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Six Iraqi protesters killed in clash
( 2004-01-11 10:02) (Agencies)

British soldiers and Iraqi police clashed Saturday with armed, stone-throwing protesters in southeastern Iraq, killing six people. U.S. officials acknowledged American soldiers mistakenly killed two Iraqi policemen after they failed to identify themselves to a patrol.

In Baghdad, a senior U.S. military officer confirmed that preliminary reports showed that a U.S. Army medevac helicopter that crashed last week near Fallujah, killing all nine soldiers aboard, was shot down.

And north of the capital, the U.S. military said it was investigating allegations that soldiers killed four Iraqi civilians who tried to pass a convoy this month in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

The shooting of the policemen occurred Friday after paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade responded to a report of "family fighting" in Kirkuk, about 150 miles north of Baghdad.

Paratroopers spotted two men firing into a house, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division. The men, who were wearing long coats, fled as the troops approached and were joined by a third man, she said.

"The soldiers verbally warned the three to stop and then fired warning shots," Aberle said. "The men refused to comply and the soldiers took a defensive position and fired," killing two of them and detaining the third.

All three were found to be Iraqi policemen, Aberle said. The U.S. military is investigating why they refused to identify themselves.

Saturday's trouble in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, started when hundreds of Iraqis angry over the lack of jobs in town gathered in front of the office of the U.S.-led coalition to demand work.

As the protesters grew agitated, shots rang out from the crowd, a British military spokeswoman said. At the same time, she said troops "received reports of small explosions in the crowd."

Iraqi police, believing they were under attack, opened fire into the crowd but did not hit any of the protesters, she said. But witnesses said the police killed some of the protesters.

British soldiers moved in with armored vehicles to support the police, and protesters hurled at least three explosive devices at them, she said.

One man "who was in the process of throwing a device" was shot dead by the soldiers, the spokeswoman said.

The crowd dispersed but later some of them returned and lobbed two explosive devices at the armored cars. Soldiers shot one of the attackers and apparently wounded him, she added. Three other devices were thrown at the soldiers before tensions eased.

Six people were killed and at least 11 wounded, according to Dr. Saad Hamoud of the Al-Zahrawi Surgical Hospital. The British said they had reports of five deaths and one injury. There were no casualties among police or soldiers.

In Baghdad, U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters that "preliminary reports indicate" that the Black Hawk medevac helicopter that crashed Thursday south of Fallujah was probably "brought down by ground fire."

Iraqi witnesses said they saw a missile strike the second of two medevac helicopters as they flew over an area known for resistance against to the U.S.-led occupation.

The nine deaths aboard the helicopter brought to 494 the number of American service members who have died since the Iraq war began March 20.

Elsewhere, Danish soldiers uncovered a cache of mortar shells Saturday in southern Iraq and preliminary tests are underway to determine whether they contain chemical agents, U.S. officials said.

The 30 to 40 120mm mortar shells, which may have been left over from the Iran-Iraq War, were found buried in the desert south of Baghdad and were wrapped in plastic bags and some were leaking a mysterious fluid leading officials to suspect chemical weapons, according to the U.S. command.

Allegations that Saddam maintained chemical and other weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. orders was cited by the United States as the main reason for launching the Iraq war. No such weapons have yet been found.

In Tikrit, the U.S. military said it was investigating allegation that U.S. troops opened fire on a taxi Jan. 3, killing four Iraqi civilians. Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division, declined to provide any details of the investigation.

The lone survivor, Ibrahim Allawi, says troops raked his car with gunfire as he tried to pass a convoy. Police found Allawi and the others, including a 7-year-old boy, in the bullet-riddled car.

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