BAGHDAD, Iraq — Two Iraqi women were shot to death north of Baghdad after coalition forces fired on a vehicle that failed to stop at an observation post, the U.S. military said Wednesday. Iraqi police and relatives said one of the women was about to give birth.
A car entered a clearly marked prohibited area near coalition troops at an observation post but failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory warnings, the U.S. military said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.
“Shots were fired to disable the vehicle,” the statement said. “Coalition forces later received reports from Iraqi police that two women had died from gunshot wounds ... and one of the females may have been pregnant.”
The statement said the incident was being investigated.
“The loss of life is regrettable and coalition forces go to great lengths to prevent them,” the military said.
'About to give birth'
The statement was issued after Iraqi police said a pregnant woman and her cousin were killed by American troops while driving to a maternity hospital in Samarra, a predominantly Sunni city 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The shooting deaths occurred in the wake of an investigation into allegations that U.S. Marines killed unarmed civilians in the western city of Haditha.
AP Television News footage showed the women’s bodies wrapped in sheets and lying on stretchers outside the Samarra General Hospital, while residents pointed to bullet holes on the windshield of a car and a pool of blood on the seat.
“I was with the victims, one of them was pregnant and about to give birth,” said a woman who did not give her name but said she was a relative of the victims.
State of emergency
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for a month in oil-rich Basra which is in the grip of a power struggle among Shiite factions.
“We hope after this month that we will come back to Basra and see that the situation has improved a lot,” Maliki told reporters in Iraq’s second city after announcing the measure.
Security forces will be deployed in the streets of Basra day and night and they will also conduct search operations, a government source told Reuters, giving more details.
Maliki, who was heading a high-level government delegation to Basra to restore security, earlier vowed to crack down with an “iron fist” on gangs threatening security in the southern city.
Security has deteriorated sharply in Basra over the past year as rival factions from the Shiite Muslim majority tussle for a share of the power handed to Shiites by the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated administration.
Basra, whose oil accounts for virtually all of Iraq’s state revenues, is a major prize for all parties.
Cycle of violence
The United States hopes Maliki’s grand coalition of Shiites, minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds will tackle widespread guerrilla and sectarian violence that threatens to tear Iraq apart.
But there is little sign of any let-up in the cycle of killings and revenge attacks, with a spate of bombings claiming at least 100 lives this week, mainly in Baghdad. Most of the victims were civilians.
Wednesday morning a parked car packed with explosives hit a police patrol in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing at least five policemen and wounding 14, including a senior officer, as violence continued unabated after one of the bloodiest days in recent weeks .
Police said they had found 42 bodies over the last 24 hours in different parts of the capital, many of them shot, bound and showing signs of torture.
Also in Baghdad, gunmen killed Ali Jaafar, sports anchorman for Iraqi state television, as he left his home, police said.
Several journalists from the government-funded station have been targeted by insurgents waging a violent campaign to topple U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders.
Further north, the mayor of Muqdadiya, his brother and cousin were killed when a bomb planted in his office went off.
Although the southern mainly Shiite region patrolled by British forces has been less violent than Sunni Arab areas patrolled by Americans further north, Basra has become far more dangerous in recent months.
Shiites and minority Sunnis, including leading clerics, have been targeted in recent violence in the area.
Two British soldiers were killed by a suspected roadside bomb in Basra on Sunday, in the bloodiest month for British soldiers since the U.S.-led invasion.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.