U.S. kills police by mistake in Iraqi gunfight

Saturday, September 13, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- U.S. soldiers mistakenly opened fire on uniformed Iraqi policemen chasing highway bandits at night, killing eight officers and a Jordanian security guard and wounding nine other people Friday in this dangerous "Sunni Triangle" city near Baghdad, Iraqi police said.

About an hour later and 30 miles to the west, two U.S. soldiers were killed and seven wounded in a pre-dawn raid in the town of Ramadi, the military said. The U.S. military gave no other information about the second shooting in the Fallujah region, where support for Saddam Hussein runs strong.

Many Iraqis claim friends and relatives have been shot and killed when they failed to stop at U.S. checkpoints in Baghdad, but until Friday there had been no reports of friendly fire involving U.S. forces and the growing U.S.-sponsored Iraqi police, militia and military.

"We shouted 'We are police. We are police.' Then we drove off the road into a field," Arkan Adnan Ahmed, 19, said at Fallujah Hospital, where he was being treated for a shoulder wound. "They started shooting from all sides."

The U.S. military did not confirm any friendly fire deaths Friday. But a Jordanian news agency reported that Secretary of State Colin Powell called Jordan's foreign minister expressing regret for the "sad incident," which took place near the Jordanian Hospital on the west side of Fallujah.

Fallujah police took fire from the U.S. troops about 1:30 a.m. as about 25 uniformed policemen in two pickup trucks and a sedan were chasing a white BMW known to have been used by highway bandits, said Asem Mohammed, a 23-year-old police sergeant who was among the wounded.

Two of the vehicles pursuing the bandits were painted in the blue and white colors of the Iraqi police, while the pickup truck with the gun mounted on it was white.

As the chase neared a checkpoint near the Jordanian Hospital, the police turned around after losing sight of their quarry, and a nearby American patrol opened fire, Mohammed said.

"We were chasing a white BMW with bandits. We turned around in front of Jordanian Hospital and some American forces started shooting at us," Mohammed said.

Ahmed, who was driving one of the Iraqi police cars, said the sudden appearance of the unmarked pickup truck with the machine gun mounted on top may have prompted the Americans to begin firing.

Members of the Jordanian armed forces guarding the hospital apparently also opened fire when the Americans began shooting, catching the Iraqi police in a crossfire. After the incident, heavily armed Jordanian security guards were seen examining a bullet-riddled building just inside the walled hospital compound.

Shell casings left behind and examined by an Associated Press reporter suggested the Iraqis did not fire a shot. The Iraqi police forces use only AK-47 weapons, but there were no AK-47 shell casings on the ground. The casings were all those of weapons used by U.S. forces.

"We were in-between firing from all sides," Mohammed said. "We were in the middle."

Ahmed said the shooting lasted about 45 minutes and that all the Iraqi dead were in the armed pickup truck.

An AP reporter who saw some of the dead Iraqis said they were in uniform -- a blue shirt with insignia.

Dr. Dial Jumaili, who came to treat the wounded, said there were eight dead policemen. Nine people were wounded, two seriously.

In a statement, the U.S. military said only that American soldiers were fired upon with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms in an attack near the Jordanian Hospital, wounding one U.S. soldier and five "neutral individuals." It gave no other details -- including when the incident happened -- and said nothing about deaths.

But the day and location strongly suggested that the military statement was referring to the same incident.

Also, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher received a phone call from Powell about the shooting, which killed one of the Jordanians working at the field hospital, Jordan's official Petra news agency said.

Jordan's King Abdullah II will hold talks next week with President Bush. The war in Iraq is expected to dominate the meetings.

The 100-bed Jordanian military field hospital was set up in April to provide Iraqis and others with medical care in Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad. It also houses diplomats transferred after a car bomb attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad last month.

Also Friday in the Fallujah region, a U.S. convoy came under fire about two miles west of Halabasa. Witnesses said the afternoon firefight between the Americans and the Iraqi resistance lasted for about 30 minutes, and that one Iraqi passer-by was killed. A damaged civilian car and a burning U.S. truck could be seen on the road.

The violence Friday, however, was not restricted to areas around Fallujah, where guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces are a near-daily occurrence.

A 45-minute gun battle erupted in central Baghdad where police chased and captured three members of a suspected carjacking gang.

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