U.S. soldiers fired Monday on a civilian vehicle they feared might hold a suicide bomber, killing at least two adults and a child, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Iraq's foreign minister said tests were underway to determine if the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was killed in a weekend raid.
A U.S. government official, who spoke in Washington on condition of anonymity while the investigation is ongoing, confirmed that DNA from the eight insurgents who died in the Saturday raid in Mosul had been taken for testing.
But the U.S. ambassador cast doubt on whether they included Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the country's most feared terror leader. "Unfortunately, we did not get him in Mosul," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.
U.S. troops fired on the civilian car because it was moving erratically outside a U.S. base in Baqouba, 55 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, said Maj. Steven Warren, a U.S. spokesman.
"It was one of these regrettable, tragic incidents, Warren said.
Dr. Ahmed Fouad of the city morgue and police officials gave a higher death toll, saying five people driving home from a relative's funeral had been killed, including three children.
Iraqi officials have long complained about American troops firing at civilian vehicles that fail to approach checkpoints carefully or otherwise appear suspicious. U.S. officials point to the heavy toll of suicide car bombers who often strike U.S. and Iraqi checkpoints.
The shooting near the U.S. base took place in a province that has experienced at least four major bombings in the last three weeks _ including a suicide car bomb Monday that missed U.S. vehicles but killed five civilians and wounded 12 others in the town of Kanan outside Baqouba.
Meanwhile, mystery continued to surround a deadly firefight that broke out when U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounded a Mosul house believed used by members of the country's most feared terror group, al-Qaida in Iraq. Eight insurgents and four Iraqi policemen died in the assault, officials said. Three insurgents blew themselves up to avoid capture.
The raid took place in a mostly Kurdish area of eastern Mosul where attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces are fewer than in the western, mostly Sunni Arab part of the city. However, U.S. soldiers say many insurgents live on the eastern side, labeling them "commuter terrorists" who would launch attacks in the west during the day and return to their homes in the east at night.
Shahwan Fadhl Ali, who lives near the scene, said eight Arabs _ four men, a woman and three childred _ had been living quietly there since last year. "They might have been Syrians or Jordanians but not Iraqis," he said.
On Saturday, police Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed al-Jubouri said the raid was launched after a tip that top al-Qaida operatives, possibly including al-Zarqawi, were in the two-story house. In Moscow, visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari told Jordan's official Petra news agency that authorities were testing DNA samples from several corpses to determine if al-Zarqawi was among them.
But U.S. officials avoided linking al-Zarqawi to the Mosul raid and sought to dispel speculation that the terror mastermind, behind many of the suicide bombings and kidnappings and beheading of U.S. and other hostages, was dead.
"I don't believe that we got him. Of course, his days are numbered, we are after him, we are getting ever closer," Khalilzad said on a visit south of Baghdad. "Unfortunately, we did not get him in Mosul."
At the Pentagon, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable said U.S. forces routinely "employ whatever means required to identify suspected or known terrorists or insurgents."
In Cairo, Egypt, leaders of Iraq's Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis wrapped up a three-day conference by condemning terrorism but saying their denunciation didn't include insurgent attacks launched against U.S. and foreign troops or the Iraqi armed forces _ terming those a legitimate right to resistance.
The gathering also said there should be a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country _ a key demand of Sunni Arabs.
The differentiation between terrorism and legitimate resistance was an overture to some Sunni Arab insurgent groups which the Iraqi government believes might be ready for negotiations. The plan would be to try to drive a wedge between those groups and religious extremists such as al-Qaida.
"Though resistance is a legitimate right for all people, terrorism does not represent resistance. Therefore, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping targeting Iraqi citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worships," the document said.
The conference, organized by the Arab League, also decided on broad conditions for selecting delegates to a wider reconciliation gathering in the last week of February or the first week of March in Iraq. It essentially opens the way for all those who are willing to renounce violence against fellow Iraqis.
Elsewhere, gunmen killed a Sunni cleric, Khalil Ibrahim, outside his home Monday in the mostly Shiite city of Basra, police said. The victim was a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of influential Sunni clerics that has been sharply critical of the Shiite-led government.
Four Iraqi policemen were killed and another wounded by gunmen in the town of Tarmiyah just north of Baghdad, police said, AP reported. V.A.