CBSN

Fallujah Fumes Over Friendly Fire

Mourners scream as they carry the coffin of a slain Iraqi police officer draped in the Iraqi flag in Fallujah, Iraq Saturday Sept. 13, 2003. Eight people were killed when U.S. soldiers mistakenly opened fire on a group of Iraqi policemen in the deadliest friendly fire incident since the end of major fighting in Iraq.
AP
The U.S. military apologized Saturday for the friendly fire killing here of eight Iraqi policemen and a Jordanian guard, but anger washed over the people of this turbulent "Sunni Triangle" city as they buried their dead in scenes that may presage a new cycle of bloodshed for American troops in the country's most troubled region.

Iraqi policemen who survived the shootout near Fallujah in the wee hours of Friday, meanwhile, recounted how they begged the American soldiers to stop shooting, screaming in Arabic and English that they were police. The Americans kept firing volley after volley from big and small guns, they said from their hospital beds Saturday, and the fusillade raged for a half hour, they said, as more men died and more men groaned in pain from their wounds.

Gunfire into the air erupted throughout Fallujah, a city of 200,000 people 30 miles west of Baghdad, as residents gathered to bury the eight policemen, whose flag-draped coffins were carried into a mosque for religious rites before they were given to family members for burial.

In an ominous message, Fawzi Namiq, the mosque's imam, said through loudspeakers: "Save your bullets for the chests of the enemy."

The U.S. military issued an apology for the incident - the worst case of friendly fire since major hostilities in Iraq were declared over May 1 - and offered condolences to the victims' families. An investigation had begun, it said.

Angry Fallujah residents roughed up reporters who were in the city to witness the funeral ceremony and burials.

CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins notes that, "The U.S. led coalition has been recruiting Iraqis for a new police force, hoping it will take over most of the responsibility for law enforcement as soon as possible. The friendly fire incident isn't going to make that any easier."

In other developments:

  • Secretary of State Colin Powell said Saturday he and the other veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, meeting in Geneva, had arrived at a basis for an accord on Iraq. They agreed, he said, to try to "put authority back in the hands of the Iraqi people" as soon as possible, but "in a responsible way." He told reporters there was some narrowing of differences during the discussions but "there are still differences."
  • President Bush insists the U.S. has a clear mission in Iraq to fight terrorists and foster democracy there, yet a new poll shows that fewer than half of Americans share his belief. "We are following a clear strategy with three objectives: destroy the terrorists, enlist international support for a free Iraq and quickly transfer authority to the Iraqi people," Mr. Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address.
  • In Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit Saturday, one Iraqi was killed and two were wounded when guerrillas fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. Army patrol. The shot missed the Americans but hit a garbage truck.
  • The U.S. commander who led the raid on the hide-out of Saddam Hussein's sons two months ago says the former Iraqi dictator would be given a chance to surrender if found - but added that he personally would rather see him dead. "The choice will be his," Col. Joe Anderson, commander of the 101st Airborne's 2nd Brigade in Mosul, told The Associated Press.
  • The Pentagon's number-two man, Paul Wolfowitz, says he misspoke when he claimed a "great number" of al Qaeda operatives are trying to link up with remnants of Saddam's regime in Iraq. He has said that key Osama bin Laden lieutenants are plotting with Saddam loyalists to kill Americans in Iraq. He now tells the AP he misspoke because he didn't anticipate questions about Iraq in interviews about the September eleventh anniversary.
  • Japan reportedly plans to send a fact-finding mission to Iraq
    next week in preparation for a possible dispatch of ground troops
    to help with U.S-led reconstruction efforts.

    U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo said on Saturday that the Americans in Fallujah only fired after they had been "attacked from a truck by unknown forces."

    "Coalition forces," he said, "immediately returned fire and the subsequent engagement lasted approximately three hours. Regrettably during the incident extensive damage was done to the (Jordanian) hospital and several security personnel were killed, including eight Iraqis and one Jordanian national."

    The military, he said, wished "to express our deepest regret for this incident to the families who have lost loved ones and express our sincerest condolences."

    Relations between Fallujah's residents and U.S. forces in the area have been on a knife's edge since shortly after the city was captured in April. Friday's killings were certain to inflame the smoldering hatred of the American occupation.

    For the rest of Iraq, the incident was likely to stoke resentment of U.S. troops - already seen by some as trigger-happy and heavy-handed.

    On Saturday, some in Fallujah talked of revenge, while others suggested that paying blood money to the families of the victims, as U.S. forces had done in the past to mend relations with the city's conservative and deeply tribal residents, may not defuse the situation.

    Fallujah is part of the so-called Sunni triangle - a vast swath of land astride the Tigris and the Euphrates west and north of Baghdad - where the mainly Sunni Muslim population gave deposed dictator Saddam Hussein his strongest base of support during his 23-year rule.

    "Under normal circumstances, we would have started criminal proceedings against the Americans for negligent homicide," said Ali Jassim Habeeb, head the of the Fallujah chapter of the Iraqi Organization for the Defense of Civil Rights. "The Americans claim to be safeguarding laws and human rights, but in reality they follow double standards."

    As mourners assembled some in the crowd chanted: "There is no God but God, and America is the enemy of Allah."

    Taleb Hameed, a 30-year-old school teacher voiced outrage. "We want the Americans to leave our country because they have brought us only death," he said. "We are fed up with their apologies. We will continue our resistance."

    A black banner was strung across the front of the one-story headquarters of the Fallujah Protection Force, a 100-man, U.S.-trained paramilitary force to which the eight dead policemen belonged. The banner carried the names of the eight and declared: "The Fallujah Protection Force mourns the martyrdom of its members who have been killed at the hands of American forces."

    The force's chief, Police Maj. Ali Jassim Diyab, sought to "calm and console" his men in a meeting Saturday at the force's headquarters, according to force member Hamza Hamad.

    "They are volunteers who wanted to protect their city," Diyab said before the meeting. "What happened was a mistake by the Americans, but it will not affect the morale of our men."

    Diyab's seeming composure was not shared by many in Fallujah, a city where U.S. troops came under almost daily attacks for two months after soldiers opened fire in late April on crowds of protesters in the city, killing 18 and injuring 78. The Americans said they were fired at first.

    The Americans pulled out of their permanent positions in the city in early July, leaving the local police force in charge of security. The moved dramatically reduced the number of attacks inside the city, but resentment of the Americans continued to simmer.

    "We have had enough of the Americans killing us and then just saying 'Oh, sorry!"' said Salam Mohammed, 60, a Fallujah resident and a relative of some of the victims.

    U.S. troops who had been directing reconstruction and other projects from the Fallujah mayor's office in the heart of the city were not there Saturday. Police at the mayor's office said the Americans' absence was understandable given Friday's events.