U.S. armored vehicle damaged in ambush; two civilians slain

Friday, May 23, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Residents threatened more resistance to American troops occupying this troubled Iraqi city Thursday, after a U.S. armored vehicle was ambushed during a late-night raid and two Iraqi civilians were reportedly shot to death.

Two U.S. Army Bradley Fighting Vehicles were patrolling the area when one was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade late Wednesday night in Fallujah's industrial section, U.S. Army Capt. Allen Vaught said.

"They hit one vehicle, but it did not burn," Vaught said Thursday. "RPGs do not do much damage to a Bradley."

After the vehicle was hit, residents said, American troops opened fire randomly, hitting a pickup truck. They said two civilians inside were killed.

Other residents gave similar accounts, but Vaught said the U.S. military had no information about any civilian deaths. He did not say if American forces opened fire.

Fallujah has been a flashpoint in postwar tensions between U.S. occupying forces and Iraqis, though U.S. officials said earlier this week that tensions were easing. Fallujah's 200,000 people benefited greatly from Saddam's Baath regime, which built chemical and other factories and employed many of its men in Saddam's Republican Guard.

"The Muslim and Arab people of Fallujah do not accept the American presence here," Mohammed Hadi, 33, owner of an auto-parts shop, said Thursday. "Attacks will increase because all the people are against them."

The area where the attack occurred was quiet Thursday afternoon. The Americans removed the Bradley an hour after it was hit, residents said.

Protests against the Army's presence in Fallujah turned violent when U.S. soldiers fired on crowds on April 28 and April 30, killing 18 Iraqis and wounding at least 78.

The soldiers said then that they were defending themselves and the crowd fired first, but Iraqis said no shots were fired at the Americans. No Americans were wounded by gunfire.

At the time, many residents of Fallujah complained the Americans were not respecting Muslim religious customs, and many men said the troops were ogling local women. Those complaints persist.

Rasoul Hamed Abed said his cousin Hadi Jabar, 25, and his friend Jasim Mohammed Aggar were killed in the pickup truck Thursday.

"He (Jabar) was going to his fiancee's house, one day before their wedding, and while on the way the Americans opened fire and he was killed along with his friend," Abed said. After the shooting, he said, an American vehicle he described as a tank moved over the car and smashed its front end.

Later, Abed took an Associated Press Television News team to a garage where the white Nissan pickup truck was parked. Its front glass was riddled with bullets, and blood stained the seats. The engine was smashed.

One man, Sami Kador al-Kubeisi, who lives across the street from the site of the ambush, said he saw the vehicle on fire from his house.

Residents said the clash underscores people's opposition to the American occupation.

"Every honorable man in this town rejects the American presence," said Safa Rusli, 32. "What have the Americans give to the Iraqis so far? Nothing."

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