A BBC reporter traveling in the convoy of 8 or 10 cars said it came under air attack as it approached an area that was recently captured from Iraqi forces.
“I’ve counted 10 or 12 bodies around us, so there are Americans dead. It was an American plane, dropped the bomb right beside us, I saw it land about 10 to 12 feet away,” he told the BBC moments after the blast.
Hoshiar Zebari, a senior member of the governing Kurdistan Democratic Party, said that the attack killed at least 18 Kurdish fighters and injured another 45.
As U.S. Central Command’s investigation continued, it issued an initial report Sunday stating that one civilian may have been killed along with one U.S. and one Kurdish soldier.
“Coalition aircraft were conducting close air support missions at the time, and were in coordination with ground forces. The circumstances contributing to the incident are under investigation,” the statement from U.S. war headquarters said.
The incident took place about 30 miles southeast of the northern city of Mosul. American warplanes have been pounding Iraqi positions in that region ahead of the advance on the key northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. Reuters correspondents in the area said there was a heavy bombardment of the road from Kalak to Mosul on Sunday morning.
Hoshiar Zebari said Wajy Barzani, the younger brother of Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani, was in intensive care but he gave no details of his injuries. He spoke at hospital in Irbil where the injured were taken but had no details about any American casualties.
The incident “will not undermine our resolve to work together,” Zebari said of the Kurd’s alliance with U.S. forces in the campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
He told reporters that Kurdish peshmerga fighters and U.S. special forces were engaged in what he called “serious fighting” near Dibagan, 40 kilometers south of Irbil, and called in for air support.
The “two U.S. planes mistakenly bombed” the convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles, which were not moving at the time.
“This is just a scene from hell here,” the BBC reporter said. “All the vehicles on fire, there are bodies burning around me, bodies lying around, bits of bodies on the ground. … The Americans saw this convoy and they bombed it. They hit their own people.”
This was the sixth “friendly fire” incident since the war in Iraq began.