BAGHDAD (Reuters) – U.S. military helicopters killed eight Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers and wounded six others in northern Iraq on Friday in what appeared to be a “friendly fire” incident, Kurdish officials said.
The U.S. military said it killed five armed men in an air strike in the northern city of Mosul after U.S. troops hunting suspected al Qaeda militants there came under fire from a bunker near the building they were targeting.
The men, who had ignored warnings in Arabic and Kurdish to put down their weapons, turned out to be Kurdish policemen, the military said in a statement, adding that U.S. forces expressed their “deepest sympathies” to the families of the victims.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is also a close U.S. ally, has asked the Americans for more information on the incident, which comes as Kurdish soldiers prepare to deploy in Baghdad as part of a U.S.-backed plan to secure the capital.
The U.S. military said this week it was adjusting helicopter tactics in Iraq after at least four were shot down in two weeks. On Friday an al Qaeda-linked group released a video of what it said was the downing of a U.S. helicopter in Iraq this week, which killed all seven crew and passengers.
The video, posted on a Web site used by insurgents, showed an apparent missile hitting a twin-rotor helicopter that was then seen engulfed in flames and crashing behind distant trees.
The military is probing the crash of a CH-46 Sea Knight, the Marine version of the twin-rotor Chinook, on Wednesday.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said they had looked at the video and “there is nothing that leads us to believe that the helicopter shown in the video is the one that went down on Wednesday”.
A total of six U.S. helicopters have come down in the past three weeks, killing 28 military personnel and security contractors.
Kabir Goran, deputy head of the local Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Talabani’s party, said U.S. helicopters struck a Peshmerga watchtower. He said the structure, which guarded nearby PUK offices, had been in place for three years.
He denied the soldiers had received any warning from the Americans before they opened fire.
“We think they may have hit us by mistake,” he told Reuters.
Mosul lies just outside the autonomous region of Kurdistan and Kurdish forces have a presence in parts of the city.
A spokesman for Talabani said he wanted an explanation.
“The president is concerned about what happened. We were told it was a mistake,” the spokesman said.
KURDISH TROOPS IN BAGHDAD
U.S. and Kurdish forces enjoy close ties. U.S. and Kurdish troops fought alongside each other in northern Iraq during the opening stages of the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Many Peshmerga — “those who are ready to die” in Kurdish — were incorporated into the Iraqi military after the U.S.-led invasion but others still operate as a separate force.
As part of the Baghdad security plan, seen as the last-ditch effort to avert an all-out civil war, 4,000 Kurdish soldiers will be deployed in the capital’s lawless streets to take part in their first major operation under Iraq’s new army.
U.S. President George W. Bush has said he will send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, most of them to Baghdad, to stem violence between politically dominant Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
General David Petraeus, the new top U.S. military commander in Iraq, is due to take formal command on Saturday of some 130,000 U.S. troops, replacing General George Casey.
In further violence, the U.S. military said on Friday it had killed eight insurgents in an air strike that destroyed a building in Arab Jbour area near Baghdad after its ground forces came under heavy fire and had to call in air support.
The U.S. military also announced the deaths of three U.S. soldiers killed in combat in western Anbar province.
A British soldier was killed and three were wounded by a roadside bomb in Basra in southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defence said in London.