FALLUJAH, Iraq – American soldiers who mistakenly killed eight Iraqi policemen and a Jordanian guard this month had been in this turbulent city for only one day and were in the midst of a handover from one military unit to another, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
According to these officials, confusion and inexperience may have contributed to the Sept. 12 killings, the worst "friendly fire (search)" incident since major hostilities were declared over May 1.
Capt. Jimmy Cummings, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division's (search) headquarters in Fort Bragg, N.C., dismissed any suggestion that the soldiers — who had been in Iraq for a week — were ill-prepared.
"They did receive training. They had just gotten back from Afghanistan and before they deployed to Afghanistan they had training and before they went back they got the training again," Cummings said. He said the second round of training had been refined with lessons learned in Afghanistan and the Iraq conflict.
The Sept. 12 killings stoked tensions in the city.
Taha Bedawi, the U.S.-backed mayor of Fallujah (search), said U.S. military officials have asked to meet with Fallujah's tribal chiefs and dignitaries to try to defuse the anger that has swept the city of 200,000 people.
He said the meeting, tentatively scheduled for later this week, will also decide on a financial settlement known in Arabic as "diya," or blood money, to be paid to the families of the victims.
The 82nd Airborne has had a checkered history in Fallujah, one of the cities in the "Sunni Triangle" where hostility toward the United States is most intense.
In April, soldiers from the division fired on protesters on two successive days, killing 18 and injuring 78. U.S. troops had withdrawn to a base outside the city in July and had been turning over security duties to local police. The U.S. military at the time said the troops were fired at first in the April incident, but Iraqi witnesses denied this.
On Wednesday night in Fallujah, an American patrol opened fire at a wedding, killing a 14-year-old boy and wounding six other people after mistaking celebratory gunfire for an attack, witnesses said.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said the military was investigating and could not confirm that a boy was killed.
After the April shooting, the military agreed to pay $2,500 to the families of the dead and $500 to those of the wounded. Bedawi, however, said only $1,500 of the $2,500 promised for each of the families of those killed had so far been paid. He suggested that $2,500 per family may not be enough for families of the eight policemen killed this month.
"The compensation must be appropriate. These families have nothing and $2,500 is not an acceptable sum," he said.
The U.S.-led coalition has apologized for the Sept. 12 incident and appointed a senior officer, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser of the 101st Airborne Division, to investigate it. The 101st is based in the northern city of Mosul.
The 82nd Airborne troops involved in the latest friendly fire incident were not the same as those who took part in the April shooting, a Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said that the men had only recently arrived in Iraq.
The latest incident, which took place just outside Fallujah, happened during a three-day handover period between the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne, a U.S. military spokesman told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The 82nd airborne was first deployed in the Gulf region in February and fought its way north from Kuwait along with other U.S. units. The 82nd units that served in Fallujah in April and May came from the division's 2nd Brigade. Those serving in Fallujah now are from the 2nd Brigade as well as the 3rd Brigade. The latter arrived in Iraq this month.
Cummings, the 82nd airborne spokesman in Fort Bragg, said the soldiers posted to Iraq this month had experience in Afghanistan.
"Those guys did similar missions in Afghanistan," Cummings said. "They've had the real world experience in Afghanistan." Of their training, he said: "It deals with rules of engagement, some of which is classified, dealing with civilians on the battlefield and also cultural awareness classes."
The policemen were killed while chasing a white BMW thought to be used by highway bandits. The Iraqi police gave up the chase when the BMW got away. As they made their way back to Fallujah, they came under fire from U.S. soldiers.
The shooting happened in front of the Jordanian hospital, which also came under fire from the Americans. Survivors said the Americans fired at them for at least 30 minutes despite their screams in both English and Arabic that they were police.
Some took off their identity arm bands and waved them in the air for the Americans to see them, but to no avail. None of the 25 policemen and members of the Fallujah Protection Force (search) returned fire, witnesses and survivors said.
The U.S. military said the American troops were fired at first and Bedawi, the mayor, told the AP that there were unconfirmed witness reports that passengers in the BMW fired at the soldiers as they sped past them.
The investigation, which will be detailed in a public report, will look at what was done to calm the situation and whether the handover led to confusion over the policemen's identity.