Two American servicemen were shot and killed Tuesday by a gunman in an Iraqi army uniform while they were distributing humanitarian aid in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said.
It was the third such shooting in the Mosul area in less than a year purportedly involving Iraqi soldiers, raising concerns about infiltration of the Iraqi security forces in one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq.
The shooting, southwest of Mosul near the Syrian border, came on the eve of a parliament vote on a pact that would allow American troops to remain in Iraq three more years. Iraq's government says its police and army are not ready to maintain security on their own.
The attack killed a Marine and an Army soldier on a transition team working with the Iraqis, a military statement said. Two Marines and three Iraqi civilians also were wounded, it said.
"The attack appears to have been unprovoked," Col. Bill Buckner, a U.S. military spokesman, was quoted as saying.
He said it was unknown if the attacker was an Iraqi soldier or an insurgent in disguise, saying a joint investigation was under way. The statement said another man also was involved.
Other U.S. military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information, said the gunman was in Iraqi army custody and appeared to be an Iraqi soldier.
The American servicemen and Iraqi soldiers were passing out blankets near Baaj, a mainly Sunni Arab area near the border, about 75 miles southwest of Mosul, when the midday attack occurred, one of the officials said.
The gunman, who fired from about 50-100 yards away, fled after the attack, the official said.
The attack came two weeks after an Iraqi soldier ambushed U.S. soldiers in a courtyard of an Iraqi military base in a dangerous Sunni Arab neighborhood in Mosul, killing two Americans and wounding six before he died in the subsequent gunbattle.
Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, described that as a "premeditated" attack while the soldiers waited for their two lieutenants to finish a meeting with an Iraqi army company commander.
Iraqi officials said the Nov. 12 shooting followed a quarrel with the Iraqi soldier, but Hertling disputed that account.
Rooting out insurgents
Similar reports emerged after Tuesday's shooting, with the Iraqi policeman and a news report claiming an American serviceman had slapped a woman. But the U.S. military said that report was false.
Last December, an Iraqi soldier also allegedly shot and killed a U.S. captain and a sergeant during a joint operation in Mosul, which is 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major offensive this spring to rout insurgents from Iraq's third-largest city, which American commanders at the time dubbed al-Qaida in Iraq's last urban stronghold.