A U.S. military spokesman said the mortar round exploded in the crowded market square in the town of Baquba, located about 30 miles north of Baghdad, around 9 p.m. local time. It was not immediately clear who perpetrated the attack, the spokesman said, adding that there were no coalition casualties.
Police Gen. Waleed Khalid called the attack a “criminal act aimed at hurting Iraqi civilians.” But, several local residents, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told various news agencies they suspected U.S. soldiers stationed in a government building about 250 yards from the market were the intended targets.
BBC correspondent Barbara Plett in Baghdad also reported that the attack appeared to have been a tragic mistake, noting that Iraqi civilians have not yet been deliberately targeted unless they work with the occupying Coalition Provisional Authority.
Baquba, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town, lies within the so-called “Sunni Triangle” region, which coalition officials consider a hotbed for Iraqi insurgent groups and loyalists of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein planning attacks against U.S. forces.
Meanwhile, in a separate attack later Thursday, a rocket-propelled grenade struck a military vehicle in the northern town of Kirkurk, killing one U.S. soldier from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and wounding two others, the U.S. military said.
The ambush occurred around 11 p.m. local time.
The latest death Thursday brings to 81 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in hostile fire since President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1.
The military also announced Friday that a soldier from the 4th Infantry Division died and another was injured in a fire Thursday night in an abandoned building in the Tikrit area. No further information was released.