Baghdad -- Three men in an unmarked sedan pulled up near the headquarters of the
national police major crimes unit. The two passengers, wearing traditional Arab
dishdasha gowns, stepped from the car.
At the same moment, a U.S. military convoy emerged from an underpass. Apparently
believing the men were staging an ambush, the Americans fired, killing one passenger
and wounding the other. The sedan's driver was hit in the head by two bullet
The soldiers drove on without stopping.
Such shootings are far from rare in Baghdad, but the driver of the car was
no ordinary casualty. He was police Brig. Gen. Majeed Farraji, chief of the
major crimes unit. His passengers were unarmed hitchhikers whom he was dropping
off on his way to work.
"The reason they shot us is just because the Americans are reckless,"
the general said from his hospital bed hours after the July 6 shooting, his
head wrapped in a white bandage. "Nobody punishes them or blames them."
Angered by the growing number of unarmed civilians killed by U.S. troops in
recent weeks, the Iraqi government criticized the shootings and called on U.
S. troops to exercise greater care.
U.S. officials repeatedly have declined requests to disclose the number of
civilians killed in such incidents. Baghdad police say they have received reports
that U.S. forces killed 33 unarmed civilians and injured 45 in the capital between
May 1 and July 12 -- an average of nearly one fatality every two days. This
does not include incidents that occurred elsewhere in the country or were not
reported to the police.
The victims have included doctors, journalists, a professor -- the kind of
people the United States is counting on to help build an open and democratic
The continued shooting of civilians is undermining efforts to convince the
public that U.S. soldiers are here to help.
"Of course, the shootings will increase support for the opposition,"
said Farraji, 49, who was named a police general with U.S. approval. "The
hatred of the Americans has increased. I myself hate them."
Among the biggest threats U.S. forces face are suicide attacks. Soldiers are
exposed as they stand watch at checkpoints or ride on patrol in the turrets
of their humvees. The willingness of the assailants to die makes the attacks
difficult to guard against. By their nature, the bombings erode the troops'
trust of the public; every civilian becomes suspect.
U.S. military officials say the troops must protect themselves by shooting
the driver of any suspicious vehicle before it reaches them.
A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
said "making no new enemies" is one of the military's priorities.
At the same time, he said, "it's still a combat zone. There are going to
be times when what the soldier needs to do and what the civilian feels he should
be able to do come into conflict."
Heavily armed private security contractors, who number in the tens
of thousands, also are authorized by the U.S. government to use deadly force
to protect themselves.
One contractor who works for the U.S. government said it was better
to shoot an innocent person than to risk being killed. "I'd rather be tried
by 12 than carried by six," said the contractor, who insisted that he not
be identified by name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The U.S. military says it investigates all shootings by American personnel
that result in death. But U.S. Brig. Gen. Don Alston, spokesman for the multinational
force in Iraq, said he was unaware of any soldier disciplined for shooting a
civilian at a checkpoint or in traffic. Findings are seldom made public.
Military checkpoints -- elaborate affairs with mazes of concrete barriers,
razor wire and snipers' nests -- have been set up at intersections all over
Baghdad. Signs are posted in English and Arabic saying, "Deadly Force Authorized."
Cars that approach too quickly risk being fired upon by troops who shoot to
At times, troops set up temporary checkpoints during raids or other military
operations. These can be even more dangerous for civilians because they can
appear on city streets without warning.
Military convoys, usually made up of three humvees, patrol the streets. For
troops, it is among the most hazardous places to be.
The military expects all vehicles to stay at least 100 yards from a convoy.
When cars come too close, troops signal them to move back, sometimes by waving
a little stop sign and sometimes by holding up a clenched fist. Iraqis say the
fist can be easy to miss.
The U.S. rules of engagement call for "escalation of force" when
a vehicle comes too close. Soldiers are trained to give hand and arm signals
first, then fire warning shots and ultimately shoot to kill, the senior U.S.
"Nothing in the rules of engagement takes away the right of self-defense
for him and his buddies if the soldier feels threatened," he said. More
than 1, 800 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq theater since the March 2003 invasion.
According to one European diplomat, the American military's emphasis on protecting
its troops has made U.S. soldiers more likely to kill and injure civilians than
are other members of the coalition, such as the British, who are stationed in