U.S. troops fire on Iraqi protesters
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|Tue, 04-29-2003 - 10:08am|
NBC, MSNBC and news services
U.S. soldiers opened fire on Iraqi protesters in a town west of Baghdad after being shot at and at least seven demonstrators were hit, a U.S. officer said Tuesday. Residents said at least 15 people were killed and denied that the Americans came under fire. Separately, the U.S. Central Command disclosed that coalition reached a cease-fire agreement with an Iraq-based Iranian militant group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the State Department.
THE SHOOTING took place about 10:30 p.m. Monday in Fallujah, a predominantly Sunni Muslim area provided strong support for Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
Col. Arnold Bray of the 82nd Airborne Division, who gave the U.S. account of the clash, said at least seven Iraqis were hit by gunfire but could not confirm the reported deaths.
Dr. Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali, director of Fallujah General Hospital, said there were 13 dead, including three boys under 11 years old. He said his medical crews were shot at when they went to retrieve the injured, which he said numbered 75 people.
Local Iraqis said the anti-American demonstration was conducted by students between the ages of 5 and 20 to get the soldiers to leave a school were they staying so classes could resume Tuesday.
U.S. troops in the town are headquartered in the school, and some in the crowd fired on the schoolhouse, Bray said. The al-Jazeera television station, quoting local residents, said the U.S. troops opened fire after someone threw a rock at the school.
Bray said there were infiltrators in the crowd, including some who were armed and on nearby rooftops. "Which kind of schoolboys carry AK-47s?" Bray said.
Residents said the shooting continued for at least 30 minutes.
"It was a peaceful demonstration. They did not have any weapons," said local Sunni Muslim cleric, Kamal Shaker Mahmoud. "They were asking the Americans to leave the school so they could use it."
Meantime, defense officials confirmed a story, first reported Tuesday in the New York Times, that coalition forces signed a cease-fire agreement with the National Liberation Army of Iran, also known as the People's Mujahedin E-Khalq (MEK) on April 15. The pact was agreed between an unnamed coalition commander and Mr. Mahdi Baraie, the military said.
The MEK aims to oust Iran's government and received support from Saddam's regime. It was added to the State Department's list of terrorist organizations in 1997 and, according to the Times, is believed responsible for attacks in the 1970's that killed several American military personnel and contractors.
Under this agreement, according to U.S. officials, the MEK agreed not to fire upon or commit hostile acts toward coalition forces, while agreeing not to destroy or damage any government or private property.
However, the MEK reserved the right to self defense only against groups like the Iranian-backed Badr Corps, the military wing of the Supreme Council on Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Underscoring the complications of the unprecedented agreement, the United States at the same time is seeking to draw the SCIRI into talks on establishing a transition government in Iraq. After boycotting the first meeting organized by U.S. overseer Ret. Gen. Jay Garner, SCIRI sent a low-level delegation to a meeting held Monday in Baghdad.
Meantime, the last U.S. soldier listed as missing in the Iraq war was confirmed killed in action, a Pentagon official said Monday. The soldier was identified as Sgt. Edward Anguiano, who was based at Fort Stewart, Ga., the home of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. No further details were available. Relatives had said earlier that he had been found dead.
Seeking to curtail looting and lawlessness in Baghdad, the U.S. Army said it will deploy up to 4,000 additional military police and infantrymen there over the next two weeks.
A top Iraqi Kurdish official -- Barham Salih of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- says U.S. forces should remain in Iraq until a democratically elected government is in place in the country.
NBC's Pentagon staff,
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.