The civilians were killed Saturday near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of the Iraqi capital, U.S. Navy Lt. Patrick Evans told the Associated Press. Three more civilians were wounded and taken to U.S. military hospitals nearby, he said.
The incident and the events surrounding it are under investigation, Lt. Evans said.
The killings occurred as U.S. forces pursued suspected al Qaeda in Iraq militants in the area. Shortly after the incident,U.S. officers met with a Muslim sheik representing citizens in the area, he said.
“We offer our condolences to the families of those who were killed in this incident, and we mourn the loss of innocent civilian life,” Lt. Evans said in a statement e-mailed to the AP.
Saturday’s strike was the deadliest known case of mistaken identity in recent months.
In November, a leader of one of the so-called “awakening councils” — Sunni tribesmen allied with U.S. forces fighting to oust al Qaeda from their hometowns — said U.S. soldiers killed dozens of his fighters during a 12-hour battle north of Baghdad.
The leader, Mansour Abid Salim of the Taji Awakening Council, accused American troops of mistaking his men for militants. The U.S. military admitted killing 25 men, but said they were insurgents operating “in the target area” where al Qaeda was thought to be hiding.
The U.S. military investigated that incident, but the two versions of events were never reconciled.
A month later, the U.S. military said that its forces accidentally killed two persons during a raid in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, and that one of them was later revealed to be an awakening council member.