7 Iraqis Killed At Checkpoint

Najaf Iraq map us army soldier shooting
U.S. troops killed at least seven Iraqi women and children at a checkpoint Monday when the Iraqis' van would not stop as ordered, U.S. Central Command said.

Two other civilians were wounded at a U.S. Army checkpoint on a highway near Najaf in southern Iraq, according to a Pentagon official and a Central Command statement. The military is investigating, the statement said.

The soldiers involved were from the 3rd Infantry Division, the same unit that lost four soldiers at a checkpoint near Najaf Saturday when an Iraqi soldier dressed as a civilian detonated a car bomb.

The seven dead and two wounded on Monday were among 13 women and children in a van that approached the checkpoint but did not stop, according to the Central Command statement.

It said soldiers motioned for the driver to stop but were ignored. The soldiers then fired warning shots, which also were ignored. They then shot into the vehicle's engine, but the van continued moving toward the checkpoint, according to the statement.

The Washington Post offered an account of the tragedy that suggested no warning shots were fired. The newspaper said Army Capt. Ronny Johnson urgently called for warning shots to be fired as the van approached the checkpoint, but that there was no apparent response from his troops.

Finally, Johnson ordered his troops to open fire on the vehicle, which proved to be packed with women and children.

The Post said that after viewing the carnage through binoculars, Johnson said to his platoon leader: "You just [expletive] killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!"

"It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen, and I hope I never see it again," Sgt. Mario Manzano, 26, an Army medic later told the Post. Manzano said one of the women sat in the van holding the mangled bodies of two of her children. "She didn't want to get out of the car," he told the newspaper.

Central Command said initial reports indicated the soldiers followed the rules of engagement to protect themselves. "In light of recent terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the solders exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary loss of life," the statement said.