Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two US Troops Killed By Iraqi Soldier - But Why?

By Cernig

Here's a story getting a lot of play from various news outlets today - an Iraqi soldier shot and killed two US servicemen in Mosul, Iraq. It's the first known case of an intentional killing of American troops by an Iraqi soldier since the 2003 invasion.
. The AP, Reuters and others are all carrying the story, as Smintheus notes in a roundup of the coverage at DKos today.

The NY Times has the fullest version of events as currently being put out by the Iraqi Army:
In what would be the first publicly disclosed case of an Iraqi Army soldier deliberately killing American servicemen since the 2003 invasion, two American soldiers were apparently shot on purpose last month by an Iraqi soldier on patrol with them in the northern city of Mosul, senior Iraqi officers said on Saturday.

The killings occurred the day after Christmas as a joint American-Iraqi patrol was setting up a combat outpost in a dangerous neighborhood of western Mosul. Gunmen hiding in a building and in a car opened fire on the patrol, the Iraqi officers said. During the brief firefight, one of the Iraqi soldiers turned his weapon on his unsuspecting American allies, they said.

The Iraqi soldier is suspected of killing Capt. Rowdy J. Inman and Sgt. Benjamin B. Portell, and also wounding three other American soldiers and one civilian interpreter, according to the American military command in Baghdad. No Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded, according to one Iraqi commander.

The Iraqi soldier tried to flee the scene, but he was apprehended after being identified by other Iraqi soldiers, according to American military officials. Two Iraqi soldiers are now in custody in connection with the shootings, the military said, suggesting that the soldier may have been aided by at least one accomplice.

The soldier who shot the Americans was a turncoat tied to the insurgency, said Brig. Gen. Mutaa Habib al-Khazraji, a commander in the Iraqi Army’s Second Division in Mosul, in a telephone interview on Saturday. During the firefight, he “seized the opportunity” and fired on the American soldiers, killing two of them, the general said, adding that the Iraqi soldier “was an infiltrator.”
That's pretty much the version being accepted by all the media outlets - even though the US military itself is still saying that the circumstances around the shooting are unclear.
The American military said the motives for the shooting “are as yet unknown.” Maj. Gary Dangerfield, an American military spokesman in Mosul, confirmed that two Iraqi soldiers are now being held at an undisclosed location in Iraq and that investigators are examining possible insurgent links.

“From everything we have right now, we feel pretty confident that we have the right guy,” Major Dangerfield said, based on eyewitness statements from other Iraqi and American soldiers. “The motive behind what he did or how close he was to any insurgent activity is still unclear. We continue to look into every nook and cranny of this investigation.”

He said the Iraqi commander of the Second Army Division ordered an “immediate stand-down of the unit” and cooperated with the investigation. “We will not let this tragic isolated incident hinder our partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces and keep us from establishing security in our area of operation,” he said.
The US military had originally only said that the two Americans were killed by “small arms fire during dismounted combat operations” and didn't speak about the circumstances at all until Reuters led with the Iraqi Army's version.

However, on the partisan Sunni Arab side of the street there's a rather different story. There, they name the Iraqi soldier - probably a Sunni in the predominantly Shiite military - as one Caesar Saadi and say that he shot the two soldiers because:
An American soldier at one point began to beat and kick a pregnant Iraqi woman, prompting the Iraqi...soldier to try to intervene. The confrontation between him and the American escalated to gunfire when Sa‘di, the “National Guard” soldier opened fire on the American and his companions.
They also say that graffiti and leaflets have begun appearing in Mosul saying "well done, Caesar".

The only reason it appears this contrary tale doesn't appear in Western reporting of the incident is that no-one hunkered in the Green Zone bothered to look beyond the version put out by the Iraqi authorities. However, if U.S. military investigations into the incident were also examining such allegations then that would explain both the initial US reluctance to give out too many details or indeed to follow the Iraqi official version too closely now.

Let me make this clear - I find the Sunni insurgency version being given space by Iraqi papers neither more nor less credible than the official Iraqi military version. Such things have been accused before and on separate occasions have turned out both to be real happenings and fictitious propaganda. However, there have been coverups by both Iraqi and US authorities on some of the occasions when such allegations proved to be true in the past. I hope and mostly believe (in a "trust but verify" way) that isn't happening here - maybe Bob Owens can exploit his enviable connections with MNF-I to find out, in which case we bloggers can add another aspect to the story.

No, what I mean to highlight is that an important story with a massively negative potential "hearts and minds" impact has been missed by a Western media confined to the relative safety of imbeds and Green Zone reliance on stringers. The best way to deal with that potential is to acknowledge and cover the version in the Iraqi Sunni press and, should it be debunked, to say so loudly and with voluminous proof. Should it prove true, on the other hand, ignoring it will not make its impact disappear from the streets of Mosul.

Update Jan 6th The Iraqi and US militaries have denied the accusations, according to the WaPo:
In a statement released Saturday night, an anti-American Sunni group identified the Iraqi soldier as Qaisar Saadi al-Jubory and said he shot the Americans after their unit refused to stop beating a pregnant woman. "We do what we want," the Iraqi said the U.S. troops told him, according to the statement, which was posted on the Association of Muslim Scholars Web site.

Iraqi and American officials said there did not appear to be any basis to accusations that the U.S. soldiers had mistreated Iraqi civilians. "It is baseless and untrue," Khazraji said.

"There is no indication of anything like that," said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. "He just did it, and it's not clear what his motivation was. It appears to have been a total surprise."
The US denial is rather less unequivocal than the Iraqi one, and investigations continue.

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