Angry Iraqi Town Buries Dead, U.S. Says Sorry
Sat September 13, 2003 07:04 PM ET
By Suleiman al-Khalidi
FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iraqis chanting "America is the enemy of God" and shooting in the air on Saturday buried eight of 10 guards apparently shot by U.S. troops who mistook them for anti-American rebels.
More than 36 hours after the deaths, the U.S. military apologized for what it called an "unfortunate incident" in the rebellious town of Falluja, west of Baghdad.
"We wish to express our deepest regrets to the families who have lost loved ones," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel George Krivo said in Baghdad, promising a high-level investigation.
With Falluja seething, mourners crammed its main mosque where the corpses were kept and local police had to fire warning shots in the air to disperse demonstrators when the first coffin was carried to a cemetery.
Sunni Muslim clerics issued a "Declaration by the people of Falluja" condemning the deaths, announcing three days of mourning, and calling for a general strike on Sunday.
Witnesses said a joint patrol of local police and a U.S.-trained security force were chasing thieves shortly after midnight on Friday when U.S. soldiers opened fire on them.
The U.S. statement said its soldiers were responding to an initial attack from a truck when the guards were caught in confused fighting that lasted for three hours.
A Jordanian guard at a local field hospital was also killed in the shooting in Falluja, part of the so-called "Sunni Triangle" where support for deposed dictator Saddam Hussein remains strongest.
Jordanian newspapers said Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned his Jordanian counterpart, Marwan al-Muasher, to "express regret" over the hospital guard's death. Powell will travel to Kuwait and Iraq after Saturday's talks in Geneva on Iraq's future.
In Falluja, two other Iraqi security personnel injured in Friday's shooting died of their wounds overnight. Eight died immediately.
"The total number of martyrs became 10," said General Raed Abdul Latif, who heads the U.S.-appointed police in Falluja.
Locals were also mourning the death of a three-year-old girl who witnesses said had been shot in the head by American soldiers during street fighting late on Friday.
The town has been a cauldron of hostility to U.S. forces, particularly since troops shot dead at least 13 Iraqis -- said by locals to have been unarmed -- during a late April march.
There were chaotic scenes on Saturday at Falluja's main mosque, where several hundred people carrying an Iraqi flag gathered to pray over the coffins and protest.
The crowd fired machine-guns in the air and shouted slogans including "America is the enemy of God," "The blood of our martyrs will not go in vain," and "Falluja will keep its jihad," the latter a term for Muslim holy struggle.
The mosque's imam, Fawzi Shafi, told mourners in an address: "Let the Americans get their hands off the city."
A local sheikh Abbas Ahmad added: "We bid farewell to these brave men who died so we could sleep assured."
Residents said they were dumbfounded by the shooting of the guards in a local security force set up by the Americans. Conspiracies were rife, with some speculating it was a deliberate ambush.
Around the town, graffiti read: "We have the right to kill the American occupiers" and "U.S. will pay in blood for oil."
"The fall of Saddam Hussein has given birth to thousands of Saddam Husseins," said resident Hamza Ibrahim.
Elsewhere around the country, an Iraqi bystander was shot and killed when he was caught in the crossfire of a battle between guerrillas and U.S. troops in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, a U.S. commander said.
(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Tikrit and Hassan Hafidh in Baghdad)
Original URL: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=4RRDUG0HCEBXACRBAELCFEY?type=worldNews&storyID=3439270
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