Funeral for 10 Iraqi Police Officers Draws Angry Crowd
By ALEX BERENSON
ALLUJA, Iraq, Sept. 13 — Ten Iraqi security officers were buried here today in chaotic ceremonies as more witnesses to the scene in which they died contended that the officers had been killed by American troops at very close range even though they offered no resistance.
Two more officers died today of wounds from the shooting, which occurred early Friday after three vehicles filled with Iraqi security officers crossed paths with an American patrol outside a hospital near Falluja. Their deaths raised the number killed in the shooting to 11, including a Jordanian hospital worker. No American soldiers were wounded in the incident, the United States military said today.
The military acknowledged today that solders from the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment had fired on the Iraqis and apologized for the officers' deaths. "We wish to express our deep regret for this incident to the families that have lost loved ones and express our sincerest condolences," said Lt. Col. George Krivo. He said the soldiers had fired only after being attacked "from a truck by unknown forces."
A military spokesman said that American forces had no further information about the incident, including whether American forces had any reason to know that the vehicle belonged to Iraqi police officers.
United States forces have opened an investigation into the episode, said Sgt. Danny Martin, a military spokesman. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, an assistant commander of the 101st Airborne Division, will lead the investigation. Picking an investigating officer from a different division was a deliberate move by the military. General Schloesser was chosen also because he is an expert on the Middle East and has spent several years in the region on previous tours. He speaks fluent Arabic.
One of the issues General Schloesser will explore is whether to compensate the victims' families with cash, a senior military official said. The American military has done so before in Iraq in cases in which innocent Iraqis were killed.
American forces recounting the incident said shots had been fired at them, but the only spent ammunition at the scene today was from American weapons, not from the Kalashnikov rifles used by the Iraqi officers.
The expression of regret and the decision to investigate did not calm the edgy streets of Falluja. In a chaotic mass funeral for seven officers at a mosque on the city's main road, mourners fired rifles into the air and the crowd chanted anti-American slogans and warnings.
"Where will the wanted go to escape us?" mourners shouted, warning that American troops will soon face revenge attacks. Nearby, graffiti read, "U.S. Army will pay blood for oil." Sunni Muslim clerics have called for a general strike on Sunday.
The ceremony turned violent when two masked men holding rocket-propelled grenades jumped on a motorcycle while threatening an imminent attack on American soldiers. As photographers and television cameramen followed, the mourners surrounded and beat the journalists, injuring at least two cameramen, though it was not clear how seriously. No American soldiers were in sight, aside from two helicopters cruising at least a mile to the north.
The dead officers are martyrs, said Ali Jassim, commander of a volunteer security force that lost eight members in the shooting. The other two dead officers were full-time Iraqi police officers, who sometimes patrol with the Falluja volunteers. Mr. Jassim said his force, whose members carry permits from the American forces allowing them to carry weapons, had wanted to cooperate with American soldiers.
Instead, "they just are training their guns on us," he said. "They came here to apply the occupier way — just like Saddam."
Two police officers who were slightly wounded in the shooting offered accounts of the episode that were very similar to those offered Friday by a more seriously wounded officer. Arkan Adnan, an Iraqi officer, said he had been leading a three-vehicle convoy of Iraqi officers that had been chasing a BMW sedan from which shots had been fired at the Falluja mayor's office. The convoy was traveling west at high speed on a four-lane highway, about 85 miles an hour, he said, as it approached the hospital.
Suddenly and without warning, Mr. Adnan said, a United States military vehicle opened fire, putting several rounds through his Nissan pickup truck. Mr. Adnan was wounded in the shoulder and suffered cuts to his face from windshield glass. The other two vehicles pulled off more quickly, across the highway and just in front of the hospital, he said.
The American troops then began to concentrate fire on the two vehicles that had stopped in front of the hospital, Mr. Adnan said. As the Iraqi officers shouted, in English, "Police! Police!" the American soldiers responded, "No police!" and continued firing, he said. One volunteer police officer held up a badge with his force's insignia, but the soldiers shot and killed him anyway, Mr. Adnan said.
None of the Iraqi soldiers fired their weapons, Mr. Adnan said. Mr. Jassim, the commander of the force, said he had been invited to the American base to pick up the bodies of the dead officers and had seen their rifles. In every case, the guns had their safeties on, Mr. Jassim said.
Wesam Mahmoud, another Iraqi officer who was in the truck driven by Mr. Adnan, corroborated Mr. Adnan's story. "The Americans stepped back and started shooting at us," he said.
The description of the shooting by Mr. Adnan and Mr. Mahmoud also closely matched that offered by Abdul Jalil, a member of the Fallujah volunteer police who was also wounded in the shootout.
Mr. Jalil, who was in a truck that was one of the two vehicles stopped in front of the hospital, said on Friday that American troops had fired from close range at his truck even though the Iraqis had desperately shouted, "Police! Police!" Eight of the 10 men in Mr. Jalil's truck died, along with two of the five in the Iraqi police car near it, according to the officers.
Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/14/international/middleeast/14IRAQ.html
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)