Police in Iraq killed by US fire
Anger erupts on deaths of 8 officers, Jordanian
By Vivienne Walt, Globe Correspondent, 9/13/2003
FALLUJAH, Iraq -- At least eight Iraqi police and security officers and one Jordanian officer were killed when American soldiers opened fire on their cars early yesterday morning, in the worst friendly-fire episode since major combat ended in May.
The deaths in this volatile city, about 50 miles west of Baghdad, are sure to fuel the fury against American soldiers and further complicate the US effort to stabilize postwar Iraq. Fallujah residents -- traditionally strong supporters of Saddam Hussein -- have for months mounted armed attacks against US forces, with groups of insurgents basing themselves in this heavily Sunni Muslim city.
In a surge of fresh violence elsewhere, two US soldiers also were killed and seven were wounded in a predawn raid in Ramadi, about 80 miles west of Baghdad. And a fierce gun battle raged in the crowded streets of central Baghdad for 45 minutes yesterday afternoon, as American soldiers and Iraqi police cornered suspected car thieves, arresting three.
In their agony, relatives of the dead police officers expressed rage against the American soldiers as well as the Iraqi police, accusing them of being a proxy force for the US occupation. Several relatives converged in fury on Fallujah's police station, while shaken police officers crouched behind the high wrought-iron gate.
Eyad Malek Al Isawi's brother, Riad, was one of the eight members of the uniformed Fallujah Protection Force reportedly killed by US forces overnight. "My brother was killed because of you!" Isawi, who is not an officer, said as he tried to grab the rifle of a patrolman standing on the sidewalk. "His blood will not be spilled like this!" As Isawi's friends dragged him from the gate, one turned back to the officers and screamed: "There's no government here! There's no police here! You are all agents of America!"
The details remained unclear at day's end about how US soldiers killed several of those with whom they often work closely. Nine Iraqi police officers were wounded.
Neither US military nor civilian coalition leaders offered an official public explanation for the shootings. Officers with the 82d Airborne Division based here said they believed their soldiers had returned fire after coming under attack about 1:30 a.m. from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.
Iraqi officers in Fallujah said the gunfire the US soldiers heard was directed against suspected criminals in a white BMW sedan, which their officers were chasing. They told reporters here that police officers and members of the town's security force believed the car belonged to a group of bandits that has been ambushing traffic along the Jordan highway, which runs through Fallujah.
While returning after failing to catch the vehicle, the Iraqis' blue and white patrol cars -- at least one with markings that read "Iraqi Police, Fallujah -- as well as one pickup with a mounted gun that was carrying armed security forces, apparently sped through a US military checkpoint guarded by American tanks. The soldiers in the tanks opened fire near a hospital administered by the Jordanian government on Fallujah's eastern outskirts, according to both US military officers and Iraqi police yesterday. The killings of the Iraqi officers could greatly complicate efforts by US forces to absorb thousands of Iraqis into the postwar administration, including the new police force. US officials repeatedly have said they regard the 37,000 Iraqi officers as crucial to that effort, and as one of the biggest US achievements since Hussein's government collapsed.
The killings also are likely to deepen the cynicism among some Iraqi politicians about the ability of Iraq's fragile police force to secure the country. The US military has demanded that armed militias controlled by political parties disarm by today. Several militias have said they are reluctant to place their trust in the American soldiers and Iraqi police.
In Baghdad yesterday, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, whose brother was killed by a massive car bomb attack at a shrine in Najaf two weeks ago, declined to confirm to reporters that he would disband the Badr Forces, several thousand armed men attached to Hakim's political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. "There's an emergency situation in this country. We face a real danger," Hakim said at a news conference. "The Badr Forces have good experience; they can play an important role in protecting Iraqis."
In Fallujah, an injured Iraqi policeman who was shot in the shoulder told the Associated Press yesterday that the officers had tried to shout out their identities in the dark to American soldiers.
"We shouted, `We are police, we are police.' Then we drove off the road into a field," Arkan Adnan Ahmed said in the Jordanian hospital in Fallujah, where many injured officers were treated.
American soldiers fired on the vehicles for about 45 minutes, Ahmed said. One Iraqi police officer and eight members of the ancillary Fallujah Protection Force were killed.
After the shootings, scores of bullet shells lay outside the hospital. The adjoining building housing hospital staff was riddled with bullet marks and several large holes from tank shells. Jordanian officials said last night that one Jordanian officer stationed in the building had been killed and four others were wounded. Thursday afternoon, a convoy of the US Army's Third Armored Cavalry Regiment came under fire in Fallujah by rocket-propelled grenades. One US soldier was wounded in that firefight with Iraqi insurgents.
In an outpouring of anger against US forces here yesterday, Sabah Ali Ibrahim, who was visiting the Jordanian hospital, said, "People here feel America is behind all the problems in Fallujah."
Members of the Fallujah security force expressed amazement that they had been fired on, because the force operated with US military authorization. The force's uniforms are almost identical to that of Iraqi police. After months of Iraqi protests and attacks, American soldiers mostly withdrew from Fallujah in June under an agreement with local leaders. Residents have been deeply embittered since late April, when soldiers from the US Army's 82d Airborne Division opened fire on demonstrators, killing about 16 people.
Graffiti on Fallujah's walls display the feelings that endure in the town. "We have the right to kill the American occupiers," reads one slogan on the main street.
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