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Iraqis Angry Over U.S. Action That Leaves 3 Dead

August 09, 2003|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

TIKRIT, Iraq — U.S. forces killed three Iraqis and wounded five others when they opened fire on a suspected gun dealer at a busy market here Friday morning, enraging residents who questioned why such lethal tactics were used.

In Baghdad, a U.S. soldier on guard duty died of a gunshot wound Thursday night, but it was unclear whether his death was the result of hostile fire.

In the Tikrit incident, two men died at the market and a third died shortly after being admitted to Tikrit Teaching Hospital, according to the medical staff there. A U.S. military spokesman, however, put the death toll at two and said both died at the scene. Among the wounded was a 10-year-old boy who had been selling doves. He suffered shrapnel wounds.

U.S. Army units have been conducting daily raids in and around this city north of Baghdad, which was Saddam Hussein's political base, in hopes of catching the former leader and more of his associates.

While resulting in hundreds of detentions of suspected Hussein loyalists, the operations have failed to ensnare the ex-dictator. The raids -- which residents say are invasive -- coupled with incidents such as Friday's shootings are hardening anti-American sentiments here.

This agricultural city has the look of a garrison, filled with U.S. military vehicles and troops on patrol. Several attack helicopters circled overhead Friday afternoon in support of operations by ground forces.

"We were happy when Americans first entered, but my opinion toward them has changed," one of those wounded in Friday's gunfire, 50-year-old farmer Ghabbash Khaddum, said from his hospital bed. He had come to the market to sell okra and caught a bullet in the right shoulder as well as shrapnel over much of his upper body. "They promised us freedom, and now they are shooting us."

The operation began at 2 a.m. Friday when U.S. soldiers took rooftop positions on buildings fronting the market area, acting on a tip that arms were regularly sold there on Fridays. They rousted dozens of laborers who were sleeping in the buildings.

Although accounts of the incident offered by a U.S. military spokesman and residents were not in accord, all seemed to agree that guns were evident at the market and that at least one assault rifle was fired by a seller or buyer, possibly as a test, about 7:30 a.m.

Gunfire then erupted from the rooftops, witnesses said, and at least one grenade or shell exploded in the area, judging from shrapnel wounds suffered by some of the injured. It was unclear who launched the explosive.

Panic ensued, with vendors and shoppers alike running from the square, witnesses said. Hospital worker Luay Qadoori, who had gone to the market to buy CDs, said he saw two men fall after being shot.

"I saw two persons on top of buildings firing toward the crowd. Two American Humvees were in the square before the shooting, but there were 20 or 30 after it stopped," Qadoori said.

The U.S. troops sealed off the square, making it impossible for ambulances to remove the wounded, witnesses said.

Lt. Col. Steve Russell, whose unit carried out the operation, defended the gunfire, noting that several assault weapons and ammunition were recovered.

"When people pick up weapons and carry them freely, they become combatants and we will engage them," he told Associated Press. He said that one of the two men killed at the market was shot as he tried to flee with an AK-47 assault rifle.

But many Iraqis who witnessed the event said the U.S. forces overdid it.

"If there are guns, then arrest the people who have them. Don't shoot innocent people," said Abdullah Samarai, who runs a vegetable stand 30 yards from where two of the men died.

The U.S. soldier killed in the Mansour district of Baghdad on Thursday night was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. His identity was withheld pending notification of next of kin, and a military spokesman said Friday that he had no further details on the circumstances of the soldier's death.

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