Deadly Clash Raises Tensions In North


By David Filipov

Boston Globe
April 17, 2003

Iraq's largest northern city teetered on the brink of violent anarchy yesterday after a second straight day of deadly clashes between American troops and Iraqi civilians in Mosul killed three people and wounded 11. American helicopters prowled the skies over Mosul, swooping low over neighborhoods and roadways in an attempt to show that US forces controlled the city. But on the ground American patrols were rare, and much of Mosul was a dangerous no-man's land.

As with Tuesday's lethal firefight outside Mosul's city government office, in which at least seven Iraqis died when American troops opened fire, confusion surrounded the circumstances of yesterday's shootout at a central marketplace. Iraqi police, who have begun working with coalition troops to help keep order, said they fired in the air to stop a bank robbery. In the confusion that ensued, the policemen said, the Americans opened fire at them. But American Marines said unidentified gunmen on top of a building across a park had shot at them and they had returned fire. Mohammed Rabih Sheet, an administrator at Mosul's Republican Hospital, said three people were killed and 11 wounded yesterday, including two children. Hospital officials said 14 people were killed in Tuesday's gun battle in Mosul.

The violence stoked tensions in the already volatile city of roughly 1 million people, where the Sunni Arab majority has blamed widespread looting and arson on Kurdish fighters who occupied Mosul when Saddam Hussein's forces surrendered last week. Predominantly Arab neighborhoods on the west bank of the Tigris River now sport numerous Iraqi tricolors. Kurds, brutally persecuted under Hussein's regime, harbor grievances against the Arabs and claim Mosul as part of their historic territory. Their leaders' portraits and bright yellow flags dominate Kurd neighborhoods.

Adding to the mayhem and disunity is the apparent presence in Mosul of still-active units of Fedayeen Saddam militia who take potshots at coalition troops, as well as armed neighborhood vigilantes, who fire at will on anyone suspected of looting. To reduce tensions, the coalition has moved Kurdish fighters out of the predominantly Arabic western part of the city, across the Tigris into eastern Mosul, which is 70 percent Kurdish.

But what is known about Tuesday's shooting suggests that it is the US presence in Mosul that causes much of the tension. Some Mosul residents appear to believe that the US troops are in their city to protect themselves, and not the civilian population here. ''They want to make people afraid,'' said Omar Farouk al Safi, as a US helicopter buzzed his house in a prestigious southern Mosul neighborhood. ''If they want to be here for a long time, they have to change their plan.''

At US Central Command in Qatar yesterday, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said Tuesday's bloodshed occurred as American forces were trying to secure a government building. Brooks said that the troops were greeted by an angry mob that threw rocks at them, hit them with fists and elbows, and spat at them. He said an Iraqi ambulance with loudspeakers arrived later and began urging on the crowd, which turned over a car and set it on fire. Brooks said the US troops fired warning shots after they saw some people in the crowd fire weapons into the air. He said the Americans fired at people in the crowd only when they were shot at. ''It was lethal fire, and some Iraqis were killed as a result of that,'' Brooks said. Iraqis said the crowd became angry during a speech by the city's American-installed governor-general, Mashaan al Jebouri.

Many Mosul Iraqis recall that Jebouri, who heads a prominent tribe in the region, had a close relationship with Hussein's family, and resent that the Americans have chosen him. ''The people of Mosul thought that Americans were defending Mashaan, and they were shocked by it,'' Safi said. ''If they are right, there will be many troubles in Mosul.'' For his part, Jebouri accused US forces of exacerbating the situation by raising the American flag over the city government building. ''When people saw the US forces enter the [government] building and raise the American flag, they seethed and started stoning the US forces,'' Jebouri told al-Jazeera yesterday. ''I was standing in the middle of protesters. I tried to calm them.'' Despite the havoc, Jebouri said Mosul was now safe. ''There is security, electricity, water, policemen,'' he said. ''Things are back to normal.''

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