Troops Accused of Mosul Killing
By Kevin Sullivan
On the tape, the jovial 21-year-old student drank tea and mugged for the camera, his schoolbooks spread out in front of him. It was too much for the 20 men watching. Almost all of them buried their faces in their hands and sobbed.
"Why did the Americans kill my son?" said Basil Hamed Azawi, 63. "By God, I say to you, I thought it was better to have good relations with the Americans and repair our country. But now the Americans have lost any relationship with Iraq. How can I face them now? What should I do? What can I do?"
Neighbors here said Hamed was killed on Tuesday by U.S. soldiers who fired into a crowd of young, unarmed Iraqis who were throwing rocks at the troops, shortly after the fierce firefight in which U.S. troops killed the two sons of former president Saddam Hussein, Uday and Qusay.
A military spokesman said the military has no record of any civilians being shot at, or near, the site of Tuesday's raid, an operation that raised the spirits of U.S. troops, who have been attacked almost daily by unknown assailants.
But at least eight people interviewed here, including two recovering in a hospital from gunshot wounds inflicted Tuesday, said they saw U.S. soldiers fire into the crowd. Several of those interviewed do not know each other, and all provided nearly identical accounts of the incident, which they said has severely damaged the image of U.S. soldiers here.
They said a crowd of 40 or 50 young men had gathered just after 1 p.m., after the firefight had stopped, in an area near a traffic light at least 400 yards from the house where the Hussein brothers were killed. They said the crowd wanted to enter their mosque for midday prayers, but soldiers kept them away because it was too close to the firefight scene. The men became angry, yelled at the soldiers, and a few began throwing rocks, the witnesses said.
At that moment, from four to eight soldiers fired short bursts into the crowd. The shooting lasted just a second or two, they said, but Hamed and perhaps one other person were killed, and three people suffered gunshot wounds in their arms and legs.
"They were angry and they just started shooting at everybody; it was not a spontaneous thing," said Mohammed Ramzi, a taxi driver interviewed Thursday in his bed at Razi Hospital -- previously known as Saddam Hospital -- where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to his upper arm.
Ramzi's uncle, Bashar Ghanim Hamoodi, said he arrived on the scene when he heard the big firefight from his shop down the road. As he walked up, he said he saw young people throwing rocks at the soldiers, who "immediately opened fire."
Hamoodi said he saw a soldier shoot and kill Hamed, who fell almost next to him, and witnessed another young man on a bicycle also being hit by gunfire. A soldier initially ordered him to "Get back! Get back!" when he tried to pick up Hamed's body, Hamoodi said, but after everyone in the crowd had run away, the soldier permitted him to pick the body up. He said he carried it to a taxi and drove it to a hospital.
Loss of Goodwill
In repeated public statements, top U.S. military officials here said their troops, from the 101st Airborne Division, used great restraint and limited firepower in Tuesday's raid in a concerted effort not to injure civilians in the neighborhood.
"The 101st did not shoot any civilians at or near the site," said Sgt. Ty Stafford, a military spokesman in Mosul. "There was a large crowd of onlookers who did get too close to the scene and were broken up by the MPs. But no one shot at anyone."
But many people interviewed here said the soldiers did shoot, and that the incident has destroyed their feelings of goodwill toward the U.S.-led occupation forces.
"My son hated Saddam and he hated Uday and Qusay," Hamed's father said through his tears Thursday morning. "I have six sons, and Anas was the most brave and clever. And they killed him without any reason. In Arabic we say, 'God will be the judge of those people.' "
In this city 220 miles north of Baghdad, which experienced only limited combat during the war, many people said they had cheered the arrival of the army that ousted Hussein. But the death of Hamed, and stories of what many here call heavy-handed tactics by soldiers patrolling the streets, has turned this neighborhood, at least, into a pit of anger toward the United States.
"We were happy when the soldiers killed Uday and Qusay, because they tortured a lot of people," said Omar Mohammed Rashid, a top official at the neighborhood's Bashar Kalendar mosque, who said he saw Hamed gunned down by soldiers. "But they have lost all sympathy by killing Anas. If something like this happens again, we will kill them. The mosque will not stay quiet, and neither will the Iraqi people."
Hamed's brother filed a written complaint with Iraqi police, as did three other people who said they were wounded in the incident, including Ramzi and another taxi driver, Alyas Hamoudi who is also in the hospital with gunshot wounds in his arm and thigh. He said he was shot while in his taxi. Hospital medical reports filed with the police complaints confirm that the victims were shot on Tuesday.
Fahad Mezer Abduljabar, 21, also filed a complaint with police stating that soldiers shot him in the leg in that incident. The police file contains a hospital report confirming that he had been shot.
Another person, Hani Mohammed Ali, filed a report with police saying that he also witnessed soldiers firing at the crowd. He said he helped pick up a second dead man and drove his body to a local hospital. Police said they were trying to verify that report. They said they had passed all the complaints on to a civilian judge, who would determine how to proceed.
"They say they are here to bring justice, so justice should be for them, too," said Col. Mahdy Shoro of the Markez Zuhur police station, which covers the neighborhood where the shooting allegedly took place.
Evidence also suggests that shots were fired away from the building where the Hussein brothers were killed, and toward an area, far from the fighting, where the crowd had gathered.
Ashad Akram Ahmad, a local shopkeeper, showed a reporter two bullet holes that he said had been made Tuesday in the facade of his shop. His shop is several hundred yards from the site of the firefight, and there is no direct line of fire from that area. But the shop is exactly behind the bloodstained spot in the road where the witnesses said Hamed was killed.
Iraqi police and a former Iraqi army colonel who examined the tip of a bullet dug out of the concrete wall this morning said it was not from an AK-47, the most common weapon here. Several U.S. soldiers who were shown the bullet said it was not Iraqi, but they said they could not positively identify it.
Grief and Rage
At Hamed's house, a black funeral banner hanging in front of the house stated that Hamed was killed "by bullets fired by the criminal Americans." Inside, his family has kept the bloody robes he was wearing when he was shot, along with a death certificate dated Tuesday.
The doctor who examined Hamed's body said he was shot twice, in the stomach and in the mouth. In an interview, the doctor, Riad Hamdi, said the bullet that entered Hamed's mouth destroyed most of the back of his head. Hamdi said it was unlike any of the many bullet wounds he has seen in Iraq.
Rashid, the mosque official, said U.S. military representatives have come to the mosque twice in the past two days to discuss Tuesday's events. He said that both times officials at the mosque complained about the shootings of civilians and the death of Hamed. He said military officials told them they had no evidence of any such shooting.
On Thursday morning at Hamed's family home, which is in a neighborhood almost directly across the street from the house where the Hussein brothers were killed, grief was hardened by rage at the U.S. soldiers.
"We were happy when the Americans came to Mosul. I went and talked to them and invited them to my house," said Moheb Aladdin Sakal, 32, Hamed's cousin. "But since then, they have stopped my car many times and searched me. They make me lie on the ground. They treat me like an animal.
"And now Anas is dead. Why was he killed? What did he do? I have no weapons, but if this were my brother and I had weapons, I would not be silent. And we believe that God will never leave the Americans alone because of this."
Special correspondents Souad Mekhennet and Naseer Mehdawi contributed to this report.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
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