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Archive for Sunday, June 15, 2003

Villagers mourn civilians killed by U.S.

June 15, 2003

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— Gathered in tents, Iraqi villagers wailed and recited Islamic verses Saturday to mourn a 70-year-old farmer, three of his sons and another relative -- civilians they say U.S. forces mistakenly killed in their hunt for Saddam Hussein loyalists.

Though the military gave no comment on the civilian deaths, the shootings fueled growing anger over what Iraqis describe as insensitive American behavior, from soldiers not removing their shoes before entering homes to search for weapons to the intrusion of low-flying helicopters and roaring tanks.

U.S. Army units early today moved in force to seal off the conservative town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, in an operation to raid the homes of suspected militia leaders and search for illegal weapons.

The soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade met no resistance in their initial thrust against the city 37 miles from the capital, but Iraqis sounded sirens and flashed their porch lights in apparent warning to each other that American troops were coming. The operation was called "Spartan Scorpion."

Saad Hashem, an elder in the village of Elheer, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, said U.S. occupiers were turning people against them.

"Before the toppling of Saddam's regime, the Americans said they were coming to liberate Iraq," Harem said. "We welcomed them. Many innocent people were killed by the Iraqi regime. Now the Americans are killing innocent people."

He and other villagers say American soldiers shot Ali Jassem and his family early Friday as the men worked in their wheat fields to extinguish fires set by U.S. flares.

Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division had been chasing Iraqi militants after a midnight ambush Thursday of a U.S. tank column on a country road about a mile from Jassem's field. The ambush in the rural Balud region was the latest in a rising number of guerrilla and sniping attacks that have killed dozens of American soldiers since the war ended May 1.

Elheer is a Shiite village set in an area north and west of Baghdad known as the Sunni triangle, where Saddam drew most of his support.

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