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US Confirms Reports of Iraq Shooting Incident that Left 13 Dead - 2003-04-29

The U.S. military confirms a shooting incident in which at least 13 people were killed and more than 70 injured late Monday in an Iraqi town west of Baghdad. The U.S. military and local residents have different versions of the incident.

While families buried those killed in Monday's shooting incident, demonstrators shouted for the U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

U.S. soldiers in Falluja say they returned fire late Monday when some armed men in an anti-U.S. demonstration shot at them. They say they also spotted snipers on a nearby rooftop. Local residents say the demonstrators were not armed.

U.S. Army Colonel Arnold Bray describes what the soldiers say happened. "They were initially a peaceful demonstration and they were just chanting and making comments. It changed a little bit when they started throwing rocks. Next thing they did was fire an AK-47 from the rear, but they were not firing at us yet. It changed when members of the crowd started firing their weapons towards the troopers," Colonel Bray said.

The soldiers are camped in one of the town's schools. Protesters were demanding the soldiers vacate the school so students to return to classes.

The shooting incident highlights the ongoing tension, particularly in towns like Falluja, which was a Saddam Hussein stronghold. One resident told reporters the demonstrators were carrying Iraqi flags and portraits of the ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to celebrate his 66th birthday on Monday.

The following is a transcript of comments made in the interview of Lt. Col. Eric Nantz in Falluja on the shooting incident there:

"I think there was a misunderstanding that occurred but I can tell you that we have a loudspeaker truck with a loudspeaker. You know, you've seen on American television certainly we have protests and their right to speak is something that we honour, we would prefer and exchanges like we just had here I think are good and healthy for the building of a new Iraq but certainly not with the firing of automatic weapons or with the throwing of grenades and stones. Once U.S. soldiers lives are threatened that freedom of speech no longer, that's not the right form any longer for the voice of freedom."

"The problem and that what I was trying to explain to them, that blood, to my belief, is on the hands of those who were firing the weapons at U.S. and coalition forces. When they decided to aim their weapons at this building and the soldiers that were on this building, it's those individuals that fired those weapons and that's who we returned fire on were those with weapons not the crowd that was there although the crowd was hostile."