RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to a rare reversal by the U.S. military in Iraq. It has admitted to killing three civilians when its soldiers shot at their car. The shooting happened last month when the Iraqis' car was following the soldiers' convoy. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Baghdad.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The military statement sent out by e-mail expresses regrets and reverses its earlier claim that the three people the American soldiers killed were insurgents who'd opened fire on them. Officials say at the time a dozen soldiers reported seeing flashes and hearing gunfire, which they believed to be coming from the car.

The soldiers fired on the car on the heavily guarded Baghdad airport road, although officials say the June incident occurred on a part of the road that is not controlled by U.S. forces. The convoy had pulled off to the side of the road because one of the vehicles was having problems. Also untrue were the military's earlier assertions that Iraqi police retrieved a gun from the scene and that the convoy was damaged by gunfire coming from the car.

The military says forensic experts did find one fresh bullet strike of unknown origin on one of the vehicles. The bottom line, says Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, a military spokesman here, is that the soldiers who followed proper procedures felt threatened when the car approached too quickly. That led to what Stover described as an unfortunate and tragic event. He calls it heartbreaking.

But he says the military procedures to keep cars away from convoys worked for five other vehicles that obeyed hand and arm gestures of the soldiers before the attack. Afterwards, Stover says at least two vehicles responded to warning shots and turned around.

Stover says the platoon in question has returned to work following the extensive investigation. He also calls the victims honorable Iraqis who were on their way to work at the airport bank. The son of one of the victims - a bank manager - told McClatchy newspapers that the military apology was insufficient. The son says he wants the soldiers tried in court.

Killings by U.S. troops and contractors of civilians are a particularly sensitive issue for Iraqis. Many here have called for Americans to be stripped of their immunity and to be tried in Iraqi courts for such incidents. That's something the American government has steadfastly refused.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Baghdad.

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