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For Second Day, U.S. Forces Open Fire Amid Turmoil in Mosul

April 17, 2003|From Associated Press

MOSUL, Iraq — U.S. Marines traded gunfire with residents here Wednesday, killing or wounding several people in a city where Arab clan leader Mishaan Juburi took over the governor's office after Iraqi forces fled last week.

In another town where U.S. leadership is being challenged, Shiite Muslim leader Said Abbas, who has occupied the city hall in Al Kut, insisted Wednesday that residents of the eastern crossroads city had chosen him to lead and that they don't want the U.S. military in charge.

Hospital officials in Mosul said 17 people were killed and 18 wounded in disturbances over the last two days. U.S. Central Command in Qatar said its troops were involved in a gun battle Tuesday but had no immediate comment on Wednesday's events.

Hospitals said 14 people died Tuesday, while U.S. officers put the death toll at about seven. Three more Iraqis were reported fatally shot Wednesday.

Wednesday's shooting apparently began with an attempt by police to drive looters from the Central Bank, opposite the governor's office, which was the scene of Tuesday's bloodshed. The bank was in flames Wednesday evening, and old Iraqi coins lay scattered in the street.

Wounded policeman Amar Ghanem Abdullah, 25, said he was among officers ordered to stop the looting. He said police fired warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd, then U.S. Marines opened fire with a machine gun on the roof of the governor's building.

The Americans "thought we were shooting at them.... We were just there to protect the people," Abdullah said.

A Marine sergeant near the scene denied that U.S. troops fired into the crowd. The Marine, who would give only his first name, Chet, said that there had been gunfire from a building across a park from the Marines and that the Marines responded to that.

At Central Command, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said U.S. forces defending the government compound Tuesday fired only after being shot at and when some rioters in the street tried to climb over the wall.

Iraqis said Tuesday's disturbance began when a large crowd turned violent in front of the governor's office during a speech by Juburi, who has found opposition as well as support.

In Al Kut, hundreds of Abbas supporters camped outside the city hall Wednesday and struck up a chorus of protest whenever U.S. troops passed by.

"The regime ended, and there was no local authority, so the people here chose us to take care of them," Abbas told reporters.

U.S. officers contend that Abbas is backed by Iran and has the support of only about 10% of townspeople. Twenty U.S. Marines tried to enter city hall Tuesday but decided against it after they were confronted by a crowd of about 1,200.

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