Saturday, February 24, 2007

2nd boy dies as military issues statement conflicting with original report on hunt for insurgents

The military statement, and subsequent Reuters' report, differs significantly from the original on-the-scene report by a Reuters correspondent embedded with troops involved with the incident. For instance, today's statement 'said soldiers on the western side of the Tigris had engaged two armed men trying to smuggle weapons across the river by boat'. Yet the original Reuters report said 'The patrol found two old boats on the river bank, neither of which appeared to have been recently used. There was no sign of the two suspected insurgents or any weapons.'

BAGHDAD, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Two Iraqi children were killed and another was wounded in a firefight between American soldiers and gunmen in southern Baghdad on Friday, the U.S. military said.

The children were found on the scene where the insurgents had holed up in a bunker and a shipping container on the eastern bank of the Tigris River during a gunbattle with U.S. forces on the opposite side, the military said.

The incident illustrated how easily Iraqis get caught up in Baghdad's violence. U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a crackdown last week that many see as a final attempt to avert a civil war.

Earlier on Friday, the U.S. military said it was investigating whether civilians, including two children, were killed during another fierce gunbattle in the western town of Ramadi on Wednesday that ended with U.S. air strikes destroying several buildings.

In the Baghdad incident, Reuters photographer Carlos Barria had been embedded with a separate U.S.-Iraqi patrol that came across the three boys at the scene after hearing gunfire for 15 minutes and two explosions. The patrol found one dead boy and two others, who were wounded and hiding in a concrete ditch.

In a statement seen on Saturday, the U.S. military said one of the wounded children had later died in hospital. All the boys looked no older than 12, Barria had reported.

Asked how the children were hurt, a U.S. military spokesman said: "We are looking into the circumstances of what caused the incident."

He said it was unclear if the children had been hurt from gunfire or shrapnel from any explosion.

The statement, which said the incident was under investigation, said soldiers on the western side of the Tigris had engaged two armed men trying to smuggle weapons across the river by boat. The men fled to the eastern side, where they were joined by three other gunmen, the military said.

"After an initial firefight, the five gunmen took cover in a bunker and a large shipping container along the river bank. They continued firing across the river at the troops," the statement said.

"The soldiers returned fire with small arms, and eventually used tank rounds to destroy the bunker and end the attack."

Read the rest at Reuters