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U.S. Apologizes for Killing 8 Iraqi Police Officers

The 'friendly fire' attack in Fallouja also killed a Jordanian security guard. Mourners denounce America as 'the enemy of God.'

September 14, 2003|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The United States apologized Saturday for the "friendly fire" killings of at least eight Iraqi law enforcement officers and a Jordanian security guard as mourners, many of them brandishing high-powered firearms, buried the dead amid angry denunciations of America.

"The senior military leadership of the coalition has been in contact with the Jordanian military and Iraqi authorities to express our deep regret and apologies" for Friday's mistaken shootings, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo said in a written statement. "Today the coalition has initiated an investigation into the incident to get a full accounting of the facts."

In Fallouja, the Sunni Muslim-dominated city west of Baghdad where shooting incidents between American troops and loyalists of ousted ruler Saddam Hussein have been taking place for months, hundreds of mourners chanting "America is the enemy of God!" buried seven of the dead local law enforcement officers. The body of the eighth Iraqi victim was sent to his relatives in another city.

As the coffins were carried in a series of processions from a mosque to a cemetery, dozens of men carrying weapons ranging from guns and rifles to a machine gun and a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher fired shots into the air. The crowd also chanted, "By the Koran we will slay the Americans!"

The mosque's imam temporarily halted the shooting by telling the men: "Save your bullets for the chests of the enemy!"

Abdul-Jalil Murrawi, an officer who survived Friday's predawn incident, said U.S. forces opened fire as three vehicles filled with Iraqi law enforcement officers were returning to Fallouja after an unsuccessful pursuit of suspected robbers.

The first two vehicles were painted in blue and white police colors, but the third vehicle, a pickup truck in which the Iraqis were riding when they came under fire, was not marked as a police vehicle, said Murrawi, its driver. These officers were part of a local law enforcement force formed by Fallouja leaders to take responsibility for their own security and ease friction with the Americans.

The U.S. statement of apology said that the incident began when an American patrol "was attacked from a truck by unknown forces" and that "coalition forces immediately returned fire."

The statement did not make clear, however, whether the soldiers simply saw a truck with armed men approaching them, or whether the U.S. troops believed they were fired upon from the truck.

"We wish to express our deep regret for this incident to the families that have lost loved ones and express our sincerest condolences," the statement said.

The Jordanian who was killed worked at a hospital run by that country near the site.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called his Jordanian counterpart, Marwan Muasher, to apologize for the Jordanian citizen's death and the damage to the hospital, the Jordanian news agency Petra reported.

In Fallouja, many of the mourners said they believed the killings were intentional, meant somehow to advance American control of the area, a center of support for Hussein.

"The Americans killed our friends, and they knew that they were police," said Muthana Mohammed, a lieutenant in the local law enforcement force whose members died. "The reason behind that is because we are working independently."

Talib Hamid Khalaf, 35, a teacher in Fallouja, said the Americans killed the Iraqis so that local residents would think they cannot provide their own protection and must accept coalition forces.

"Maybe they are going to apologize, but what is the benefit of an apology?" he said.

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Raheem Salman of The Times' Baghdad Bureau contributed to this report from Fallouja.

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