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Iraq's Model City Starts to Get Ugly

The fatal shooting in broad daylight of two U.S. soldiers in Mosul is part of a rise in attacks.

November 24, 2003|Patrick J. McDonnell | Times Staff Writer

MOSUL, Iraq — After months of being celebrated as the model city of postwar Iraq, this ancient citadel on the Tigris is enduring a wave of attacks targeting U.S. forces and their allies -- an alarming trend that intensified Sunday with the killing of two American soldiers as they drove through town in broad daylight.

Military officials confirmed that two soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division were shot at as they drove between U.S. garrisons here. But witnesses and the military differed on details of the incident.

One witness, Ahmed Mohammed Ali, 21, said today that the soldiers' car was shot at and then crashed into a concrete wall on a street in an industrial area.

When American troops did not immediately appear, a crowd of teenagers began to gather, he said. Attackers pulled the driver, who was wounded, out of the vehicle, beat him and slit his throat, Ali said.

The passenger also was pulled out and died after being beaten with stones and shoes, he said. The soldiers' weapons and body armor were stolen.

Ali and other witnesses said other Americans didn't arrive for at least an hour.

A military official in Mosul reached by telephone denied those accounts. He said both soldiers appeared to have died from gunshot wounds. Other troops arrived within minutes to secure the scene, the official said.

The military official said both soldiers were dragged from their vehicle and their equipment was stolen but that there was no evidence their bodies had been abused.

"Their bodies were defiled by gunshots," the official said.

Some residents seemed upset about the attack.

Fahmi Hanna, 60, who runs a plumbing supply store, said: "It's too bad. These are human beings. I couldn't bear to look."

An official in Baghdad said this morning that it was unclear whether the soldiers were able to fire back at their attackers.

"I haven't seen any confirmed indications that this was a Mogadishu-type incident," said the official, referring to a 1993 incident in Somalia in which residents dragged the bodies of U.S. servicemen through the streets of the capital after two Black Hawks were felled by rocket-propelled grenades.

The slaying of the two GIs in Mosul came eight days after two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in a residential neighborhood here -- apparently while under enemy fire -- costing the lives of 17 airmen.

Another American soldier was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb near Baqubah, and an Iraqi police official in charge of oilfield security in Mosul was reported killed as he left a mosque earlier in the weekend.

In Baghdad, civilian flights remained suspended following a missile attack on a DHL cargo plane taking off for Bahrain on Saturday. The stricken plane returned to the runway safely.

Even before the latest deaths, a sharp rise in attacks had rocked this city of 1.7 million and forced U.S. troops back onto a war footing after months of focusing on economic and political development.

In the last week, troops have raided suspected opposition hide-outs, conducted hundreds of house-to-house searches and dispatched U.S.-trained Iraqi troops into 10 mosques -- once a taboo. The raids have yielded numerous arms caches and resulted in the detention of more than 100 men.

Among those detained, the U.S. says, are two suspected Al Qaeda operatives, both Iraqi citizens; an insurgent who allegedly sought to send a woman with a bomb to a police station; and a veteran criminal implicated in a plot to assassinate Col. Joe Anderson at his base near downtown.

"They [Iraqis] don't understand being nice," said Anderson, who helps oversee the military zone that includes Mosul and environs. He doesn't hide his irritation after months dedicated to restoring the city: "We spent so long here working with kid gloves, but the average Iraqi guy will tell you, 'The only thing people respect here is violence.... They only understand being shot at, being killed. That's the culture.' ... Nice guys do finish last here."

The U.S. says that former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and other insurgents have embarked on a campaign of assassinations in recent weeks, mowing down prominent Mosul residents assisting the U.S., including a judge, a gubernatorial aide and the oil field security official.

The bloody tableau clashes with the image of progress and cooperation that previously characterized postwar Mosul, a city with a functioning government, an efficient police force, a vigorous economy and a commanding general with a Princeton degree.

Although Mosul had been a notorious stronghold of the former Baath regime, U.S. troops stationed here were able to spend much of their time refurbishing schools and factories and jump-starting civic life.

The Army pumped more than $30 million in seized ex-regime funds into hundreds of redevelopment projects.

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