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Iraq

Flareups puncture slow return of order

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2003

American forces worked to re-establish order in Baghdad and Tikrit on Tuesday, but a clash with protesters in the northern city of Mosul may have killed 10 Iraqis and injured up to 16 others.

Baghdad: Better in daylight

Iraqi police stepped up patrols and volunteers directed traffic Tuesday in a slow return to law and order in Baghdad, while the Marines handed out fliers urging people to stay in their homes after dark for their own safety.

"To avoid placing coalition forces in a position where we must make a distinction between you and terrorist or criminal elements during a time of limited visibility, please do not leave your homes during this time," the message said.

The appeal, printed in English on one side, in Arabic on the other, stopped short of imposing a curfew, but urged people not to leave their homes between evening prayers and morning prayers. The message also asked people not to carry anything that looks like a weapon, to pull off to the side of the road to let convoys pass, and to tip off coalition forces to any dangers they might face.

In a sign of U.S. troops' high state of alert, Marines raided rooms at the Palestine Hotel, where most foreign journalists in Baghdad are staying, in a search for Iraqi fighters. The Marines kicked down doors and were seen guarding suspects in a hall and interrogating a man.

Foreign journalists using the hotel were subjected to body searches, and cars were carefully looked at under the hood and inside trunks. The Marines also designated a single entrance for nonmilitary personnel and vehicles. Barbed wire has been strung around the entire hotel complex, and dozens of Marines were on sentry duty.

Looters broke into government food warehouses and used wheelbarrows and pickup trucks to carry off sacks of sugar, flour and other supplies. Otherwise, however, looting subsided Tuesday.

Gunfire of uncertain origin continued sporadically throughout the day, picking up late at night. The Army's 101st Airborne Division said it was considering an 11 p.m.-to-dawn curfew in an effort to control the gunfire, but Marines who occupy Baghdad east of the Tigris River said they had no such plan.

Mosul: 10 reportedly killed

U.S. Marines killed at least 10 Iraqi men on Tuesday and wounded as many as 16 other people in a chaotic clash with thousands of protesters in northern Iraq, Iraqi officials said Tuesday.

No Americans were hurt, and U.S. military officials said they could not estimate the number of dead. But Dr. Ayad Ramadhani, a doctor at the general hospital, said 10 Iraqis had been killed.

The shooting began after a group of Marines took control of the city hall in downtown Mosul on Tuesday morning. Roughly 130 Marines arrived to secure the building for a civil affairs team that planned to reopen it as a sign of restored normalcy in a city racked by looting and gunfire. But a large crowd -- 3,000 people by Marine estimates -- quickly formed around the building.

U.S. and Iraqi officials agree that tensions quickly rose, but their versions of what happened next diverge. Col. Andrew P. Frick, commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said the crowd was extremely hostile toward the Americans. "There was a lot of pushing and shoving," he said. "A couple of drivers were spit on."

The crowd started beating Paul Watson, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, who was rescued by the Marines. Later, men in the crowd started shooting, Frick said. The Marines withdrew into the building but continued to receive fire, he said.

After the Marines fired warning shots, most of the people dispersed, the colonel said. But when shots continued to hit the building, "The Marines said, 'Okay, the fight is on,' " Frick said. "And the Marines returned accurate fire."

The shooting went on for 10 to 15 minutes until U.S. planes arrived and the gunmen scattered. Frick said he did not know how many Iraqis had been killed.

Wounded Iraqis in the city's general hospital gave a different version of events. They said an Iraqi opposition leader, Mishaan al-Jabouri, started speaking to the crowd and hailing the arrival of American forces in Mosul.

It was unclear how Jabouri, who has been in exile in Syria, got into Mosul. But his message angered the crowd, Iraqis said.

"They began throwing stones," Fateh Tata Abed, a 32-year-old man shot in the chest and upper arm. "And the American forces started shooting at us."

Doctors said all but one of the 26 casualties were men. The one female casualty was an 11-year-old girl with shrapnel in her lung. Relatives said she was on the roof of a nearby building when she was hit.

Tikrit: Hussein's town calmer

U.S. Marines expanded operations Tuesday throughout this city, once at the center of Saddam Hussein's power, as Arab civilians returned from the outskirts, gawking at scenes that had once seemed impossibly unlikely.

Tikrit was not declared fully secure, and some officers openly worried about attacks by terrorists or irregular Iraqi fighters in civilian clothes. But the city was largely calm.

Marines set up checkpoints on the main avenues to search cars for weapons, and they directed traffic across the unsteady remains of a bomb-damaged bridge over the Tigris.

They also identified 12 mosques, and planned to send civil affairs teams to meet with mullahs at each and ask them to use their loudspeakers to tell people it was safe to return home.

At the Salahuddin Military Hospital, Marines cleared a large arms cache.

Four rooms were stacked floor-to-ceiling with crates of new Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Marines said the presence of the cache appeared to constitute concealed use of a medical center as a military armory, which would be a violation of international convention.

The weapons, estimated to number 50,000, were loaded onto trucks and taken to an airfield the Marines control.

Two U.S. task forces are coming together: the force in northern Iraq, which has seized Mosul, Kirkuk and territory near the Iranian border held by Ansar al-Islam, a militant group; and a force from the country's center and south, which is freed for extended operations now that Baghdad is no longer in Iraqi hands.

But the forces have not yet joined, and neither has gained control of the territory in between. Many Arabs have fled, and some have been expelled, since Kurds began persecuting them in the villages around Kirkuk.

Some Arabs are living in tents in the fields, afraid to remain in their homes.

-- Information from the New York Times, Associated Press and Knight Ridder Newspapers was used in this report.

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