American soldiers kill two Iraqis protesting over pay

Click to follow
The Independent Online

American soldiers killed two protesters, demonstrating against the disbandment of the Iraqi army, outside the gates of the main United States headquarters in central Baghdad yesterday amid signs of increasing Iraqi opposition to the US occupation.

Several hours later, gunmen in a car killed one American soldier and wounded another as they guarded a petrol station. Mohammed Abbas, a witness, said: "We think they deserved it. We admire the bravery of those who attacked them."

The demonstrators outside the Republican Palace, once Saddam Hussein's main palace and now the headquarters of L. Paul Bremer, the US chief administrator, were unemployed former soldiers, mostly officers, in the 350,000-strong Iraq army dissolved by Mr Bremer several weeks ago.

Ryad Abdul Wahab, drawing up his shirt to show the stump of his right arm as he marched to the demonstration, said: "I was wounded ... in the fighting at the airport during the war and now I can get no pension. How can I survive?" Many officers said they had nothing to live on and were being punished, though they had refused to fight for Saddam Hussein.

The protesters had gathered outside the arched gate of the US headquarters, beside the bombed-out Planning Ministry, when a military police convoy drove up. Demonstrators banged on the sides of the vehicles and a US spokesman said stones were thrown. Soldiers then opened fire killing two men and wounding two others.

"We did not fight for Saddam but we will fight for our children," said Major Kassim Ali, formerly an artillery officer. He said they wanted back pay, pensions and the re-establishment of the army. He added: "If a country has no army it cannot be independent." Other officers threatened suicide attacks on American soldiers.

Many of the officers were old and only nominally part of Saddam Hussein's armed forces, but were not allowed to retire by the previous regime. Others said that during the war, US planes had dropped leaflets on them promising fair treatment if they did not fight. Mr Bremer's disbandment of the regular army, the least politicised of Iraq's numerous security agencies, has been criticised by Iraqis and foreign observers for the social dislocation it has caused, though he has promised to create a new, much smaller army of 40,000 men.

The shooting of the demonstrators appears to be part of a pattern under which the US army responds to any dissent.

Its use of massive firepower is creating increased anger among people in Baghdad. At Mahdia petrol station, near Daura power plant, where the pavement was still stained with the blood of the wounded US soldier, a bystander, who would not give his name, said: "Nobody cares when an Iraqi civilian is killed but as soon as an American dies there are lots of helicopters flying about overhead."

There is no sign that many Iraqis would like the return of Saddam Hussein, but the dozen people who witnessed the attack on the US soldiers guarding the petrol station were unanimous in saying they approve of it. "We will celebrate by cooking a chicken," said one man and another added: "God willing there will be more actions like this."

The mood in the capital has become increasingly angry over the past 10 days, partly because of the shortage of electricity, which means that during the torrid heat of the Iraqi summer most people have no air conditioning or refrigerators to prevent food rotting.