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US soldiers fatally shoot 3 civilians in car

Erratic movement near base is cited

BAGHDAD -- US soldiers fired on a civilian vehicle yesterday because they feared it might hold a suicide bomber, killing at least two adults and a child northeast of the capital, American and Iraqi officials said.

The troops fired on the car because it was moving erratically outside a US base in Baqubah, 35 miles from Baghdad, said Major Steven Warren, a US military spokesman. ''It was one of these regrettable, tragic incidents."

Dr. Ahmed Fouad at the city morgue and police officials gave a higher death toll, saying five people -- including three children -- were killed while driving home from a funeral.

Iraqi officials have long complained about American troops firing at civilian vehicles that appear suspicious. US officials note that suicide car bombers often strike US and Iraqi checkpoints.

The shooting took place in a province that has experienced at least four major bombings in the last three weeks -- including a suicide car bomb yesterday that missed US vehicles but killed five civilians outside Baqubah.

Mystery continued to surround a firefight that broke out when US and Iraqi forces surrounded a house in the northern city of Mosul that was believed used by members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Eight insurgents and four Iraqi police officers died in the assault, officials said.

Iraq's foreign minister said tests were being done to determine if the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, died in the raid. And a US government official confirmed that DNA from the insurgents' bodies had been taken for testing.

The official in Washington spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

However, the US ambassador to Iraq cast doubt on whether Zarqawi was killed. ''Unfortunately, we did not get him in Mosul," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said of Iraq's most feared terrorist.

The raid took place in a mostly Kurdish area of eastern Mosul where attacks against US and Iraqi forces are less common than in the western, mostly Sunni Arab part of the city. However, US soldiers say many insurgents live in eastern Mosul and launch attacks elsewhere.

Shahwan Fadhl Ali, a neighbor, said eight Arabs -- four men, a woman and three children -- had been living quietly there since last year. ''They might have been Syrians or Jordanians but not Iraqis," he said.

On Saturday, police Brigadier General Said Ahmed al-Jubouri said the raid was launched after a tip that top Al Qaeda operatives, possibly including Zarqawi, were in the house. In Moscow, visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari told Jordan's official Petra news agency that authorities were testing DNA samples from several corpses to determine if Zarqawi's was among them.

But US officials avoided linking Zarqawi to the Mosul raid and sought to dispel speculation that the terrorist mastermind was dead.

''I don't believe that we got him. Of course, his days are numbered, we are after him, we are getting ever closer," Khalilzad said.

At the Pentagon, an Army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, said US forces ''employ whatever means required" -- presumably including DNA -- ''to identify suspected or known terrorists or insurgents."

In Cairo yesterday, leaders of Iraq's Shi'ites, Kurds, and Sunnis wrapped up a conference by condemning terrorism but saying the opposition had a ''legitimate right" to resistance.

Their statement omitted any reference to attacks on US or Iraqi forces, and delegates in Cairo said the omission was intentional. They spoke anonymously, saying they feared retribution.

The gathering organized by the Arab League also said there should be a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, a key demand of Sunni Arabs.

The differentiation between terrorism and legitimate resistance was an overture to some Sunni Arab insurgent groups, which the Iraqi government believes might be ready for talks. The plan would be to drive a wedge between those groups and extremists such as Al Qaeda.

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