American troops opened fire after their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb at a checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least two policemen and three civilians, police said Sunday, a day after the U.S. military acknowledged five people were killed when it bombed the wrong house during a search operation in northern Iraq.
The owner of the house, Ali Yousef, said 14 people were killed when the 500-pound GPS-guided bomb hit at about 2 a.m. Saturday in the town of Aitha, 30 miles south of Mosul. An Associated Press photographer at the scene said seven children and seven adults died. The discrepancy between the death counts could not be reconciled.
The U.S. military later released a statement saying it regretted the loss of "possibly innocent lives" in the strike, which occurred as U.S. ground troops searched for "an anti-Iraqi force cell leader." American troops recently sent more troops to Mosul, which has seen heavy clashes in recent weeks between insurgents and American forces.
The attacks come at an extremely delicate time, with Iraq roiled by violence just three weeks before elections for a national assembly. The United States has insisted that the vote go ahead on Jan. 30.
In other developments:
U.S. officials had no immediate comment about the shooting at the checkpoint, which occurred late Saturday. Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said a U.S. convoy was hit by a roadside bomb near a police checkpoint in Yussifiyah, nine miles south of Baghdad, and troops opened fire, killing two police and three civilians.
Dr. Anmar Abdul-Hadi of the al-Yarmouk hospital said eight people were killed in the attack and 12 were wounded.
American commanders recently have said they were changing tactics in the way they respond to roadside bombings. Rather than pushing on after the blast, they now stop and try to engage the perpetrators, who may have detonated the explosives remotely.
Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier assigned to the Task Force Baghdad was killed in a roadside bomb explosion, the military said, although it did not say where the attack occurred. The name of the soldier was withheld pending notification of next of kin.
And the deputy police chief of Samarra, Col. Mohammed Mudhafir, was killed in a drive-by-shooting. Mudhafir was driving alone and was dressed in civilian clothes when killed by unknown assailants, Samarra police Maj. Raed Ahmed said.
The upcoming election is the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932, and the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. Sunni leaders have urged the vote be postponed, largely because areas of Iraq where they dominate are far too restive for preparations to begin.
On Saturday, the spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, Fareed Ayar, said the number of polling centers around Iraq will be 5,220. The figure excludes the volatile Anbar province. Baghdad alone will have 1,454 centers, he said.