BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 24 — Confusion swirled Monday as a United States military official retracted his earlier report that the throats of two American soldiers had been slashed during an attack on Sunday in the northern city of Mosul.
The official, who said he was receiving his information from written military records, said that the two soldiers had died of gunshot wounds to the head, and that their bodies had been pulled from their car by Iraqis and robbed of their personal belongings. Contrary to initial accounts on Sunday from Mosul, he said the bodies of the men had not been mutilated or pummeled with rocks.
The initial reports were seized upon by cable news channels and tabloid newspapers as a virtual replay of an attack in 1993 in which the bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. That attack, depicted in the popular movie “Blackhawk Down,” was seen as one of the principal reasons the United States quit its military operation, which was intended to bring order to the Somali capital.
The New York Times reported in its Monday issue that the throats of the two soldiers had been slashed, quoting the same military official.
In his revised account, the military official said the victims, both of the 101st Airborne Division, were not set upon by a mob but were shot by unidentified gunmen who stopped their car in front of the Americans’ car, forcing it to halt. The assailants got out and fired at the Americans through the windshield.
“Their throats were not slit,” the military official said. “The cause of death was gunshot wounds to the head.” Iraqis then set upon the vehicle to scavenge what they could, the official said.
The military official said that while an initial military report had said that the men’s throats had been slit, further investigation revealed no evidence of such wounds. Nor were the bodies dragged through the streets, the official said.
The men killed were Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry L. Wilson, 45, of Thomson, Ga., and Specialist Rel A. Ravago IV, 21, of Glendale, Calif.
Sergeant Major Wilson was the top enlisted member of the Second Brigade. Brigades have 3,000 to 5,000 troops.
At the Pentagon, Defense Department and military officials had no explanation for the conflicting information from the field, except to repeat the usual caution that first reports are routinely incorrect. The initial reports of throats being slashed came from Iraq, and were never confirmed by officials in Washington, they said.
Military and Pentagon officials confirmed that the bodies were apparently taken from the vehicle, and that valuables and weapons were stolen, but that the victims were not mutilated or dragged through the streets.
Despite the statements on Monday, important questions remained about the incident. One was why the men were traveling through the streets of Mosul alone. Military rules in Mosul and other parts of Iraq prohibit troops from traveling outside their bases except in a convoy. The Americans who were killed were traveling in an unarmored sport utility vehicle without an escort.
“There is no excuse,” the military official said.
Equally mysterious were the origins of the report about the throat-slitting. The military official said he could offer no explanation.
The attack was the latest in a wave of violence that has hit Mosul recently. An ethnically mixed city of more than two million people, Mosul was something of a showcase for the American occupation in the first months after the war. Its large Kurdish and Arab populations mingled peacefully, and the soldiers of the 101st Airborne spent millions of dollars refurbishing the city’s streets and public buildings.
The atmosphere began to change in September. Since then, there has been a string of attacks on American forces, prompting soldiers of the 101st to step up military operations. Last week, in an incident still unclear, two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in mid-air, sending 17 American soldiers to their deaths.
Also Monday, the Iraqi police raided the Baghdad offices of Al Arabiya, an Arab-language television station based in Dubai, forcing it to suspend its news-gathering operations inside the country. Members of the Iraqi Governing Council said they would ban Al Arabiya from working in Iraq for an unspecified amount of time.
Jalal Talabani, the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, said the council had decided to close Al Arabiya offices because it had broadcast an audiotape, said to have been made by Saddam Hussein, which called on Iraqis to murder fellow countrymen cooperating with the Americans. “Al Arabiya incites murder, because it is calling for killings through the voice of Saddam Hussein,” he said.
In a taped message broadcast Nov. 16, a voice resembling Mr. Hussein’s referred with contempt to Iraqi political figures who, he said, could not “walk in the streets of Baghdad or any other Iraqi city.” He then called on Iraqis to kill “those who are installed by foreign armies,” a clear reference to the Iraqi leadership.
A number of people working in the American-backed government, from judges to police officers to a member of the Governing Council, have been assassinated in the last few months.
A State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said the leaders of the Governing Council had acted appropriately. “We agree with their assessment, basically, but they’re the ones on the ground that have to make the judgments and have to try to work out the situation,” he said.
Asked whether the administration was approving news restrictions in the name of democracy, Mr. Boucher noted that there are dozens of international broadcasters operating in Iraq. “People need to focus a little bit,” he said. “We all hold the view that you don’t yell `Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”
Also Monday, American military police officers trying to quell a prison riot in Baghdad killed three Iraqis and wounded eight. The riot broke out at the Baghdad Correctional Center when a group of Iraqis began throwing rocks at the guards. A military official said that when the riot began to spread, the American military police were given permission to use lethal force.
The riot lasted about 10 minutes, the official said.
The Baghdad Correctional Center used to be known as Abu Ghraib and had the reputation as one of the grimmest destinations for political prisoners during Mr. Hussein’s rule.