Army officials, who initially questioned whether U.S. forces were to blame for the March 18 deaths of an Al-Arabiya reporter and cameraman near a checkpoint in Baghdad, said they regretted the deaths and would offer compensation to the families of the journalists, Ali al-Khatib, 34, and Ali Abdel Aziz, 35.
In a statement issued late Monday, the Army said the journalists’ sports utility vehicle had been “unintentionally” hit by four to six rounds of fire after U.S. soldiers began shooting in self-defense at a white Volvo that had rammed the checkpoint around 10 p.m. local time. The Army’s investigation concluded that U.S. troops acted within the rules of engagement and the statement did not say whether the soldiers involved would face disciplinary action.
In response, Al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based network, said the investigation left unanswered questions.
“Al-Arabiya channel appreciates the concern with which the American Army conducted the investigation,” the network said. “However, the statement issued by the American troops contradicts the accounts of eyewitnesses from Al-Arabiya channel who were present at the scene of the incident.” The network added that it had hired a lawyer to review the incident, The Washington Post reported.
According to Al-Arabiya, the two journalists were filming outside their car when the American soldiers opened fire at another vehicle that sped toward a checkpoint and slammed into a Humvee near the Burj al-Hayat hotel in Baghdad. Officials with the Dubai-based network said that as the two journalists tried to flee the scene, fearing the driver was a suicide bomber, coalition troops opened fired.
The shooting deaths of the two al-Arabiya staffers sparked sharp criticism from media organizations and Arab journalists, who publicly demanded an investigation and protested the safety of journalists in Iraq by walking out of a press conference given by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell the following day.
Powell responded to the walkout by saying, “I … regret the loss of life, the two journalists that they commemorated here by their action, I regret any loss of life.”