U.S. to Stick to Checkpoint Rules After Killing of Civilians


April 1, 2003

CORPS HEADQUARTERS, in northern Kuwait, April 1

American forces will stick to existing security procedures at checkpoints in Iraq, a United States general said today, following the killing of eight unarmed civilians in separate incidents.

"At checkpoints . . . we're trying to get some separation between a potential threat and the force that is being protected," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said at a news briefing in Qatar. "There will be occasions where civilians will be put in harm's way."

But he insisted there had been no "change of the rules of engagement in recent days."

General Brooks was responding to questions about the killing of seven women and children Monday afternoon after a van they were riding in failed to stop when troops from the Second Brigade of the Third Infantry Division waved them down and fired warning shots.

An investigation of the incident is under way, an Army statement said.

Today United States marines shot dead an unarmed Iraqi driver at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq.

The shooting deaths of the women and children happened at a checkpoint south of Kerbala and north of Najaf, along Route 9. This checkpoint was several miles north of the site where a a suicide car bomber killed four soldiers of the Third Division at a checkpoint on Saturday. After the Saturday bombing, the Army adopted stricter rules about checkpoints, forbidding anyone to run a roadblock.

In a statement issued on Monday night, the Army said that at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, a civilian vehicle approached a military checkpoint on Route 9 near Najaf.

The Army said soldiers at the checkpoint had motioned for the vehicle to stop but were ignored. After warning shots were ignored, the soldiers fired shots into the engine of the vehicle, "but the vehicle kept moving toward the checkpoint," the Army said.

"Finally, as a last resort, the soldiers fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle," the statement issued by the Army said.

Upon further investigation, the Army statement said, it was determined that 13 women and children were in the vehicle, which was said to be a van. Seven of the occupants were killed, two were wounded and four others were unharmed.

An officer with the Third Infantry Division, who would not be identified, said this morning, "The soldiers did the right thing."

Military personnel in Iraq and Kuwait have tightened their security since the incident on Saturday. The United States military has warned them to be wary of the possibility of attacks against soldiers and marines, including those by suicide bombers.

The Iraqi government said on Monday that 5,000 volunteers from 23 Arab countries were ready to serve in suicide missions against the invading American-British coalition.

Guards at checkpoints here have been told to follow specific procedures as civilian cars approach. They are to ask the driver to halt first, then fire a warning shot if the driver continues, then aim at the car to stop it. The final step, if necessary, is to shoot and kill the driver if he or she fails to stop.

To combat the threat of suicide attackers, theArmy has begun strengthening roadblocks and making plans to install barriers at checkpoints.

In the incident on Saturday, bomb in a taxi killed four soldiers of the Third Infantry Division at an Army checkpoint in Najaf.

The four soldiers who died surrounded the car and ordered the driver out for a search of the car. The taxi exploded when the man followed orders to open the trunk.

The force of the blast pressed a crater in the asphalt highway, which was littered with debris.

On Sunday 13 soldiers waiting in line were injured, one seriously, when a pickup truck slammed into them at a post exchange at an Army camp near the Kuwaiti border.

The driver of the truck, a contract worker at the camp, was shot in the shoulder and the chest by a military policeman and a soldier who was standing in the line. It was unclear if the driver's actions were intentional.

Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/01/international/worldspecial/01CND-VAN.html

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