U.S. convoy, Iraqi van collide; 5 in family die

HILLAH, Iraq — Dazed and blood-spattered, Badriya Hussein whispered prayers Wednesday over the blanket-covered bodies of her relatives on a highway south of Baghdad, where a U.S. military convoy that was traveling in the wrong lane had hit a passenger van.

She looked at the stricken American soldiers standing nearby.

"Why?" she asked. "Why?"

Minutes after the crash, the 18-ton armored personnel carrier — a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — that struck the van was on its side, smoldering and with one side partially sheared off. The van was a mangled, bloody pile of wreckage with debris strewn for yards in every direction.

Iraqi forces and witnesses at the scene said the American convoy was on the wrong side of the road when the crash killed five members of Hussein's family and injured seven more Iraqis and three American soldiers.

Iraqi Traffic Police Capt. Ahmed Mohamed Abdul Wahab, who oversees the area where the accident occurred, said he'd witnessed about 10 other fatal military-civilian collisions in the past three years involving U.S. forces driving on the wrong side of the road.

U.S. Army Maj. Chris Reese, a spokesman for the 41st Infantry Brigade, which is part of the Oregon Army National Guard, said the real story was awful, but more nuanced.

The 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team convoy was going against traffic, but only on a short curve as part of the standard practice of swinging around an Iraqi checkpoint at a designated place, he said. The passenger van also appeared to be going in the wrong direction, Reese said, perhaps in an attempt to cross the median.

"Everything you build on for two or three years can be destroyed in an accident, which is what we didn't want to happen," Reese said, adding that the soldiers who were involved in the incident were distraught by the civilian deaths. An hour later, down the same stretch of highway, an unrelated roadside bomb hit the same convoy, but it inflicted no casualties or major damage.

"They had a horrible day," Reese said.

After the crash, two U.S. medical helicopters swooped down and took away the three wounded Americans and the critical Iraqi cases.