MUSHAHIDAH, Iraq – When a convoy of 4th Infantry Division (search) soldiers was caught in an ambush on Sunday, the soldiers opened fire to protect themselves and an Iraqi civilian bus was caught in the crossfire, the military said a day after the incident.
The communique said six soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, as the convoy passed through this agricultural town 22 miles north of Baghdad (search). It said the number of casualties on the bus was not known.
But the bus driver, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Ali, 25, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he was passing a convoy of six or seven vehicles when he heard an explosion and the Americans fired wildly on the bus and on the roadside. Witnesses agreed with his account.
Seven people on the bus were wounded, at least one of them by U.S. gunfire, in addition to a bystander on the roadside, said the witnesses and the driver.
The conflicting versions speak to the differences between the dry language of a military communique about the actions of American troops and the impassioned stories from Iraqis caught in the crossfire.
"An enemy individual fired a rocket-propelled grenade at 4th Infantry Division soldiers during an ambush June 15, hitting a civilian bus that was passing a military convoy near the town of Mushahidah," the communique said.
"Units from Task Force Ironhorse returned fire to protect the convoy and the civilian bus. Supporting units from Task Force Ironhorse responded to assist the people on the bus however, the bus was moved while the soldiers were traveling to its location. The soldiers searched the ambush location but did not find the bus."
But Salah al-Mashadani, who owns a refreshment stand about 300 feet form the ambush site, said that after the explosion "the vehicles kept driving and the soldiers kept shooting to the left and to the right."
"We had nothing to do with this. We were just passing this place. Why should they attack people when they don't know who is responsible?" said Ali, the bus driver, his neck bandaged from a graze by a bullet.
The drink vendor said everyone along the road took cover behind trees. But bullets from the convoy penetrated the thin walls of the sand-brick houses of this semi-rural area, he said.
In one home, five bullets punched through the wall and knocked out a refrigerator, just inches from an incapacitated old woman who could not rise from her place on the floor to run away.