US troops said to kill two Iraqi policemen

By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff, 8/13/2003

BAGHDAD -- American troops shot dead two members of the new Iraqi police force and beat up a third, Iraqi police officers said yesterday, in a development that has aggravated already stressed relations between US troops and the Iraqi people.

American military officials have said little about the Saturday shootings, saying that the matter is under investigation. But family members of one of the victims and police officers -- including a captain who was at the scene -- described a horrific shoot-out in which coalition soldiers shot uniformed Iraqi police even as the officers were waving their badges and yelling, "We're police! We're police!"

At least seven Iraqi police have been killed in the last week -- five from Thursday's explosion at the Jordanian embassy. Some officers say they feel not only insufficiently protected from criminal attack, but in danger from US forces who are supposed to be helping them bring order to Baghdad's volatile streets.

Saturday's shootings were the first allegation by Iraqis that US troops killed their partners in restoring security in this volatile city. Iraqi police have been given the duty of local law enforcement while US soldiers are posted at local police stations.

"We cannot do our work right now. We are afraid they will shoot us, like our friends. Our lives are not worth (the monthly police salary of) $120," said Sergeant Kotabe Kazal, standing by the black mourning cloths hung on the wall near the police station to honor his two fallen colleagues.

Captain Alaa Isamil said he received a report Saturday night from fellow officers that they had identified a stolen car and were pursuing it. When Isamil arrived at the scene, the lieutenant who had called him was dead on the street from a bullet in the head. His front passenger door was open. Another officer was dead in the back seat and a third was splayed on the ground with a wounded leg.

Isamil asked an American soldier if he could talk to the driver, but was refused, since there was no translator present.

Finally, the troops allowed Isamil to talk to the surviving police officer, but only if he relinquished his police pistol.

The driver, whom police said was interviewed yesterday by US inveUS troops said to kill two Iraq.ems stigators, offered the following account, according to Isamil:

The police were trying to apprehend alleged car thieves, who shot at the police car. Iraqi police returned fire, and American soldiers -- apparently hearing the shots -- arrived on the scene. But the troops shot at the Iraqi police car, hitting the officer in the back seat, Isamil said.

The lieutenant in the front seat stumbled out of the car with his hands up, wearing his black and white Iraqi Police arm band and shouting that he was a police officer. A soldier then shot the lieutenant between the eyes. The driver, who had been crouched down in the front seat and waving his badge, was kicked and beaten by US troops.

US military officials earlier told reporters that US forces had "engaged" Iraqi police. But when pressed yesterday about how the two Iraqi police officers died, they said the incident was under investigation.

"It may have been a case of mistaken identity," said Lieutenant Colonel Guy Shields, spokesman for the coalition forces. He declined to give any details.

American soldiers are also on edge and concerned about the dozen attacks a day that occur on average against coalition troops.

One American soldier died in an ambush in Ramadi yesterday, bringing to 57 the number of US troops killed in attacks since President Bush declared major hostilities officially over May 1.

Some Iraqi civilians have been killed or injured during confrontations with US soldiers, incidents coalition forces do not track closely but which they say they regret.

"Each of these incidents is a tragedy," Shields said.

The family members of one of the dead, Sergeant Mohammed Hillal, said they had received no visit or information from US authorities about their loved one, and a few vowed revenge. "We are as a tribe. We have a right to shoot Americans. Americans should pay the price for killing our son. They should pay blood for his blood," said Ahmad Satair, a cousin of Hillal's, as he joined with other menUS troops said to kill two Iraq.ems and boys in the extended family for a traditional Iraqi lunch in a tent on the street. Inside Hillal's house, more than a dozen female relatives gathered in mourning, dressed in black abayas and wailing at the loss of the 29-year-old policeman.

"The American army invited people to come back to (the police force) to protect the people, to have a new life. There was a dream we would live better. Now, they are killed. Why?" asked Hillal's father, Abbas Hillal.

Mohammed Hillal took the job to feed his family, including a baby and an 18-month-old son, because it is not easy to find work in postwar Iraq, his father said.

Several police officers complained that they are not equipped to protect themselves on the street. The new officers do not have flak vests to protect them from bullets or mortar fire, as the coalition soldiers do, said Sergeant Mohammed Hassen.

Other officers said they had to bring in part of their own uniforms, and were given only a shirt, an armband, and a badge, worn around the neck, to identify them as police.

"We can do nothing. We need a salary to live," Hassen said.

Ali Hussein Ali, chief of police in Baghdad, said he was having no trouble recruiting new police officers -- and that the draw was not the salary, but duty to country.

"Absolutely not," Ali said when asked if his police officers joined because there are so few jobs available. "Too many people are hoping to come and join us. As we are Iraqi citizens, we have a desire to protect our country."

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