The soldiers were pursuing members of a suicide bombing network just outside Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit when they entered the home late Monday and came under fire, according to the American military statement.
FOR THE RECORD:
Iraq raid: An article in Wednesday's Section A about a U.S. raid that killed civilians near Tikrit implied that U.S. Army Maj. Winfield Danielson's comments concerning the military's regret for civilian casualties referred to the incident. His statement was in fact issued in response to the injury of a civilian elsewhere in Iraq. A separate apology was issued by the military in response to the Tikrit-area incident. —
The three civilians -- farmer Ali Hamed Shihab; his wife, Naeema Ali; and their son, Dhiaa Ali, 18 -- were killed in the crossfire when the U.S. soldiers responded, officials said.
"We sincerely regret when civilians are injured during our operations and we make every effort to protect them," military spokesman Army Maj. Winfield Danielson said.
It was the second time in three days that Iraqis were mistakenly killed by American forces. A helicopter strike Saturday killed six civilians and three guards aligned with U.S. troops.
Muhannad Ismail Shihab, whose aunt, uncle and cousin were killed in Monday's attack, said: "I was shocked when I saw their bodies, and I started to shiver. All of them were near their beds. The Americans are liars when they said my family was killed because the soldiers came under fire."
A surviving guard, a relative of one of those killed Saturday, said Tuesday that he had not yet learned why an Apache helicopter had mistaken the U.S.-aligned "concerned local citizens" checkpoint for an enemy safe house.
"In the meantime, we are continuing our duties just like before and all of our operations are underway, but our voices must be heard. If they don't have an immediate investigation to determine what happened, we will withdraw from the concerned local citizens," said Mezahim Radam, whose uncle was killed in the incident.
The United Nations' most recent human rights report on Iraq recorded 88 civilian deaths caused by U.S. airstrikes during the March-through-June period last year. It urged the U.S. to pursue a "vigorous" investigation of the events leading to the deaths.
Asked whether the request had led to changes, Air Force Brig. Gen. Burt Field said, "No, I'm afraid not, and the reason is that we are doing everything humanly possible to avoid the death of innocent people."
Among the weapons in use, he said, were 500-pound guided missiles intended to create extremely targeted explosions. "One of the bombs we are using has been dubbed the 'Martha Stewart Bomb' because you can drop it, and it will blow up a house and not even touch the buildings to the left or the right," Field said.
Maj. Gen. David Edgington, the top Air Force commander in Iraq, said the military ensures that each airstrike meets rules in place to minimize civilian casualties. Factors considered include building materials, civilian schedules in the area and intelligence, he said.
"It's a very scientific process," he said.
"We make these analyses on every bomb we're going to drop and make sure it falls within the criteria" to keep harm to civilians low. "We can pretty much guarantee one bomb for one target."
One incident leading to the U.N. call for investigation occurred in October; 15 civilians were killed during an airstrike in the Tharthar Lake area, about 50 miles northwest of the capital.
Elsewhere in Iraq on Tuesday, a joint patrol of Iraqi and U.S. forces west of Samarra, a city 60 miles northwest of Baghdad, freed 10 people who the troops said had been kidnapped by the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq, Col. Mazin Younis Hassan said. The patrol also discovered a mass grave with 50 unidentified corpses, he said.
No insurgents were captured at the site.
Some of the bodies appeared to be freshly buried, Hassan said.