The U.S. military said Monday that it had accidentally killed nine Iraqi civilians during an operation targeting al-Qaida in Iraq -- the deadliest known case of mistaken identity in recent months.
The civilians were killed Saturday near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of the Iraqi capital, U.S. Navy Lt. Patrick Evans told The Associated Press. Three wounded civilians were taken to U.S. military hospitals nearby, he said.
Evans did not give details about exactly how the people died, but said the killings occurred as U.S. forces pursued suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants. The incident is under investigation, he said.
Iraqi police said the victims, including two women, were in two houses in the village of Tal al-Samar, which was bombed by American warplanes late Saturday. They were all Sunni members of the al-Ghrir tribe, an officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
The U.S. airstrike occurred after an American convoy came under enemy fire in Tal al-Samar and soldiers called for air support, the Iraqi officer said.
Shortly after the incident, American officers met with a Muslim sheik representing citizens in the area, Evans said.
"We offer our condolences to the families of those who were killed in this incident, and we mourn the loss of innocent civilian life," he said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.
In November, a leader of one of the so-called awakening councils -- groups of Sunni tribesmen allied with American forces who are fighting to oust al-Qaida from their hometowns -- said U.S. soldiers killed dozens of his fighters during a 12-hour battle north of Baghdad.
The leader, Mansour Abid Salim of the Taji Awakening Council, accused American troops of mistaking his men for militants. The U.S. military admitted killing 25 men, but said they were insurgents operating "in the target area" where al-Qaida was believed to be hiding.
The U.S. military investigated that incident, but the two versions of events were never reconciled.
A month later, the U.S. military said its forces accidentally killed two people during a raid in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, and that one of them was later revealed to be an awakening council member.