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Military: Hellfire missile overshoots mark, injures troops

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. military: "Air weapons team" fired missile after seeing militants planting bombs
  • One U.S. soldiers suffered hearing loss, another had a broken leg
  • 1,300 police, soldiers dismissed for negligence, refusing to fight, spokesman says
  • About 900 were stationed in Basra, where a crackdown on Shiite strongholds began
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. missile overshot its target and struck a troop vehicle, injuring two U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi civilians, and setting houses on fire in eastern Baghdad, the military said.

The accidental strike on the U.S. vehicle came Saturday as U.S. and Iraqi security forces battled Shiite militants in the capital, fighting that continued into Sunday.

An "air weapons team" spotted militants setting up roadside bombs in the New Baghdad district Saturday afternoon and launched a Hellfire missile, the military said.

Fighting erupted more than a week ago as the coalition forces worked to stop roadside bombings and rockets that are being launched toward central Baghdad's International Zone. Video Watch how fighting continues in Sadr City »

The Hellfire missile fired by the U.S. military "overshot its intended target and struck a coalition forces vehicle, starting it and nearby houses on fire," the military said.

The militants escaped, the military said.

One American soldier suffered hearing loss; the other broke a leg, the military said.

"This afternoon's events are unfortunate and our apologies go out to those innocent civilians who were affected," said U.S. military spokesman Col. Bill Buckner. "We take every precaution possible when going after the enemy, an enemy who has no concern for the safety or security of the Iraqi people."

Just before the incident, a Hellfire missile hit a group of militants placing bombs in the same area, killing two of them, the military said.

In a separate development, an Interior Ministry spokesman said about 1,300 police and soldiers were dismissed after refusing to fight or neglecting their duties during last month's crackdown in Shiite strongholds.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said more than 900 of those dismissed were stationed in the southern city of Basra, including 37 senior officers. The remaining police and soldiers were stationed in Kut -- southeast of Baghdad -- he said.

They were removed for desertion, refusal to fight and negligence of duty, Khalaf said.

Intra-Shiite fighting erupted March 25, when Iraqi security forces began a crackdown on criminal elements in the mostly Shiite city of Basra.

The fighting spread to other Shiite cities in the south -- including Kut -- and then to the Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, leaving hundreds dead.

Khalaf said that since the operation, crime has dropped to zero and life has returned to normal in Basra. Liquor and music stores that had been closed for a long time because of militia threats have now reopened, a source in the city said.

Other developments

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• Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday he appreciates U.S. help but that his country is "shouldering the main burden" of its reconstruction projects. He was responding to Sen. Carl Levin, who last week complained that after five years of war, "it is still the American taxpayer who is shouldering the greatest economic burden in Iraq."

A spokesman for Iraq's Defense Ministry denied a report in The New York Times on Sunday that Iraq secretly negotiated a multimillion-dollar arms deal with Serbia. The deal "was one of the best and most transparent deals" and went through the appropriate channels," Mohammed al-Askari said in a statement. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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