iraqi government, according to colleagues and the media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

    Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf, however, denied the Sunday killings had taken place. "The killing of the 11 family members did not take place and that is totally confirmed," he told The Associated Press Tuesday.

    In Amman, in neighboring Jordan, the journalist challenged the Iraqi government's account and accused the Interior Ministry forces of involvement in the deaths. Dhia al-Kawaz said they raided a wake in Iraq for his slain family Tuesday in the predominantly Shiite city of Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, tearing down banners commemorating the dead.

    Al-Kawaz, who has lived outside Iraq for 20 years, said the killing of his family members was "a message to me and to any journalist inside Iraq or outside Iraq who opposes the policies of the Iraqi government."

    Around Baqouba, the capital of violent Diyala province about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber targeting the local police headquarters killed six people, including three women, according to police. East of the city, mortar rounds apparently targeting a local radio station instead landed near homes in the vicinity, killing two people, while a roadside bombing killed one civilian, police said.

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