U.S. Troops Shoot Iraqi Protesters
U.S. officers said the troops opened fire after protesters shot at them, although locals countered that the shootings were unprovoked.
The shooting took place Monday night, when between 200 and 500 demonstrators assembled outside an elementary school in Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad. U.S. soldiers have been using the school as an Army base.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart said the demonstration appeared to be a celebration of Saddam’s Hussein’s 66th birthday. Renuart, CENTCOM’s operations director, said someone fired in the air during the demonstration, and others pointed weapons at the soldiers, who opened fire.
The protesters “intentionally engaged American soldiers,” Captain Mike Riedmuller, commanding officer of an Army troop with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, said.
Townspeople said they were protesting the continued presence of U.S. soldiers at Fallujah’s elementary school, where classes were supposed to resume Tuesday. They disputed U.S. assertions that troops shot protesters in self-defense, saying the Iraqis were unarmed and did not provoke the Americans.
“It was a peaceful demonstration. They did not have any weapons,” local Sunni Muslim cleric Kamal Shaker Mahmoud told Reuters. “They were asking the Americans to leave the school so they could use it.”
Aqil Khaleil, one of the wounded, said U.S. soldiers fired without warning, The Washington Post reported.
Dr. Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali, director of Fallujah’s General Hospital, said his medical crews were shot at when they arrived on the scene to remove the injured.
U.S. Central Command in Qatar issued a statement denying reports soldiers had done anything but act in self-defense.
“Media reports from the Arab-language news network Al Jazeera and other media reporting U.S. soldiers fired unprovoked into a crowd at Fallujah, Iraq, April 28 are not accurate,” the statement said.
“Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division came under fire from Iraqis armed with AK-47s,” the statement read. “The unit exercised its inherent right to self-defense and returned fire.”
According to wire reports, a crowd gathered outside the school Tuesday afternoon, chanting for U.S. forces to leave Iraq. “Go, go USA!” they protested in Arabic, adding “Go away!” in English.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said of the incident, “It’s important to sort out the facts of what happened.
“American forces, wherever they are, have the right to defend themselves and they will do so with the utmost care and professionalism. And we’ll see exactly what the facts are here.”
Residents in Fallujah are predominantly Sunni Muslim, Saddam’s sect of Islam, and many supported Saddam’s Baath Party. The town is home to the Fallujah II plant, which the CIA has singled out in the past as a possible chemical weapons facility.
Also Tuesday, U.S. officials announced Iraq’s oil minister and former missile program head, Amer Mohammed Rashid, had surrendered. Rashid is ranked 47th on the U.S.’s list of most wanted Iraqis.
A London-based spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, Haidar al-Moussawi, said another of Saddam’s cohorts, Wahid Hamed Tawfiq al-Tikriti, the former governor and a member of Saddam’s clan, had surrendered to the INC. U.S. military officials said they could not comment on the group’s statement.