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Friendly fire kills 9, Iraqi police say

Surviving Iraqi officers say they were chasing a BMW used by bandits when American troops fired on them.

By Wire services
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 13, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq - U.S. soldiers fired on uniformed Iraqi police officers chasing highway bandits at night, killing eight officers and a Jordanian security guard and wounding nine people Friday in the dangerous "Sunni Triangle" area near Baghdad, Iraqi police said.

About an hour later and 30 miles to the west, two U.S. soldiers were killed and seven wounded in a predawn raid in Ramadi, the military said. The U.S. military gave no other information about the second shooting in the Fallujah region, where support for Saddam Hussein runs strong.

Many Iraqis claim friends and relatives have been shot and killed when they failed to stop at U.S. checkpoints in Baghdad, but until Friday there had been no reports of friendly fire involving U.S. forces and the growing U.S.-sponsored Iraqi police, militia and military.

"We shouted "We are police. We are police.' Then we drove off the road into a field," Arkan Adnan Ahmed, 19, said at Fallujah Hospital, where he was being treated for a shoulder wound. "They started shooting from all sides."

The U.S. military did not confirm friendly fire deaths Friday. But a Jordanian news agency reported Secretary of State Colin Powell called Jordan's foreign minister expressing regret for the "sad incident," which took place near the Jordanian Hospital on the west side of Fallujah.

Fallujah police took fire from the U.S. troops about 1:30 a.m. as about 25 uniformed police officers in two pickup trucks and a sedan were chasing a white BMW known to have been used by highway bandits, said Asem Mohammed, a 23-year-old police sergeant who was among the wounded.

Two vehicles pursuing the bandits were painted in the blue and white colors of the Iraqi police. The pickup truck, which had a gun mounted on it, was white.

As the chase neared a checkpoint near the Jordanian Hospital, the police turned around after losing sight of their quarry, and a nearby American patrol fired, Mohammed said.

"We were chasing a white BMW with bandits. We turned around in front of Jordanian Hospital and some American forces started shooting at us," Mohammed said.

Ahmed, who was driving one of the Iraqi police cars, said the sudden appearance of the unmarked pickup truck with the machine gun mounted on top might have prompted the Americans to fire.

Members of the Jordanian armed forces guarding the hospital apparently also fired when the Americans began shooting, catching the Iraqi police in a crossfire. After the incident, heavily armed Jordanian security guards were seen examining a bullet-riddled building just inside the walled hospital compound.

"We were in between firing from all sides," Mohammed said. "We were in the middle."

Ahmed said the shooting lasted about 45 minutes and all the Iraqi dead were in the armed pickup truck.

Dr. Dial Jumaili, who came to treat the wounded, said there were eight dead police officers. Nine people were wounded, two seriously.

The U.S. military said American soldiers were fired upon with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms in an attack near the Jordanian Hospital, wounding one U.S. soldier and five "neutral individuals." It gave no other details.

Jordan's official Petra news agency said one of the Jordanians working at the field hospital was killed.

The 100-bed Jordanian military field hospital was set up in April to provide Iraqis and others with medical care in Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad. It also houses diplomats transferred after a car bomb attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad last month.

Also Friday in the Fallujah region, a U.S. convoy came under fire about 2 miles west of Halabasa. Witnesses said the afternoon firefight between the Americans and the Iraqi resistance lasted for about 30 minutes and one Iraqi passerby was killed. A damaged civilian car and a burning U.S. truck could be seen on the road.

The violence Friday, however, was not restricted to areas around Fallujah. A 45-minute gun battle erupted in central Baghdad, where police chased and captured three members of a suspected carjacking gang.

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