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April 17, 2003

Marines Again Kill Iraqis in Exchange of Fire in Mosul


MOSUL, Iraq, April 16 The first few rounds of rifle fire barely seemed to faze the burly American marine standing behind the barbed wire. He glanced over his shoulder and continued his conversation with a visitor.

A second burst caused the marine behind him to suddenly kneel behind a concrete barrier and scan surrounding buildings. A few young men, at that point, could be seen running down a street, away from the sound of the gunfire.

The next noise the slow, deep staccato of a heavy machine gun set off pandemonium. Young men sprinted down alleys. Old men scrambled inside doors. Drivers punched accelerators and roared away. Within seconds, the central square of Iraq's third largest city was vacant.

When it was over, 4 Iraqis were killed, and 10 were wounded, and for a second straight day, American marines saying they were acting in self-defense had killed Iraqis in the city's main square.

"Bullets came from nowhere," said Hamid Hanzim Hamid, a 44-year-old laborer struck in the back today. "Nobody shot the American soldiers."

But Capt. James Jarvis, a Marine spokesman, said the Americans had come under sustained fire. "It was a few shots at first, and then it was a whole orchestra of shots," Captain Jarvis said. "We were returning fire at those who fired upon us."

Whatever the cause, the two shootings have killed 17 Iraqis and wounded 39, according to Dr. Ayad Ramadhani, director of the city's general hospital, who said the toll from Tuesday's shooting rose overnight to 13 from 10.

American officials said they believed that seven people died in the incident on Tuesday, but they have no figures for today's deaths.

All of the shootings occurred outside the governor's office in downtown Mosul, which was occupied by American troops on Tuesday. Iraqi witnesses said that in today's incident, Iraqi policemen who had surrounded looters in a nearby bank building had fired shots in the air to disperse a crowd. The Americans, thinking they were under fire, started shooting, they said. Among the wounded were the two policemen who fired the warning shots, a 12-year-old boy and 61-year-old man.

Maj. Steve Katz, a Special Operations civil affairs officer here, said that despite the shooting, most Iraqis were still welcoming American forces here.

"I would say the vast majority of people want us here," he said. "I actually think things are going reasonably well."

But American forces seem to have faced difficulties on every front in Mosul, a stronghold of Iraqi nationalism. The city remains insecure, particularly at night. Electricity and water are still off, six days after the Americans arrived. The problem is not here but in a power plant in Kirkuk, a city 110 miles away that is under the command of another American unit.

Lt. Col. Robert Waltemeyer, the American commander here, has persuaded the local police to return to their jobs and was meeting with police officials when today's shooting began. But incidents like today's discourage officers from turning up. One of the policemen wounded today was in stable condition. Doctors fear that the other will be paralyzed.

"This will make the people more hostile against them," Muhammad al-Rahal, a 42-year-old Arab merchant, said of public reaction to the shootings.

Local leaders who have met with the Americans generally come away impressed, residents said. They are happy to hear American statements that Iraqis will run the country. But a plan to hold a meeting of some form of representative council on Thursday has been delayed amid complaints that some tribal and political groups were being overlooked. American decisions to fly large American flags from their vehicles and repeatedly have fighter jets buzz the city after Tuesday's shooting were also criticized as heavy handed.

Residents also complain that Kurds from outside the city continue to enter Mosul and try to steal cars and intimidate former government officials. Colonel Waltemeyer said on Tuesday that he had ordered all forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the dominant Kurdish party to the north, out of Mosul by sunset today.

Residents said that the shootings must stop and that the Americans must not squander whatever good will remained toward them here.

"For some days, people were saying good things about the Americans," said Dr. Muzahium al-Hyatt, a surgeon. "People have started talking about the Americans badly."

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