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April 29, 2003
Anger Mounts After U.S. Troops Kill 13 Iraqi Protesters
by Edmund Blair
FALLUJA, Iraq - U.S. soldiers killed at least 13 Iraqi civilians who marched on a school west of Baghdad to demand the troops leave the building and get out of Iraq, doctors and witnesses said on Tuesday.
Medics said 75 were also wounded in the march by more than 200 protesters on the school after Muslim prayers on Monday evening in Falluja, 30 miles from the Iraqi capital. Some witnesses put the death toll as high as 17.
Residents said the marchers were unarmed. U.S. forces said the troops opened fire only after they were shot at by a group of gunmen armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
An Iraqi man lies injured in his hospital bed surrounded by his parents in Falluja hospital, 50 kms (30 miles) west of Baghdad, April 29, 2003. U.S. troops shot dead at least 13 Iraqis during an anti-American protest in the town overnight, witnesses said on Tuesday, in a clash likely to inflame anger at the U.S. presence in Iraq. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
The shooting outraged local people who, like many other Iraqis, welcomed the removal of Saddam Hussein by U.S.-led forces but now want the American troops to leave. It is likely to fuel anti-American sentiment elsewhere in Iraq.
U.S. helicopters hovered overhead as angry mourners buried the dead on Tuesday. The white walls of houses near the school were pock-marked by bullets, bullet-riddled cars stood by the roadside and traces of blood marked the ground.
"Our soul and our blood we will sacrifice to you martyrs," hundreds of mourners chanted as they carried at least four simple wooden coffins shoulder-high through the town.
Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali, director of Falluja general hospital, confirmed the death toll was at least 13 and said the hospital had carried out about 30 operations in the past few hours. "Some were wounded by shots. Some were wounded by shrapnel," he said.
"They are stealing our oil and they are slaughtering our people," said Shuker Abdullah Hamid, a cousin of one of the victims, 47-year-old Tuamer Abdel Hamid.
"Now, all preachers of Falluja mosques and all youths...are organizing martyr operations against the American occupiers," said a man cloaked in white, using the term often used to describe suicide attacks in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There have been a few isolated suicide attacks at military checkpoints, and U.S. troops killed seven Iraqis during a violent demonstration in the northern city of Mosul on April 15, but most anti-American protests have ended peacefully.
A U.S. military spokeswoman said at war headquarters in Qatar that soldiers in Falluja opened fire on gunmen who shot at them with assault rifles.
"Members of the 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division came upon a group of Iraqis armed with AK-47s last night," the spokeswoman said. "The Iraqis fired on them. The troops returned fire."
A local Sunni Muslim cleric, Kamal Shaker Mahmoud, said the protesters had asked the troops to leave the school so that lessons could resume there.
"It was a peaceful demonstration. They did not have any weapons," the cleric said. "They (the U.S. troops) opened fire on the protesters because they went out to demonstrate."
"We are asking the Americans to leave Iraq completely but first we want them to leave residential areas," he added.
Murhij Rashid, 52, pointed to a grave where gravediggers were throwing dry earth on top and kicking up dust. His 18-year-old son Hussein had just been buried.
"There was a demonstration but he did not have any weapon," he said.
Some residents said some of the dead may not have been taking part in the protest.
Salah Abdullah Hamid said his cousin, a 36-year-old man employed by the Oil Ministry, was an innocent bystander.
"He was not part of the protest. He did not have a weapon. He was killed by American bullets," he said.
Asked why the troops had fired, he replied: "We don't know. No one knows why...We want the Americans to leave our country completely. We are a Muslim country."
Mahmoud Fawzi Hamdan, 33, said one man, 32-year-old Waleed Saleh Abdel-Latif, was shot dead as he opened the gate to his house for his brother to drive in and two women in the house were hit by bullets but survived.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd
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