BAGHDAD – U.S. troops who thought they were under attack killed an Iraqi airport employee Sunday as he drove near a military convoy on his way to work, officials said.
The driver, identified by colleagues as Baghdad International Airport worker Karim Obaid Bardan, failed to heed repeated signals to slow down or turn on his headlights as he neared the military convoy, said U.S. and Iraqi security officials.
"As a result, the vehicle was perceived as a threat and a decision was made to engage it with small-arms fire in order to stop it and to protect the convoy from a possible attack," said Army Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
"Iraqi drivers know that they must use caution and avoid threatening behavior when approaching military vehicles," Johnson said.
The shooting comes a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said U.S. troops would not be needed in Iraq beyond a December 2011 withdrawal deadline already in place between the two nations.
An Iraqi policeman confirmed the driver did not stop or slow. Two other Iraqi officials said the pre-dawn shooting happened near a security checkpoint on the road to the airport and described the shooting as a mistake.
All three Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The shooting is under U.S. investigation, and Johnson said the military "deeply regrets" the driver's death.
Such so-called "escalation of force" self-defense shootings were common in the years immediately after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and inflamed tensions between American forces and Iraqis who saw them as occupiers. But the tactic has been less frequent since U.S. soldiers scaled back their presence around Iraq, starting in June 2009, when they stopped patrolling cities without Iraqi forces with them.
Meanwhile, in a shocking killing north of Baghdad, police said gunmen wearing Iraqi security forces uniforms invaded the home of a Sunni sheik in a pre-dawn raid and shot him and his 15-year-old son.
A police officer in the village of al-Meshahda, about 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of the capital, said Sheik Abdul Kerim Talab Mutlak al-Halbussi was a leader of the local Sahwa, or Awakening council. The councils are the government-backed Sunni militias that joined forces with the United States against al-Qaida in one of the turning points of the war.
Two other people in the house were wounded in the shooting, said the police officer. A local hospital official confirmed the casualties. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
Also, two high-profile officials were killed in separate attacks Sunday night in Baghdad, police officials said. The training and development director of the Sunni Endowment, a publicly funded religious organization, was killed when a bomb hidden on the underside of his car exploded. And an Iraqi army brigadier general was slain in a drive-by shooting.
Associated Press Writer Mazin Yahya contributed to this report.