The incident, which occurred Tuesday, began when American forces moved to occupy a former government building. According to Central Command, an “angry” group of Iraqis gathered outside and confronted a second group of U.S. Marines when they arrived on the scene.
“The crowd… was throwing stones, hitting them with elbows, hitting them with fists,” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told reporters.
According to a Los Angeles Times reporter on the scene and later stabbed during the melee, the crowd had been angered by the flying of an American flag.
“The unrest broke out about 11:30 a.m., when a crowd of roughly 1,000 people was listening to a speech by an official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two Kurdish factions that entered Mosul last week with American troops,” Paul Watson reported Wednesday. “Misha’an Juburi, an Arab clan leader who laid claim to the governor’s building last week, said the mob was enraged at the sight of a U.S. flag that he said was raised atop the building alongside three Iraqi flags while the speech was being delivered.”
Once inside the block-long building Marines took up positions as the crowd increased in size.
“Actions became more violent,” Brooks said, adding that at least one civilian car was overturned near the entrance of the building. As the crowd swelled to some 3,000, Brooks said men appeared with AK-47s and other weapons, firing them into the air.
Brooks said Marines fired warning shots into a field nearby as the crowd surged towards the wall surrounding the governor’s building. Then, according to Central Command, men in the crowd began firing on American soldiers in the building.
“It was aimed fire and aimed fire was returned,” Brooks said.
He later said that gunmen in the crowd were offering “covering fire” to aid an “assault” as men attempted to scale the wall.
But protestors told reporters the American soldiers opened fire on protestors after some in the crowd threw stones.
“They began throwing stones,” Fateh Tata Abed, a 32-year-old man shot in the chest and upper arm, told the New York Times. “And the American forces started shooting at us.”
Sadullah Ghanal, 39, who was also shot, also gave the Times’ David Rhode largely the same version of events.
“After we threw stones at Mishaan Jabouri,” he said, “the Americans started to fire on us.”
Lt. Col. Robert Waltemeyer, commander of the 10th Special Forces troops who defended the government building, denied his forces would fire on stone-throwers.
“We don’t fire indiscriminately at all,” he told the LA Times.
Spanish newsman Miguel Rovira told Watson the U.S. soldiers held their fire for about 20 minutes, but opened up when the crowd rushed the building.
The gunfire continued for some 15 minutes, until low-flying American jets tore through the air above the building and the crowd scattered.
Waltemeyer indicated he believed the rioting was part of an effort by forces loyal to the toppled Saddam Hussein regime to continue the war in an unconventional way.
“They’re fighting back here, where they have a safe haven,” he said, referring to the city of Mosul. “A number of Iraqi flags went up in the last 48 hours. They’re starting to feel their oats and compete with us.”
In Qatar, Brooks said the incident was still being investigated, adding that the number of Iraqis killed was “somewhere on the order of seven,” but estimates from the scene put the number at ten.