Shakir Abdul-Hassan goes out of his way to avoid U.S. military convoys as he
drives his minibus around town, fearing American soldiers will mistake him for a
suicide bomber and open fire if he accidentally gets too close.
Atheer Kamal is just as cautious: When U.S. soldiers set up a checkpoint near
his computer shop in east Baghdad, he locks up and heads home, worried about
stray gunfire if the Americans shoot at approaching cars.
Such fears show the dilemmas created ¡ª on
both sides ¡ª as U.S. soldiers struggle to differentiate between friend and foe
when conducting raids, patrolling roads and traveling in convoys.
A women and children
walk past a US military patrol inspecting the damage from a car bomb, in
this Friday, Feb. 3, 2006, file photo in eastern Baghdad, Iraq.
Frequent shootings at checkpoints, plus raids by U.S. troops and airstrikes
resulting in Iraqi deaths, have angered many Iraqis, who contend that ignorance
of their culture and the Arabic language hamper the Americans. Some say flatly
that American soldiers act like "cowboys in Western movies," in Kamal's words.
Some U.S. commanders acknowledge the problem exists. But they blame it on
insurgents who disguise themselves as civilians. U.S. officials insist soldiers
and Marines are careful to identify targets before opening fire.
Nevertheless, a spate of deaths has badly strained relations between
Americans and Iraqi leaders:
* In the most serious recent case, about 12 U.S. Marines are under
investigation for possible war crimes in a Nov. 19 incident in western Iraq in
which one Marine and 24 Iraqis, including women and children, were killed. The
U.S. military launched an inquiry after Time magazine said last month that it
obtained a video taken by a journalism student who disputed the Marines' initial
account of the incident, which began after a Marine was killed in a car bombing.
* On Feb. 26, an Iraqi special forces team accompanied by American
advisers killed 16 people, described by U.S. officials as insurgents, and
rescued an Iraqi hostage in a gunbattle in northeastern Baghdad. U.S. officials
said no American soldier fired a shot. Nevertheless, the Shiite governor of
Baghdad suspended contacts with the United States, and Shiite lawmakers
boycotted a planned meeting to discuss formation of the new government because
they said the raid occurred at a mosque complex.
* Police accused American troops of killing 11 people, mostly civilians,
in a March 15 shootout near Balad north of the capital. U.S. officials disputed
the allegation, saying only one militant and three civilians were killed. They
included two women and a child, and the case is under investigation.