The U.S. ambassador said it appeared al-Qaida's Iraq leader was not among the dead in a weekend raid in Mosul.
BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. forces mistakenly fired on a civilian vehicle outside an American base in a city north of Baghdad today, killing three people, including a child, the military said.
Iraq’s foreign minister, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that tests were under way to determine whether the leader of al-Qaida’s wing in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a weekend raid in Mosul. The U.S. ambassador, however, said it appeared al-Zarqawi was not among the dead.
In the largely Shiite southern city of Basra, insurgents killed a Sunni cleric, Khalil Ibrahim, outside his home, police Capt. Mushtaq Talib said. Ibrahim was a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of influential Sunni clerics that has been sharply critical of the Shiite-led government.
In the shooting of the three civilians, a U.S. soldier thought the vehicle was moving erratically outside the base in Baqouba and fired warning shots, said Maj. Steven Warren, a U.S. spokesman.
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“It was one of these regrettable, tragic incidents, Warren said.
Dr. Ahmed Fouad of the city morgue and police officials gave a higher death toll, saying five people driving home from a relative’s funeral had been killed, including three children.
The U.S. military said the differing toll may have been a result of a car bomb that targeted U.S. Humvees in the same area, killing five civilians and wounded 12 bystanders in the town of Kanan outside of Baqouba. The blast was the latest in a series of attacks that have killed more than 150 people in the last four days.
In the nearby city of Tarmiyah, four policemen were killed and another wounded by gunmen, police 1st Lt. Ali Hussein said.
Earlier today, U.S. forces left a house in the northern city of Mosul where eight suspected al-Qaida members died in a weekend gunfight, and the White House said it was “highly unlikely” that al-Zarqawi was among the dead.
During the intense gunbattle with suspected al-Qaida members in Mosul on Saturday, three insurgents detonated explosives and killed themselves to avoid capture, Iraqi officials said. Eleven Americans were wounded, the U.S. military said.
On Saturday, police Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed al-Jubouri said the raid was launched after a tip that top al-Qaida operatives, possibly including al-Zarqawi, were in the two-story house.
However, Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said Sunday that reports of al-Zarqawi’s death were “highly unlikely and not credible.”
“Unfortunately, we did not get him in Mosul,” said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, answering questions from reporters about whether al-Zarqawi had been killed in Mosul. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said there was “no indication” the terror leader had been killed.
However, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Jordan’s official Petra news agency during a visit to Moscow that authorities were testing DNA samples from several corpses of insurgents killed in a weekend gunfight in Mosul.
“American and Iraqi forces are investigating the possibility that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s corpse is among the bodies of some terrorists who died in the special military operation in Mosul,” he said, according to Petra.
In Mosul, Shahwan Fadhl Ali, who lives near the scene of the raid, said eight Arabs — four men, a woman and a child — had been living quietly there since last year.
“They might have been Syrians or Jordanians but not Iraqis,” he said.
The house is located in a mostly Kurdish area of eastern Mosul where attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces are fewer than in the western, mostly Sunni Arab part of the city. However, U.S. soldiers said many insurgents live on the eastern side, labeling them “commuter terrorists” who would launch attacks in the west during the day and return to their homes in the east at night.
U.S. forces said they nearly caught him in a February 2005 raid that recovered his computer.
In Baghdad, three people, including one police officer, were killed today by gunmen, police said. Another body with was found in a southern district of the capital with a note saying the man had been killed by insurgents, morgue officials said.
Over the weekend, an American soldier near the capital and a Marine in the western town of Karmah were killed in separate insurgent attacks, the military said. A British soldier was also killed Sunday and four others wounded by a roadside bomb in Basra.
The U.S. military also said Sunday that 24 people — including another Marine and 15 civilians — were killed the day before in an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in Haditha, west of Baghdad in the volatile Euphrates River valley.
The three American deaths brought to 2,094 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that commanders’ assessments will determine the pace of any military drawdown. About 160,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq as the country approaches parliamentary elections Dec. 15.
The Pentagon has said it plans to scale back troop strength to its pre-election baseline of 138,000, depending on conditions. Rumsfeld said Iraqi security forces, currently at 212,000 troops, continue to grow.
Rumsfeld also said talk in the United States of a quick withdrawal from Iraq plays into the hands of the insurgents.
“The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder, ‘Maybe all we have to do is wait and we’ll win. We can’t win militarily.’ They know that. The battle is here in the United States,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
In Egypt, Iraq’s president said Sunday he was ready for talks with anti-government opposition figures and members of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party, and he called on the Sunni-led insurgency to lay down its arms and join the political process.
But President Jalal Talabani, attending an Arab League-sponsored reconciliation conference, insisted the Iraqi government would not meet with Baath Party members who are participating in the Sunni-led insurgency.
“I want to listen to all Iraqis. I am committed to listen to them, even those who are criminals and are on trial,” Talabani said, but he added that he would only talk with insurgents if they put down their weapons.
In Baghdad, hundreds of Sunnis on Sunday demanded an end to the torture of detainees and called for the international community to pressure Iraqi and U.S. authorities to ensure that such abuse does not occur.
Anger over detainee abuse has increased sharply since U.S. troops found 173 detainees, mainly Sunnis and some malnourished and bearing signs of torture, at an Interior Ministry prison in Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighborhood.
Iraq’s Shiite-led government has promised an investigation and punishment for anyone guilty of torture.
Associated Press reporters Katherine Shrader in Washington, Sinbad Ahmed in Mosul and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.