*EPF205 04/01/2003
U.S. Military Investigators Evaluating Civilian Checkpoint Deaths
(Central Command Report, April 1: Iraq Operational Update) (480)

U.S. military investigators are thoroughly evaluating the exact circumstances of a shooting at a U.S. checkpoint March 31 along Route 9 near An Najaf in which seven people were killed and two were injured, a Central Command (CENTCOM) briefing officer said April 1.

"We'll find the ultimate truth when it's at the end of the course of examination, not at the beginning," Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said at the daily CENTCOM briefing. "We always regret the loss of life of any civilians on the battlefield, but that unfortunately is something that still has not been eliminated from war."

According to CENTCOM, soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division fired on a civilian vehicle at approximately 4:30 p.m. local time (1330 GMT, 8:30 a.m. EST) March 31 when it failed to stop at a military checkpoint after warning shots were fired at the vehicle.

"Seven occupants were killed, two were injured and four were unharmed. Initial reports indicate the passengers were women and children," a CENTCOM statement said. "Soldiers manning the checkpoint motioned for the vehicle to stop, but were ignored by the driver."

Brooks said coalition forces have been using every means available to tell the Iraqi population of what they can do to protect themselves. "The most important message, though, is that the regime will continue to put them at risk on a daily basis, and they should do what they can to protect themselves from the regime and those risks that come on a daily basis," Brooks said.

Brooks also said coalition forces have taken considerable effort to reduce, minimize or avoid damage to religious sites and cultural sites throughout Iraq. "We've seen the regime be far less willing to protect those [sites] ... positioning military equipment in some cases beside mosques, deliberately doing so, and putting those at risk. At this point we find ourselves far more sensitive to those concerns than the regime is, and we will remain that way as we conduct our operations," he said.

In other developments, Brooks said:

-- U.S. soldiers were supported by 100 local tribesmen in the south-central town of An Nasiriyah in capturing Iraqi military prisoners and removing explosives placed on a bridge.

-- In a western desert village, local residents took coalition forces to a building that had been used as a hospital, but had been forcibly taken over by the regime's forces. The villagers showed the coalition troops where ammunition and weapons had been stored, and then helped coalition forces carry the war materials to a site for destruction.

-- An Iraqi general has been captured by coalition forces and has provided some information about Iraqi tactical dispositions. "We're using that information, and an advantage will come to us as a result of that," he said.

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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