CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – Despite the killing of seven Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops at a checkpoint, a U.S. general said Tuesday that Iraqis were helping coalition forces target Saddam Hussein's army.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks described several instances in which local residents had helped U.S. forces throughout the country, paving the way for successful attacks against "death squads" loyal to Saddam.
In one case north of the south-central Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, 100 local tribesmen joined U.S. soldiers in capturing Iraqi military prisoners and removing explosives from a bridge, he said.
In the western desert, Brooks said residents of a town led U.S. troops to a hospital where weapons, munitions and gas masks were found. He said the residents carried the cache into the desert where it was blown up.
At a briefing dominated by questions about the shooting of civilians by U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint on Monday, Brooks said the incident was under investigation.
He said U.S. forces were in a state of heightened alert after a suicide attack on Saturday that killed four Americans.
"In all cases in checkpoints and otherwise we maintain the right to self-defense," Brooks said. "We've increased vigilance because of the tactics of Iraqi death squads.
"While we regret the loss of civilian lives, they remain unavoidable," he said.
Brooks blamed the Iraqi regime for using civilians as human shields and punishing those who seem to favor coalition forces. But he acknowledged he didn't know whether the passengers in the checkpoint shooting were being used as human shields and conceded they may have been fleeing Najaf in fear.
"I certainly can't presuppose what decisions were being made or what decisions were made by the people in that vehicle," he said. But he added that Iraqis have been receiving constant instructions by coalition radio and television programs about not approaching troops.
Iraqi fighters have shot women in the back on bridges, put babies in the line of fire and hanged one woman who simply waved to coalition forces, he said.
"The blood is on the hands of the regime. If there's a question of morality, it really should go back to the regime," he said. "These are women and children and they're on the battlefield."
He said that despite the threats by the Iraqi regime on its own population, "people are bold and they're becoming bolder."
Brooks listed battlefield successes of the previous 24 hours. These included:
-- The capture by U.S. forces of an Iraqi general who was providing important information about Iraq's battlefield tactics. He refused to identify the general or say where he was captured.
-- The destruction by British forces near the southern city of Basra of a "considerable" number of Iraqi tanks and personnel carriers.
-- The rescue by British troops of two Kenyan truck drivers who had been held by Iraqis since last week. The men had been drivers for a Saudi-owned, Kuwait-based company contracted by U.S. and British coalition forces.