More killing in Baghdad

US soldier, 2 Iraqis die; Hussein aide caught

By Stephen J. Glain, Globe Staff, 6/19/2003

BAGHDAD -- US troops confronting rock-throwing protesters outside the US administration headquarters here shot and killed two demonstrators yesterday, and a US soldier was gunned down in a separate attack, escalating tensions between occupation forces and Iraqis.

In Washington, the United States announced the capture of Saddam Hussein's personal secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti. He is No. 4 on the most-wanted list of Iraqi leaders and the ace of diamonds in the US deck of cards portraying top officials of the ousted regime.

Yesterday's violence amounted to one of the bloodiest days in the capital since the United States declared victory in the war.

The Iraqis were killed during a demonstration led by officers of the former Iraqi army at the Republican Palace -- the base for US-led civil and military authorities. The estimated 2,000 protesters were demanding compensation they said was promised when the Iraqi army was dissolved nearly a month ago.

The US military said its forces were acting in self-defense, after angry demonstrators pelted troops with rocks and attacked vehicles.

In a separate episode a soldier from the Army's First Armored Division was shot to death and another was wounded in a drive-by attack at a petroleum gas distribution plant in the capital. The killing brought the number of American soldiers slain since the United States declared the end of major combat on May 1 to 42, including four this week.

US authorities said they believe the deadly and seemingly methodical attacks are being carried out by Islamic militants, many from neighboring countries, and Hussein loyalists. Most of the killings have taken place in central and northern Iraq, which are predominantly Sunni Muslim and traditionally Hussein strongholds.

They come as coalition forces are waging ongoing operations against suspected Iraqi insurgents that have killed nearly 100 Iraqis and resulted in the detention of hundreds. The offensive has angered many Iraqis who say innocent people have been ensnared in the operation.

Former soldiers are a vocal part of a grass-roots and growing opposition to an American-led administration that has yet to fully provide basic services like electricity, clean water, and law enforcement. Enlisted men and their officers have been protesting the lack of a suitable compensation package, and some kind of confrontation at the palace was expected.

"The Americans told us we'd be paid $50 within 10 days, and that was three weeks ago," said Abu-Hussein al-Tamimi, a former officer.

Details of the shootings varied, and followed a two-hour standoff between the former Iraqi soldiers and dozens of US troops guarding the palace entrance.

US soldiers said Iraqis outside the perimeter made threatening gestures -- pantomiming pulling the pins from imaginary hand-grenades and making throat-slashing motions. Inside the palace, former Iraqi officers met with US officials and discussed Iraqi grievances.

As tempers flared, the Iraqis picked up fist-sized stones and hurled them at US troops and military vehicles passing through the gate. The soldiers guarding the palace then fired warning shots over the protesters' heads, Major John Washburn, the task force operations officer, told The Los Angeles Times.

A US Humvee tried to pull through the crowd, onto the palace grounds, as rocks pelted the vehicle. The gunner, standing up through an opening in the vehicle, saw a flash of gunfire -- possibly the warning shots -- and fired several times into the crowd.

"The soldier felt threatened," Colonel Richard Douglass, a commander at the scene, told the Times. "He took appropriate action."

Other US military officials here, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the killings occurred when an American soldier was hit in the face with a rock and, his vision impaired by blood, shot one protester in the back of the neck and another other in the chest.

The US Central Command, based in Tampa, said in a statement that US troops fired after a demonstrator pulled out a weapon and begin shooting.

American troops tried unsuccessfully to revive the victims, witnesses on both sides said.

"This happens if you see rocks coming at you: the tension gets very high and you don't know exactly what might be mixed up with it," a sergeant with the First Armored Division's Alpha Company said on condition of anonymity.

The palace shootings are likely to galvanize both ordinary Iraqis and organized militias against the US-led occupation. Some participants in the protest suggested the two factions may be coalescing.

Ra'ad Mohammad Ghazi, a former army officer, said members of Iraq's nascent political parties and religious extremists had infiltrated yesterday's demonstration and were among the most violent of the protesters. But he blamed the Americans for creating the problem by disbanding the army without first providing for idled soldiers.

"Is this Iraqi freedom?" asked Ghazi, who is studying to be a history professor. "Is this what [the occupation authority] is talking about?"

Also yesterday, the military announced that it had stepped up operations in Tikrit, Hussein's hometown. Troops raided two farmhouses and found $8.5 million in US cash, 300 million to 400 million Iraqi dinars, and an undetermined amount of British pounds and Euros, said Major General Ray Odierno, commander of the Army's Fourth Infantry Division, according to the Associated Press.

The raids also netted more than $1 million worth of gems and jewels and led to the capture of 50 people believed to be tied to Hussein's intelligence forces or paramilitary groups, Odierno said.

It is unclear whether Mahmud's capture was related to the Tikrik operations. The military said he was caught Monday, but gave no other details.

Mahmud controlled access to Hussein and was one of the few people he is said to have trusted completely. Mahmud may be able to provide information on the fate of the former leader and on Iraq's weapons programs.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/19/2003.
c Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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