( AP ) - U.S. helicopters opened fire after a ground patrol came under attack southeast of Baghdad on Wednesday, and Iraqi police said three officers were killed and one wounded in the strike.
The fighting occurred near Salman Pak, a predominantly Sunni area that has been the subject of a U.S. military campaign aimed at routing insurgents from rural strongholds and disrupting the flow of weapons to the capital.
Ground forces called for air support after coming under small-arms fire near the city, some 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, a U.S. military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information hasn't been formally released.
A U.S.-Iraqi joint security station in the area had come under fire three times earlier in the day, the official said.
A local policeman, who also declined to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release the information, claimed three officers were killed and one wounded when an Iraqi patrol vehicle was hit in the airstrike.
The policeman said the patrol was near a police station, but the military official denied that.
"It was not an actual police station. It was a claimed Iraqi police checkpoint," the official said, adding there were casualties but details were not immediately available.
It was the latest in a series of claims that U.S. airstrikes have killed innocent Iraqis. The American military says it takes several measures to prevent civilian casualties while insisting that it will strike back when attacked.
Iraqi police forces also have been accused of being infiltrated by extremists, a major obstacle in the U.S. strategy to develop the national security apparatus so American troops can go home.
But U.S. commanders have also cautiously welcomed signs of progress among the Iraqi police.
Police in Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, turned in 26 Iranian mortar rounds on Tuesday, the military said in a statement.
The police discovered the mortar rounds as well as other weapons during a raid on a cemetery in the city and gave them to U.S. paratroopers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division. The cache included 19 82mm Iranian mortar rounds made in 2000, and seven 60mm Iranian mortar rounds made in 2006.
The military has accused Iran of funding and arming Shiite extremists fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. Tehran denies the allegations.