By BOB CAINA CALVAN
AND LAITH HAMMOUDI
MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE
BAGHDAD — A U.S. military convoy opened fire on a column of cars Sunday morning, killing at least two Iraqi civilians in southern Iraq and igniting a new round of anger over the apparent loss of innocent life.
Key details were murky — including whether the military convoy fired as it approached the cars from behind, as local police contended. The number of fatalities was also unclear.
Police charged that the shootings were unprovoked and said six people, including two Iraqi policemen, died in a barrage of bullets.
The incident occurred on a day when U.S. officials announced that attacks in Iraq were at their lowest levels in nearly two years.
The first word of the incident came from an apology jointly issued late Sunday by the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. military, but the statement referred to only two deaths and four injuries.
A U.S. military spokesman said the incident was under investigation, and declined to release details. The military would confirm only that the deaths were the result of “a shooting incident” near Samawa, the capital of Muthanna province, located 160 miles south of Baghdad.
“The shooting was heavy,” said 1st Lt. Hussam Mohammed of the Samawa police department.
“They shot from behind,” he said. “We do not have anything in our report for any reason that would justify the shooting.”
Five cars were damaged during the shooting, which occurred at about 10 a.m. Sunday, Mohammed said.
“We profoundly regret when any innocent civilian is killed or injured,” the U.S. statement said. It said the families of those killed, as well as those injured, would be “properly cared for.”
Local government officials, who chided military forces for what they deemed as unnecessary force, denounced the shooting incident.
The governor of Muthanna province, Ahmed Marzook al-Salal, condemned the incident and demanded that the U.S. government provide compensation to the families.