Two Killed In New Iraq Demo Shooting
From Chris Hughes
London Daily Mirror
Thursday 1 May 2003
Al-Tallulah -- It started when a young boy hurled a sandal at a US jeep - it ended with two Iraqis dead and 16 seriously injured.
I watched in horror as American troops opened fire on a crowd of 1,000 unarmed people here yesterday.
Many, including children, were cut down by a 20-second burst of automatic gunfire during a demonstration against the killing of 13 protesters at the Al-Kaahd school on Monday.
They had been whipped into a frenzy by religious leaders. The crowd were facing down a military compound of tanks and machine-gun posts.
The youngster had apparently lobbed his shoe at the jeep - with a M2 heavy machine gun post on the back - as it drove past in a convoy of other vehicles.
A soldier operating the weapon suddenly ducked, raised it on its pivot then pressed his thumb on the trigger.
Mirror photographer Julian Andrews and I were standing about six feet from the vehicle when the first shots rang out, without warning.
We dived for cover under the compound wall as troops within the crowd opened fire. The convoy accelerated away from the scene.
Iraqis in the line of fire dived for cover, hugging the dust to escape being hit.
We could hear the bullets screaming over our heads. Explosions of sand erupted from the ground - if the rounds failed to hit a demonstrator first. Seconds later the shooting stopped and the screaming and wailing began.
One of the dead, a young man, lay face up, half his head missing, first black blood, then red spilling into the dirt.
His friends screamed at us in anger, then looked at the grim sight in disbelief.
A boy of 11 lay shouting in agony before being carted off in a car to a hospital already jam-packed with Iraqis hurt in Monday's incident.
Cars pulled up like taxis to take the dead and injured to hospital, as if they had been waiting for this to happen.
A man dressed like a sheik took off his headcloth to wave and direct traffic around the injured. The sickening scenes of death and pain were the culmination of a day of tension in Al-Fallujah sparked by Monday's killings.
The baying crowd had marched 500 yards from the school to a local Ba'ath party HQ. We joined them, asking questions and taking pictures, as Apache helicopters circled above.
The crowd waved their fists at the gunships angrily and shouted: "Go home America, go home America."
We rounded a corner and saw edgy-looking soldiers lined up along the street in between a dozen armoured vehicles. All of them had automatic weapons pointing in the firing position.
As the crowd - 10 deep and about 100 yards long - marched towards the US positions, chanting "Allah is great, go home Americans", the troops reversed into the compound.
On the roof of the two-storey fortress, ringed by a seven-foot high brick wall, razor wire and with several tanks inside, around 20 soldiers ran to the edge and took up positions.
A machine gun post at one of the corners swivelled round, taking aim at the crowd which pulled to a halt.
We heard no warning to disperse and saw no guns or knives among the Iraqis whose religious and tribal leaders kept shouting through loud hailers to remain peaceful. In the baking heat and with the deafening noise of helicopters the tension reached breaking point.
Julian and I ran towards the compound to get away from the crowd as dozens of troops started taking aim at them, others peering at them through binoculars.
Tribal leaders struggled to contain the mob which was reaching a frenzy.
A dozen ran through the cordon of elders, several hurling what appeared to be rocks at troops.
Some of the stones just reached the compound walls. Many threw sandals - a popular Iraqi insult.
A convoy of Bradley military jeeps passed by, the Iraqis hurling insults at them, slapping the sides of the vehicles with their sandals, tribal leaders begging them to retreat.
The main body of demonstrators jeered the passing US troops pointing their thumbs down to mock them.
Then came the gunfire - and the death and the agony.
After the shootings the American soldiers looked at the appalling scene through their binoculars and set up new positions, still training their guns at us.
An angry mob battered an Arab TV crew van, pulling out recording equipment and hurling it at the compound. Those left standing - now apparently insane with anger - ran at the fortress battering its walls with their fists. Many had tears pouring down their faces.
Still no shots from the Iraqis and still no sign of the man with the AK47 who the US later claimed had let off a shot at the convoy.
I counted at least four or five soldiers with binoculars staring at the crowd for weapons but we saw no guns amongst the injured or dropped on the ground.
A local told us the crowd would turn on foreigners so we left and went to the hospital.
There, half an hour later, another chanting mob was carrying an open coffin of one of the dead, chanting "Islam, Islam, Islam, death to the Americans".
We left when we were spat at by a wailing woman dressed in black robes.
US troops had been accused of a bloody massacre over the killings of the 13 Iraqis outside the school on Monday. Three of the dead were said to be boys under 11.
At least 75 locals were injured in a 30-minute gun battle after soldiers claimed they were shot at by protesters.
Demonstrators claimed they were trying to reclaim the school from the Americans who had occupied it as a military HQ.
The crowd had defied a night-time curfew to carry out the protest.
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