U.S. forces kill 9 in friendly fire incident in Fallujah
Friday, September 12th 2003, 12:00 am
News On 6
FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. forces killed eight Iraqi police and a Jordanian security guard, and wounded nine other people before dawn Friday in the deadliest friendly fire incident since the end of major fighting. The U.S. military said its troops had come under attack.
Also Friday, two U.S. soldiers were killed in a firefight during a raid about 3 a.m. in the town of Ramadi, 30 miles west of Fallujah, the military said.
The Fallujah region has been one of the most dangerous for U.S. soldiers, with support for Saddam Hussein running strong in the area.
The Iraqi police came under fire from the U.S. troops about 1:30 a.m. in Fallujah as about 25 uniformed policemen in two pickup trucks and a sedan were chasing a white BMW known to have been used by highway bandits, said Asem Mohammed, a 23-year-old police sergeant who was among the injured.
Two of the vehicles pursuing the bandits in the darkness were painted in the blue and white colors of the Iraqi police, while the pickup truck with the gun mounted on it was white.
As the chase neared a checkpoint near the Jordanian Hospital on the west side of Fallujah, the police turned around after losing sight of their quarry, and an American patrol at the location opened fire, Mohammed said.
``We were chasing a white BMW with bandits. We turned around in front of Jordanian Hospital and some American forces started shooting at us,'' Mohammed said.
Members of the Jordanian armed forces guarding the hospital apparently also opened fire when the Americans began shooting, catching the Iraqi police in a crossfire. After the incident, heavily armed Jordanian security guards were seen examining a bullet-riddled building just inside the walled hospital compound.
``We were in-between firing from all sides,'' Mohammed said. ``We were in the middle.''
The U.S. military said American soldiers were fired upon with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms in an attack in Fallujah, wounding one U.S. soldier and five ``neutral individuals.'' It gave no other details, and said nothing about deaths.
An Associated Press reporter who saw some of the dead Iraqis said they were in uniform _ a blue shirt with insignia.
The 100-bed Jordanian military field hospital was sent in April to provide Iraqis and others with medical care in Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad. It also houses diplomats that were transferred there after the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad was attacked with a car bomb last month.
Dr. Dial Jumaili, who came to treat the wounded, said there were eight dead policemen. Nine people were wounded, two seriously.
Policeman Arkan Adnan Ahmed, who was shot in the shoulder, said the battle lasted about 45 minutes.
He said the sudden appearance of the unmarked pickup truck with the machine gun mounted on top may have prompted the Americans to begin firing: ``We shouted, 'We are police! We are police!' Then we drove off the road into a field.''
Fallujah Gov. Taha Badawi ordered the bodies taken to Ramadi for autopsies before they were returned to the families.
In central Baghdad, meanwhile, a huge running gunbattle broke out for about 45 minutes Friday on a busy street along the Tigris River's east bank, where several of the city's largest hotels are located. No injuries were reported.
Police Capt. Ahmed Faris said Iraqi security forces chased a suspected gang of car hijackers, and U.S. soldiers guarding the Palestine and Sheraton hotels rushed toward the fighting.
Three members of the hijacking gang were arrested by police and one escaped, a security guard said.
There were other unconfirmed reports of violence in the Fallujah region Friday after a message carrying Saddam's name appeared on at least one building.
The message praised the people of the city for their resistance to the American occupation and named it capital of al-Anbar province. The nearby city of Ramadi is the capital of the Sunni dominated al-Anbar province.
On Thursday, attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at a U.S. military convoy about 18 miles west of Fallujah, touching off an intense firefight that left at least one American soldier wounded, the military said.
Tanks and other vehicles from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment came under attack, the military said.
Other U.S. forces responding to the scene ``came under fire and returned fire at houses nearby,'' U.S. Army Capt. Jeff Fitzgibbons said.
There was no information regarding casualties among attackers. Two U.S. military trucks were also destroyed during the fighting along Highway 10, he said.
Associated Press Television News pictures showed a burning tank transport truck, a burning 5-ton truck and at least one burning Humvee. Earlier Thursday, three U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were injured when guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades and shot small arms at a military convoy in Mosul, northern Iraq, the military said.
In Baghdad, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a key member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council and a top Shiite Muslim cleric, said Friday that the car bombing that killed his brother and at least 85 other people in Najaf last month was a ``terrorist operation'' and would not be the last.
Al-Hakim, who took over leadership of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq after his brother's assassination Aug. 29, said the attack was part of a ``diabolical and cunning conspiracy'' to target Iraqi infrastructure, assassinate other senior clerics and desecrate holy Muslim shrines.
At the news conference held at a Supreme Council building in central Baghdad, al-Hakim also issued a blunt warning to Arab satellite broadcasters like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya against ``playing a role that tears the nation apart and supports terrorist groups.''
Al-Hakim refused to give a direct answer when asked about disarming the Badr Brigade, which his slain brother founded during exile in Iraq as the armed wing of the Supreme Council. It was ordered disarmed and disbanded on American orders after the fall of the Saddam regime, but members have subsequently been patrolling the streets in the area of the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf since the bombing.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said Thursday that such militias are illegal. Al-Hakim said the continued armed presence of the men was under discussion with American authorities.