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Al Arabiya calls killings 'assassination'

TV crewmen were shot March 18 at U.S. checkpoint


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Al Arabiya, the Dubai-based Arabic-language news network, described the killing of two employees by U.S. troops March 18 in Baghdad as an "assassination" Tuesday.

In the incident, a correspondent and a cameraman were shot dead at a U.S. checkpoint as they drove to the site of a nighttime rocket attack not far from the site of the bombing of the Mount Lebanon Hotel a day earlier.

The killings generated outrage across the Arab world. Some Iraqi and international journalists issued a protest and staged a walkout of a news conference with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Baghdad. (Full story)

The U.S.-led coalition issued a report Monday that concluded the soldiers fired in self-defense at a white Volvo speeding toward a blocking area they had set up after the rocket attack.

Al Arabiya employees were traveling behind the Volvo in a gray Kia that the soldiers did not see, the statement said.

Al Arabiya broadcast a statement by the station's lawyer, Ahmad Al-Abbadi, saying he believes there were "contradictions" and "inconsistencies" in the coalition account.

After Al-Abbadi's statement, the network's news reports of the incident replaced the word "killing" with "assassination."

According to the coalition report, "Due to the location of the Kia, and the range and orientation of the weapons used to stop the Volvo, it is likely that the Kia was unintentionally struck by four to six rounds aimed at the Volvo.

"The investigation concluded that no soldiers fired intentionally at the Kia. Only one soldier saw the Kia leaving the scene, and was unaware that the Kia had been struck by gunfire or that its occupants had been injured or killed."

U.S. Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Tuesday that "we deeply regret the incident."

"As you know, the soldiers were not shooting at that particular vehicle, but were acting in self-defense at a vehicle which was coming down after them, [and] had hit one of our vehicles at such a pace -- at such a rate of speed -- that it pushed that vehicle back 10 to 15 feet."

The soldiers "acted properly within their rules for the use of force and the rules of engagement," Kimmitt said.

"And as a result, at this point the investigation has determined that no further action need be taken against those soldiers," he said.

The network said Monday that there were contradictory eyewitness accounts "of those who saw what happened from the Al Arabiya offices."

The two network employees killed were correspondent Ali Al-Khatib and cameraman Ali Abdel Aziz.

The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council banned Al Arabiya from operating in Iraq for two months starting in November 2003.

The council punished the network for broadcasting an audiotape, said to be from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, urging Iraqis to kill council members, according to Reporters without Borders, an international group concerned with media freedom.

In other comments to reporters Tuesday, Kimmitt made a clear distinction between two classes of anticoalition groups that have emerged in Iraq recently -- insurgents and terrorists.

Insurgents are former elements of Saddam Hussein's regime trained in the Iraqi army and Iraqi intelligence service who "had, and perhaps still continue to have, some sort of idea that they can return" to power, Kimmitt said.

Terrorist networks such as al Qaeda have different methods and motives, he said. They often employ either suicide or symbolic attacks on unprotected targets or large crowds of civilians, he said.

Iraqi policeman's house attacked

A suspected suicide car bomber attacked a police officer's house at about dawn Tuesday in Hillah, central Iraq, police sources said. Six people were wounded, and police said they found a person's remains inside the car.

According to the sources, a red Opel sped toward the house as guards fired at it. The car slammed into a fence and exploded, the sources said.

Elsewhere Tuesday, a makeshift bomb killed a soldier in the U.S.-led coalition and wounded a second one in an attack on a patrol west of Baghdad near Ramadi, Kimmitt said. The soldiers' nationalities were not disclosed.

As of Tuesday, 595 U.S. troops have died in the war in Iraq, 403 of them in hostile action.

In the holy city of Najaf in south-central Iraq, people demonstrated and threw stones in front of the governor's building, a coalition official said. Thirty-two people were detained and two demonstrators suffered minor injuries, the coalition said.

'Friendly fire' report

A report released Monday by U.S. Central Command recommended disciplinary action against a Marine Corps captain who called in airstrikes on fellow Marines in the deadliest "friendly fire" action of the Iraq war. (Full story)

Eighteen Marines were killed March 23, 2003, during the battle around Nasiriya. Some of the bodies were hit by U.S. and Iraqi weapons, and investigators could confirm only eight deaths by hostile fire.

Bremer lauds corruption fight

In a speech Tuesday to students at Baghdad's Al-Nahrain University Law School, U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer lauded anticorruption efforts.

"If public officials steal or abuse their position here, they are not just stealing, they are undermining confidence in the new Iraq's democratic government," Bremer said.

Bremer said 21 independent inspectors general have been appointed to probe the operations of the interim Iraqi ministries, and others are to be selected.

Bremer also noted that the United Nations and the Iraqi Governing Council have begun probes into the country's oil-for-food program.

The United Nations established the program to provide for the humanitarian needs of Iraqis, who suffered from U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

CNN's Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.


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