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Us soldiers shoots kills two iraqi journalists { March 29 2004 }

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March 29, 2004
U.S. Accepts Responsibility for Killing of 2 Iraqi Journalists

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 29 American authorities accepted responsibility today for the shooting deaths of two Iraqi journalists at a checkpoint this month but said the soldiers who fired on the journalists had acted in self-defense.

In a brief statement, a senior military official said that the two journalists, a cameraman and a reporter for the Al Arabiya satellite channel, were traveling behind a car that was speeding toward the checkpoint when soldiers fired at the speeding car and hit the journalists inadvertently.

"We looked into this. We did an investigation. And we concluded that this was an accident and that the soldiers were acting in self-defense and within the rules of engagement," the senior military official said.

Initially, American military commanders left open the possibility that someone other than United States soldiers guarding the streets of central Baghdad on March 18 had shot the journalists.

But the senior official acknowledged today that eight American soldiers had opened fire that night and that four to six bullets aimed at the speeding car hit the journalists, who were traveling in a sport utility vehicle about 100 meters behind the car.

"It's unfortunate but their vehicle happened to be in what we call the beaten zone," the senior military official said.

The killings, which provoked protests and a out by Arab journalists during a speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell in Baghdad, was the latest checkpoint shooting in a string of mishaps that have killed dozens of Iraqi civilians in the past year of occupation. The driver of the speeding car was also killed. As in many similar incidents, American authorities said that while the soldiers were responsible for the journalists' deaths, the soldiers were not at fault. American officials said they planned to meet with the families of the two journalists, Ali Abdul Aziz, 35, a cameraman, and Ali al-Khatib, 32, a reporter.

Also today, the governor of Ninawa province abruptly quit after American officials confronted him with corruption allegations.

"The governor elected to resign rather than face charges," a senior occupation official said.

In Baghdad, a United Nations delegation met with members of the Iraqi Governing Council to discuss a timetable for elections and ways to form a caretaker government. United Nations officials said Iraqi leaders must agree on a framework by May if elections are to be held in January 2005, as planned.

"We are all very much aware ourselves, the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority that we are working on an extremely tight time frame," said Carina Perelli, head of the United Nations team.

The No. 1 issue, the officials agreed, was providing security.

The steady patter of violence continued today. An American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah, a rebellious town in western Iraq where United States troops battled insurgents last week, killing a number of civilians.

And several British soldiers clashed with angry squatters in the southern city of Basra after the squatters refused to vacate a government building. One squatter tried to snatch a rifle from a British soldier but was beaten back. Two soldiers and several squatters were injured in the fracas.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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