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33 Civilians Killed in Iraq

Jordan Times, Wednesday, April 2, 2003

HILLA (AFP) — Reports of coalition forces killing dozens of Iraqi civilians on Tuesday stoked growing international unease at the US-led war, already high after seven women and children were shot dead at a US checkpoint in central Iraq.

Thirty-three people, including women and children, died and 310 were wounded in a "coalition" bombing on the outskirts of the farming town of Hilla, 80 kilometres south of the capital on Tuesday, local hospital director, Murtada Abbas, said.

He was speaking at the Hilla hospital where a large number of children lay wounded under blankets on the floor due to a shortage of beds.

Fifteen members of one family were killed nearby late Monday when their pickup truck was blown up by a rocket from a US Apache helicopter in the region of Haidariya near Hilla, the sole survivor of the attack told AFP.

Razak Al Kazem Al Khafaji, sitting among 15 coffins in the local hospital, said he lost his wife, six children, his father, his mother, his three brothers and their wives.

The British and US air strikes on Baghdad accounted for a further 19 people dead and more than 100 wounded since Monday evening, Information Minister Mohammad Said Al Sahhaf said on the 13th day of the US-led war launched with the declared aim of ousting President Saddam Hussein and disarming Iraq.

US troops admitted killing seven women and children when they opened fire Monday on a civilian vehicle at a military checkpoint manned by the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Najaf, 150 kilometres south of Baghdad.

International commentators and officials agreed that killing civilians, together with the continual bombing on Baghdad, were likely to fuel vocal international opposition to the war and deal a severe blow to the US-led forces' bid to win the trust of the Iraqi people.

"If such scenes become routine... the political war for Iraq could be lost even before the military one is won," The New York Times warned in an editorial.

The British government admitted for the first time that Iraqi civilians may see US-British forces as villains not "liberators."

"We know that for the moment we will be seen as the villains. We knew that from the reaction before the conflict started," Home Secretary David Blunkett told BBC television late Monday.

In Brussels, the European Commission called the checkpoint killings "a horrible and tragic incident... It is not an isolated incident. Too many civilians have already lost their lives in this war.

US Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Owens, speaking at operational headquarters in Qatar, said US troops opened fire "as a last resort" after the civilian vehicle failed to stop at a military post despite "repeated warning shots" fired by US troops. Four people in the vehicle escaped unharmed.

The Washington Post quoted US Army 3rd Division Captain Ronny Johnson as shouting over the radio to his men after the shooting: "You just (expletive) killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough."

A US military investigation has been opened.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said US President George W. Bush "regretted" the deaths of Iraqi civilians but "recognises that most innocents have been lost in this war at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen."

 

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