WORLD / Middle East

Wary Iraqis steer clear of US troops
(AP)
Updated: 2006-04-07 08:21

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.

Frequent shootings at checkpoints, plus raids by U.S. troops and airstrikes resulting in Iraqi deaths, have angered many Iraqis
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. [AP]
Such fears show the dilemmas created on both sides as U.S. soldiers struggle to differentiate between friend and foe when conducting raids, patrolling roads and traveling in convoys.

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.
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