U.S. soldiers open fire, kill 13 at protest

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. soldiers shot anti-American protesters in a town near Baghdad after being fired upon with automatic weapons, U.S. officers said yesterday. A hospital director said 13 Iraqis were killed and 75 wounded.

Also yesterday, two more top officials of Saddam Hussein's regime - the former head of Iraq's top-secret missile program and the former governor of Basra province - were reported to be in custody.

U.S. officials said Amer Mohammed Rashid, known to United Nations weapons inspectors as "Missile Man," surrendered Monday. He was ranked 47th on the U.S. most-wanted list of 55 members of Hussein's inner circle.

Walid Hamed Tawfiq al-Tikriti, the former governor and a member of Hussein's clan, surrendered to the Iraqi National Congress, according to Haidar al-Moussawi, a London-based spokesman for the anti-Hussein group. U.S. military officials said they could not comment.

The shooting Monday night was in the town of Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad and an area where support for Hussein was strong. Col. Arnold Bray of the 82nd Airborne Division said at least seven Iraqis were hit by gunfire but neither he nor U.S. Central Command had definitive casualty figures.

"There was fire directly over the heads of soldiers on the roof. They returned fire in order to protect the lives of our soldiers," said Lt. Col. Eric Nantz.

Iraqis interviewed at the hospital insisted that the demonstration was peaceful and that no one was armed or throwing rocks. A wounded 18-year-old, Aqil Khaleil, said U.S. soldiers fired without warning.

Dr. Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali, director of Fallujah General Hospital, said 13 people were killed, including three boys no older than 10. He said his medical crews were shot at when they went to retrieve the wounded.

It was the third reported fatal shooting involving U.S. troops and Iraqi protesters in two weeks, underscoring the problems facing soldiers whose training focuses more on combat than crowd control.

Marines opened fire during demonstrations April 15 and 16 in the northern city of Mosul. Iraqis said 10 people were killed in the two confrontations, though details remain unclear and the Marines insisted that they fired only at people who shot at them.

However, the incidents, widely reported by Arab news media, have served to fuel growing resentment of the U.S. military presence here only weeks after the overthrow of Hussein's regime.

The U.S. troops in Fallujah were quartered in a school, and some of the protesters fired at the building, Bray said.

The crowd of about 200 demonstrators reportedly was objecting to the presence of U.S. troops. However, some townspeople said the protest was held by students ages 5 to 20 to ask the soldiers to leave the school so classes could resume yesterday as scheduled.

Bray insisted that some in the crowd were armed. "Ask them which kind of schoolboys carry AK-47s," he said.

U.S. soldiers said many in the crowd had AK-47 assault rifles and were firing into the air - a common practice at events in Iraq.

Al-Tikriti, who surrendered in Baghdad, was 44th on the most-wanted list (eight of clubs in the U.S. deck of cards). He was being interrogated last night by U.S. forces and Iraqi National Congress representatives, al-Moussawi said.

Rashid is a former general who oversaw Iraq's secret missile programs. He is married to Dr. Rihab Taha, a microbiologist known as "Dr. Germ" who was in charge of the secret Iraqi facility that weaponized anthrax and other toxic substances. She also is sought by the United States; her Baghdad house was raided by U.S. forces last month, but there was no word on her whereabouts.

Rashid was a member of Hussein's Military Industrialization Organization, the group responsible for producing Iraq's most lethal weapons.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said last month that Rashid and his wife would be among "the most interesting persons" for American investigators to interrogate because of their familiarity with a range of secret weapons programs.

Also yesterday, Canada offered police, legal experts, engineers and transport planes to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, signaling the end of a rift with the United States over the war.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien said three C-130 Hercules aircraft in the Persian Gulf region would expand their role, and that Canada could send "police, corrections and legal officers" as well as units of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team.

He said the offer responds to U.S. requests for assistance, and that further contributions could be made.

Chretien angered the Bush administration by refusing to join the coalition forces fighting Hussein, and the offer to help in postwar reconstruction was considered a fence-mending gesture.

In other developments:

  • An Iraqi lawyer who helped U.S commandos locate and rescue prisoner of war Jessica Lynch has been granted asylum in the United States, said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
  • U.S. forces have made significant progress in restoring electricity and water to Baghdad and hope to resume television and radio broadcasts by week's end, the U.S. commander in the city said.
  • Water supplies in southern Iraq could be undrinkable within weeks because of a shortage of purifying chlorine gas, leaving millions, especially children, vulnerable to disease, UNICEF said.
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