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Tuesday | April 15, 2003

US Troops in Mosul Shooting

Clash in Mosul Complicates Already Troubled U.S. Arrival

MOSUL, Iraq, April 15 — At least 10 Iraqis were reported killed and 16 injured today in a clash in northern Iraq that Marines called a gun battle and Iraqis described as the shooting of unarmed civilians. The deaths further complicated the already troubled arrival of American troops in Mosul, a city considered a center of Iraqi nationalism.

Today's firing began this morning as a group of marines tried to secure the main government building in downtown Mosul. A first attempt to secure the building by a dozen American special force soldiers last Friday ended with the Americans coming under fire and retreating.

The building — a six-story high, block long monolith — appears to have become the focus of a test of wills between American forces pouring into the area and unknown gunmen lurking in the center of the city. Col. Robert Waltemeyer, the commander of American special operations forces here, remained in the building all day today with several hundred Marines and planned to sleep there through the night.

This morning, roughly 130 marines secured the governate, the rough equivalent of a city hall, for a civil affairs team that planned to re-open it as a sign of normalcy in a city racked by looting and gunfire since Iraqi forces withdrew last Thursday. But a large crowd, three thousand people by the marines' estimates, quickly formed around the building. From there, the American and Iraqi version of events are completely different.

Col. Andrew P. Frick, commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which began arriving here only two days ago, said men in the crowd began firing at the marines. The Americans withdrew into the building and continued to receive fire, he said.

When they fired warning shots over the heads of people in the crowd, most of the Iraqis dispersed, he said. When shots continued to hit the governate, the marines decided anyone still in the area was hostile.

"The marines said `OK, the fight is on,"' Colonel Frick said. "And the marines returned accurate fire."

Wounded Iraqis in the city's general hospital today gave a starkly different version of events. They said a controversial Iraqi opposition leader, Mishaan Al-Jabouri, started speaking to the crowd and hailing the arrival of American forces in Mosul.

"They began throwing stones," said Fateh Tata Abed, a 32-year-old man shot in the chest and upper arm. "And the American forces started shooting at us."

A second man, 39-year-old Sadullah Ghanal, gave roughly the same version of events. "After we threw stones at Mishaan Jabouri," he said, "the Americans started to fire on us."

If this is what happened, and the Times reporter was in Mosul at the time of the shooting, this could be a very bad thing.

The problem is that without an interim police/peacekeeping force, the US troops are inclined to use methods which will cause problems, like shooting into a crowd of thousands of people.

AFP reports the crowd heckled Al-Jabouri when he told them that they had to cooperate with the Americans. The idea seemed, well, repugnant to them.

Iraq's history is clear. The most dangerous part of any Iraqi war seems to be after the official fighting is over. Because that's when the friction starts. The factions, and Iraq is all factions, start to make their demands. One which has popped up is the demand that the Arabs leave Kurdish areas of Mosul. Saddam imported 100,000 Arabs to live in Mosul to diminish Kurdish control in the area. Now that Saddam is on the run, the Kurds want their homes back.

The Shia are also less than happy with the US occupation government. The SCIRI boycotted a meeting held at Talil Air Base outside Nasiriyah while thousands, far more than any toppling statues of Saddam, were protesting the meeting and saying that they had no plans to go along with the US's ideas on running Iraq.

The US seems to be living in a fantasy land, where they plan to rely on exiles, while the Iraqis wonder exactly who these people are. The only credible opposition leaders are the Kurds, Barzani and Talebbi and the head of SCIRI, Al-Hakim. The Kurds are willing to listen to the US, but the Arabs in Mosul are not. Relying on the Kurds means taking their side in the fight. And their side may well lead to ethnic cleansing.

It may also lead to the US being targeted.They say two guys fired at the building and now we have a mess in Mosul.

Even if the story rebounds for the US, do you think the Arabs who live there will trust us? We are cheek by jowl with the Kurds. Now we shoot Arabs at the behest, if not the orders of, some exile few respected. One would not have to be a conspriacy theorist to conclude that the US has picked their winners and the Arab population of Mosul is not one of them.

Will they start to arm themselves? Something the Syrian secret policemen floating around will be more than happy to make happen. We tend to think other countries would not act against our interests if we make the right scary noises. Well, the Syrians like living without US troops. As I have repeatedly said, the messier and more complicated the US occupation of Iraq is, the happier they are.

Without UN peacekeepers and an administration ready to go, the US has to do everything piecemeal and slower than the locals are willing to tolerate. We made a critical bet here, and it crapped out on us. The Iraqi administration, probably scared off by war crime trials talk, has gone into hiding. They aren't coming back any time soon. Thus, there is a vacuum. Power abhores a vacuum.
The problem is that the people filling it seem to be AK wielding Johnnies on the spot who may be working for themselves, masters in Ankara, Damascus or Tehran or any combination thereof.

No point in belaboring how badly this could all turn out. One could hope that things will settle down and normalcy returns. But US troops shooting protesters make that far less likely.

Steve Gilliard

Posted April 15, 2003 04:39 PM | Comments (70)


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