BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (search), responding to a question Thursday about the Sept. 12 friendly fire deaths of eight Iraqi policemen and a Jordanian guard in Fallujah, gave a response about an earlier killing of two Iraqi policemen by American forces in the same city.
Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said the military investigation showed no misconduct in the incident.
"The initial findings are that the soldiers acted within the construct of the military's rules of engagement," he told reporters.
The Associated Press reported that Sanchez was talking about a Sept. 12 shooting involving the 82nd Airborne Division (search).
Col. Bill Darley (search), a spokesman with coalition joint task force, telephoned AP later Thursday to say that Sanchez thought he was responding to a question about a shooting Aug. 9 in Fallujah (search).
In that shooting, Darley said, two Iraqi policemen were killed by soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, part of the 1st Armored Division's 3rd Brigade. He said Army records showed the investigation of the Aug. 9 shooting was complete and that soldiers were found to have acted in accordance with the rules of engagement.
Darley did not give further details.
There was no known previous report of U.S. troops killing Iraqi policemen on Aug. 9.
The audio tape of the exchange with Sanchez shows the following:
Question: "General, can you give us an update on the investigation into the killing of Iraqi policemen in Fallujah?"
Answer: "Yes, I can. That investigation is complete at this point. It's undergoing final review within my headquarters, with release of that report to follow immediately after the final review. The initial preliminary findings are that the soldiers acted within the construct of the rules of engagement."
Question: "General, you refer to the initial preliminary findings into the Fallujah investigation. Does that investigation acknowledge that the police were shot by U.S. soldiers, and is there an explanation of why the shooting began?"
Answer: "The Fallujah incident? Yeah, the initial reports were very clear, that there was some initial fire that took place, as that truck of policemen turned around and came back towards the patrol. And once that engagement started, it didn't end, it was about a 30-second engagement that occurred. It ended with that truck full of Iraqis having been engaged, and those policemen killed. It was about a 30-second engagement that took place."
Aside from the mention of a 30-second engagement, the general's response matches what is known about the Sept. 12 incident, down to the reference to a pickup truck and it having turned around.
Sanchez also said the unit acted within military rules when it called in a helicopter airstrike on a farm north of Fallujah on Tuesday, killing three men and wounding three other people, including two boys. He added that he would not order an investigation.
In the Sept. 12 shooting, surviving policemen said the incident began as Iraqi police vehicles approached a U.S. checkpoint near the Jordanian military hospital on the outskirts of Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad. The police were chasing a car known to have been involved in highway banditry.
The policemen said they begged the American soldiers to stop shooting, screaming in Arabic and English that they were police. The Americans kept firing for 30 minutes, the policemen said.
Fallujah is in the heart of the dangerous "Sunni Triangle," the region north and west of Baghdad where support for Saddam Hussein runs deep and attacks on U.S. forces happen daily.