American Marines shot and wounded an Iraqi man in the former flashpoint city of Fallujah believing he was throwing a grenade at them, the US military said today — but local police and witnesses said the object was only the man's slipper.
During a joint patrol of US Marines and Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, the man "threw an object, believed to be a grenade" at the passing troops on Wednesday afternoon, according to a US military statement.
"US forces fired in self-defense, wounding the attacker," the military said. "The convoy stopped, secured the area and began to render medical aid."
The man, Ahmed al-Jumaili, was rushed to a local hospital and was in stable condition there Thursday after being treated for a chest wound and two bullet grazes.
Although the incident came just a day after the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush was released from prison, al-Jumaili said he took off his leather slipper and threw it in a knee-jerk reaction to seeing the patrol.
"When I saw Americans patrolling the streets of Fallujah I lost my temper, I don't want to see them in Fallujah," he told The Associated Press. "Troops have withdrawn from cities so why they still patrolling here in Fallujah?"
Under the US-Iraqi security agreement, American forces ceased operating on their own in cities and towns earlier this summer but still go on joint patrols. The agreement calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all US troops by the end of the following year.
The US military did not say in its statement what the thrown object was, and in response to a request for clarification said the object had not been recovered.
"The Marines who saw the object thrown at the vehicle identified it as a grenade," spokeswoman 1st Lt. Rachel Beatty said. "Because the suspected grenade was not recovered, we do not know why it had failed to function."
However, a Fallujah police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the press, said al-Jumaili had only thrown his slipper.
Shopkeeper Ammar Hussein, who knows al-Jumaili, said he witnessed the incident.
"I saw him throw his shoe while the US soldier was looking at him," Hussein said, adding that the act was out of character for al-Jumaili. "He was always so calm, I never saw him behaving strangely."
Al-Jumaili, a 30-year-old auto mechanic, said he ran after throwing his slipper, but was slowed after a bullet grazed his leg.
"More bullets were fired and one hit me from behind and went through my chest, and I fell down," he said from the hospital, surrounded by his mother and other family members.
The US military said the Marines' response was "done in compliance with the security agreement between the US and Iraq which authorizes US forces to take appropriate action in self-defense."
Elsewhere in Iraq, a suicide car bomber hit a police checkpoint west of the northern city of Mosul, killing three civilians and injuring three policemen, provincial police said.
Also in the north, in the Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah, a worker with a Norwegian aid agency who had been abducted was found alive, the agency said.
Soran Coste was found early in the morning after being reported missing Monday, Norwegian People's Aid said in a statement on their website. He "shows obvious signs of physical abuse" and is receiving medical treatment, the group said.
NPA said it had no details on what happened to Coste or who was behind the abduction. But the statement said Coste, who runs human rights and democracy programs in the region for the Norwegian group, has had his home vandalized and has received death threats in the past.