British and American troops fired into crowds of rioting former Iraqi soldiers in Basra and Baghdad yesterday, killing one man in each city.
In both places unrest broke out as the ex-soldiers, out of a job since the Iraqi army was dissolved in May, were queuing for hours to collect a promised pay-off of $40 each. A British military spokesman, Major Simon Routledge, said that in the Basra incident a British soldier heard gunfire and then shot and killed an Iraqi holding a weapon. Troops also fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
In Baghdad hundreds of Iraqis threw stones and charged towards American soldiers, who fired in the air and beat them back with batons. "Get out of here. It is very dangerous," said a harassed Iraqi police officer as he stood beside the burned-out remains of a police car.
In the nearby Yarmuk hospital Hussein Hatem, an ex-soldier, was lying on a bed with an X-ray clutched to his chest showing that he had two bullets lodged in his thigh. "It started when one man went to get a drink of water after we had been queuing for five hours," said Mr Hatem. "The US soldiers wouldn't let him get back in the line and beat him and us with long batons and electric cattle prods. Then we started throwing stones at them and they fired back."
The riot shows how friction between Iraqis and occupation troops can easily explode into violence, even when the authorities hand out money with the aim of defusing tensions. A few hours earlier, an attack on American troops with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns left one US soldier dead and another wounded.
At one stage during the riot the ex-soldiers, all conscripts, began the old pro-Saddam chant: "With our spirit, with blood we will be your martyrs O Saddam." Walid Jabber, a by-stander, said bitterly: "I am a Shia from Nasiriyah, but I would like to bring back Saddam." Probably many of those chanting pro-Saddam slogans do so primarily to annoy the Americans, though it is unlikely that they knew what the ex-soldiers were shouting about.
In the wake of the riot, gangs of demonstrators roamed the prosperous al-Mansour suburb attacking drink stores, four of which were reported to have been burned out.
The thousands of Iraqi police recruited by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) have reduced the amount of looting and armed robbery in the capital, but the pin-prick guerrilla attacks are also becoming better organised. Members of the US-appointed Governing Council, fearful of assassination, are all living in heavily guarded houses.
A long line of 15ft high concrete slabs now protects Saddam's old Republican Palace, the CPA headquarters, where it overlooks the Tigris river. As under the old regime swimming in the river, an unhealthy pursuit in any case because of raw sewage, is once again forbidden because of fear of underwater saboteurs.