updated 9/23/2008 5:37:30 PM ET 2008-09-23T21:37:30

American soldiers accidentally shot and killed the leader of a local U.S.-allied Sunni group Tuesday after coming under attack in a volatile area north of Baghdad, the military said.

The shooting comes a week before the Shiite-led Iraqi government begins to assume authority over the Sunni groups known as the Sons of Iraq, or Awakening Councils. The military has credited the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq as a key factor in the sharp decline in violence over the past year.

The head of the group in Siniyah, Jassim al-Garrout, was killed after he rushed to the site of an ambush against U.S. forces in the area, which lies between the northern oil-hub of Beiji and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, according to witnesses and police.

One of al-Garrout's comrades said the group would demand an apology from the Americans.

"The Awakening Councils have become targets of al-Qaida, the government and sometimes even the U.S. forces. We do not know our fate and we are feeling lost," Farooq Sami said.

"We are undertaking the task of combating terrorists, yet we are left sometimes unpaid and without money. We have participated in maintaining peace and security in our area, yet we sometimes do not get our salaries."

Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday that the Iraqi government will begin next week paying the salaries of about 54,000 of the mostly Sunni fighters in the province surrounding Baghdad.

Hunting for insurgents
In Tuesday's incident, the U.S. soldiers were hunting for insurgents and weapons after they were hit by a roadside bomb and small-arms fire near Siniyah, 110 miles northwest of Baghdad, according to an e-mailed military statement.

The troops then came under fire while searching a house and "shot a Sons of Iraq leader who was mistaken for the enemy when he entered the house," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Russell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. Medical aid was administered, the military said, but the troops were unable to save al-Garrout.

Russell said the U.S. soldiers had warned their Sunni allies to identify themselves and to stay clear of the house.

Separately, an American soldier was shot to death Tuesday in an attack about 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, the military said.

At least 4,170 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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