Iraqi protesters killed in clash with UK troops

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The Independent Online

Up to six people were killed and 11 wounded during clashes in Iraq between protesters demanding jobs and British soldiers and Iraqi police.

Up to six people were killed and 11 wounded during clashes in Iraq between protesters demanding jobs and British soldiers and Iraqi police.

The crowd, demanding jobs yesterday in the south-eastern town of Amarah, were reported to have lobbed homemade bombs and stones before they were fired on.

As crowds gathered again today, a dozen British soldiers with riot shields and batons guarded the mayor's office, which had its windows shattered yesterday. No Iraqi police were visible at the compound that also houses the US-led coalition and the 1st Battalion of Britain's Light Infantry.

The trouble in Amarah, 200 miles south-east of Baghdad, started when hundreds of Iraqis demanding jobs gathered in front of the coalition compound and started stoning the town hall, smashing windows.

As the protesters grew agitated, shots rang out from the crowd, a British military spokeswoman said. At the same time, troops "received reports of small explosions in the crowd."

Iraqi police, believing they were under attack, opened fire into the crowd but did not hit any protesters, she said. But witnesses said the police killed some protesters.

British soldiers moved in with armoured vehicles to support the police, and protesters hurled at least three explosive devices at them, she said.

Police Capt. Ali Jihad Hussein later described the devices as homemade bombs made of cans packed with explosive powder and nails with candlewick lighters.

One man "in the process of throwing a device" was shot dead by the soldiers, the spokeswoman said.

That death led the crowd to disperse. But some returned later and lobbed another five bombs at the armoured cars before tensions eased. Soldiers shot a second attacker and apparently wounded him, the spokeswoman said.

Six people were killed and at least 11 wounded, according to Dr. Saad Hamoud of the Al-Zahrawi Surgical Hospital. The British said they had reports of five deaths and one injury. The soldiers and police had no casualties.

Later Saturday, militants among the protesters looted a new clinic behind the mayor's office, stealing some cabinets, desks and chairs.

Earlier, US officials acknowledged American soldiers shot and killed two Iraqi policemen who failed to identify themselves, and the military said a US Army medevac helicopter that crashed last week near Fallujah, killing all nine soldiers aboard, was probably shot down.

The US shooting of the policemen occurred Friday after paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade responded to a report of "family fighting" in the northern city of Kirkuk.

Paratroopers spotted two men wearing long coats firing into a house, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division. The men fled as the troops approached and were joined by a third man, she said.

"The soldiers verbally warned the three to stop and then fired warning shots," Aberle said. "The men refused to comply and the soldiers took a defensive position and fired," killing two of them and detaining the third.

All were found to be Iraqi policemen, Aberle said. The US military is investigating why they refused to identify themselves.

North of the capital, the US military said it was investigating allegations that soldiers killed four Iraqi civilians who tried to pass a convoy of Humvees this month in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Elsewhere, Danish and Icelandic troops uncovered a cache of 36 shells buried in the Iraqi desert, and preliminary tests showed they contained a liquid blister agent, the Danish military said Saturday.

The 120mm mortar shells were thought to be leftovers from the eight-year war between Iraq and neighboring Iran, which ended in 1988, said Kimmitt.

The shells were found by Danish engineering troops and Icelandic de-miners near Al Quarnah, north of the city of Basra where Denmark's 410 troops are based, the Danish Army Operational Command said in a statement.

The shells were wrapped in plastic but some had leaked and they appeared to have been buried for at least 10 years, it said.

Before the war, the United States alleged Iraq still had stockpiles of mustard gas, a World War I-era blister agent stored in liquid form. US intelligence officials also claimed Iraq had sarin, cyclosarin and VX, which are extremely deadly nerve agents.

In the weeks after the Iraq war, the US-led coalition found several caches that tested positive for mustard gas but later turned out to contain missile fuel or other chemicals. Other discoveries turned out to be old caches scheduled for destruction by United Nations inspectors.

Saddam's regime used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and killed an estimated 5,000 Kurdish civilians in a chemical attack on the northern city of Halabja in 1988.

US President George W. Bush said the United States was going to war to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but a nine-month search has failed to find any current stockpiles.

The lack of evidence has led critics to suggest the Bush administration either mishandled or exaggerated its knowledge of Iraq's alleged arsenal.

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