Saturday, April 19, 2003

"Unfortunately we killed the good guys"

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have lost their savings as a result of looting which has left the country without a single functioning bank. Millions face poverty in the absence of a government which can resume paying salaries to teachers, doctors, civil servants and factory workers.

According to the Independent article I linked in the headline, the U.S. waited until Thursday to deploy troops to protect banks from armed and dangerous looters, eight days after they had entered Baghdad centre.

Within hours of the marines' deployment at the bank, they shot dead three Iraqi men on the street with their tank's 7.62mm machine-guns. No one knows how many civilians have been shot by American soldiers in Baghdad in similar circumstances. The dead men were not connected with the people raiding the bank.

"Unfortunately, we killed the good guys," said Lieutenant Patrick Spencer, 35, of the US Marines 13/4 company, "We found that out later by looking at their ID. The marines on the guns are not at all happy about what happened."

Were these three men armed with rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s, knives and welding torches? It seems to me that would have been a very easy way to distinguish them from the real criminals, and if not armed, why were they mowed-down?

Update 4/22: According to this Independent article the men worked for Chalabi.

INC and American sources say the US Marines opened fire because of a misunderstanding. The men in the car, five in all, did not realise they were being told by the American troops to leave the area. Three were killed; two injured and taken by the Americans for treatment.

The marines say they fired a warning shot at the car but the driver, apparently panicking, slewed off in a different direction – driving across in front of the bank. The US troops opened up, with the Abrams' 7.62mm guns. The US Army has apologised, conceding unhappily that – as one marine put it – they "shot the good guys".

Mr Chalabi's spokesman, Zaab Sethna, said yesterday: "We were very unhappy about it. It happened before the 11pm curfew. Our people were on their way home. We have made a big noise about it to the Americans."

Of course another explanation would be that Chalabi's men were in fact looting the bank and the Marines didn't realise it was a 'coalition' operation.

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