Brits defend killing women and children at Iraq checkpoint
The Jerusalem Post

April 1, 2003

The killing of seven women and children by US troops in southern Iraq was a tragedy but doesn't compare with the deliberate killing of civilians by Iraqi forces, a British minister said Tuesday.

"This is a tragedy that's happened as a result of the heat of war, as opposed to the callous murder and slaughter of the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein," Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told Sky News television.

US soldiers shot and killed the civilians when the driver of their van failed to stop at a checkpoint as ordered, US Central Command said. An American journalist who was at the scene said 10 Iraqis were killed on Monday, including five young children.

The checkpoint near Najaf was about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of the site of Saturday's suicide car bombing, in which an Iraqi soldier in civilian dress killed four US soldiers.

A British military spokesman acknowledged that Monday's shooting could undermine efforts to win the support of Iraqi civilians for the coalition campaign.

"If you were a civilian watching that, of course you would interpret it in that way," Col. Chris Vernon told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
But he said military commanders would back their troops in such incidents if they found the soldiers had acted against a perceived threat.

"We must allow our junior commanders who are doing the business on the ground to make the split decisions as they think best," Vernon said. "If the decision is made that the threat against our soldiers is sufficient that they have to use self defense, then they will be fully supported."

Ingram said Iraqis hostile to coalition troops as a result of the civilian deaths would likely change their attitude after a US-led victory.

"Let's see what the mood of the Iraqi people is once we have removed Saddam Hussein and his evil regime," Ingram said. "Just remember those pictures of a few days ago when the civilians were leaving Basra and the Republican Guards and the paramilitary groups loyal to Saddam Hussein were bombing and shooting their own people in many hundreds."

British military officials and witnesses last Friday reported that Iraqi forces fired mortars and machine guns at around 1,000 Iraqi civilians trying to flee the southern city of Basra, which British troops have surrounded for more than a week. Many of the civilians were forced to retreat.

One woman was reported badly injured by shrapnel, but there were no reports of civilian deaths in the incident.

Britain has 45,000 personnel, including 26,000 soldiers, involved in the US-led war on Iraq.

Britain's Ministry of Defense said a soldier was killed Monday in southern Iraq while disposing of explosive ordnance, bringing the British death toll to 26 since the start of the war. The ministry said the soldier's family had been informed, but gave no further information.