Iraqi Mourners Bury Friendly Fire Victims
10 minutes ago
By SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press Writer
FALLUJAH, Iraq - Gunfire crackled from every corner of Fallujah on Saturday and mourners shouted "America is the enemy of Allah" as angry residents gathered to bury eight Iraqi police killed in a friendly fire incident involving U.S. forces.
The U.S. military offered its condolences, but also said American troops only opened fire after they were shot at first.
In all, nine people died in the incident early Friday--the eight Iraqi police and one Jordanian national. On Saturday, eight flag-draped coffins were carried into the Sunni Muslim Al-Mahmoud mosque for religious rites before they were given to family members for burial.
As gunfire erupted throughout this city 30 miles west of Baghdad, mosque imam Fawzi Namiq called for an end to the shooting.
"Save your bullets for the chests of the enemy," he told the crowd through loudspeakers.
In the streets, angry residents roughed up reporters who came to witness the funeral ceremony and burials. A clergyman grabbed one armed man and prevented him from shooting at a departing Associated Press Television News car as it sped from the city. A CNN cameraman was beaten and an Associated Press photographer was hit in the face.
"We want the Americans to leave our country because they have brought us only death," said Taleb Hameed, a 30-year-old schoolteacher. "We are fed up with their apologies. We will continue our resistance."
The U.S. military issued an apology for the incident, saying it wanted "to express our deepest regret for this incident to the families who have lost loved ones and express our sincerest condolences." It said an investigation had begun.
However, military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo also said the Americans only fired after they were "attacked from a truck by unknown forces."
"Coalition forces," he said, "immediately returned fire and the subsequent engagement lasted approximately three hours. Regrettably during the incident extensive damage was done to the (Jordanian) hospital and several security personnel were killed, including eight Iraqis and one Jordanian national."
Jordan's official Petra news agency said Secretary of State Colin Powell called Jordan's foreign minister expressing regret for the "sad incident," which occurred near the hospital on the west side of Fallujah.
As the burial ceremony got underway Saturday, some in the crowd shouted, "There is no God but Allah. America is the enemy of Allah." Tribal leaders and city dignitaries called for a one-day general strike on Sunday and a three-day period of mourning to begin the same day.
A black banner was strung above the one-story Fallujah Protection Force headquarters building and carried the names of the eight dead. "The Fallujah Protection Force mourns the martyrdom of its members who have been killed at the hands of American forces," the banner also read.
The force is a U.S.-trained paramilitary group that patrols the greater Fallujah region against crime and sabotage.
U.S. troops directing reconstruction projects from the Fallujah mayor's office were not there Saturday. Police at the mayor's office said the Americans' absence was understandable given Friday's events.
Many Iraqis claim friends and relatives have been shot and killed when they failed to stop at U.S. checkpoints in Baghdad. But Friday's shooting was the most serious reported friendly fire incident involving U.S. forces and the growing U.S.-sponsored Iraqi police, militia and military.
Iraqi police said the incident began about 1:30 a.m. Friday. Krivo put the time at shortly after midnight and said it lasted three hours.
About 25 uniformed Iraqi policemen in two pickup trucks and a sedan were chasing a white BMW known to have been used by highway bandits near Fallujah, said Asem Mohammed, a police sergeant who was among the wounded. Two of the vehicles pursuing the bandits 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 U.S. checkpoint near the Jordanian Hospital, the police turned around after losing sight of their quarry, and a nearby American patrol 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.
"We shouted 'We are police. We are police.' Then we drove off the road into a field," Arkan Adnan Ahmed, 19, said at Fallujah Hospital, where he was being treated for a shoulder wound. "They started shooting from all sides."
Ahmed, who was driving one of the Iraqi police cars, said the sudden appearance of the unmarked pickup truck with the mounted machine gun may have prompted the Americans to begin firing. 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.
Ahmed said all the Iraqi dead were in the armed pickup truck.
An Associated Press reporter who saw some of the dead Iraqis said they were in uniform — a blue shirt with insignia. Shell casings left behind and examined by an AP reporter suggested the Iraqis did not fire a shot. None of the AK-47 shell casings used by Iraqi police forces were on the ground. All the casings were those of weapons used by U.S. forces.
The 100-bed Jordanian military field hospital was badly shot up in the attack. The hospital was set up in April to provide Iraqis and others with medical care in Fallujah. It also houses diplomats transferred after a car bomb attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad last month.
The U.S. military said its investigation of the shooting would be lead by Brig. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser of the 101st Airborne Division.
Powell plans to visit Iraq next week, and Jordan's King Abdullah II will hold talks next week with President Bush at Camp David. The war in Iraq is expected to dominate the meetings.
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