VOA Correspondent Laurie Kassman is in Fallujah, Iraq, where U.S. troops are accused again of opening fire on a crowd of Iraqi civilians. She is interviewed here by Al Webb at VOA London.
Webb: Laurie Kassman, we are having reports that there has been another incident involving U.S. troops allegedly firing into a crowd in Fallujah, the second time in a couple of days. Can you give us an updated rundown on the situation as you see it from Fallujah?
Kassman: Yes, I am in Fallujah now, and I spoke with Lieutenant Colonel Tobin Green, who said there was a demonstration, a small demonstration, and there has been since Monday, in front of a compound next to a police station where the American troops are. The demonstrators were peaceful and then it escalated, he said, becoming more violent in the sense that they were throwing stones and rocks and shoes at the Americans.
In part, protesting because of the shooting incident on Monday, but also because they want the presence of U.S. troops in the town reduced. They see them as a provocation. Then what happened a small convoy of army vehicles passed on the street behind the demonstration, about six army vehicles. And they said that several shots were fired. It is not clear, at this point, that the convoy and the convoy fired back. And the mayor of the town says now that there are at least two dead and 14 injured.
Webb: Were there any further injuries in addition to the dead that have been taken to the hospital?
Kassman: So far we only have 14. One injury is critical. The hospital director says that he is brain-dead and he does not expect him to survive. So, there may be as many as four dead and more than a dozen injured. The first incident on Monday was outside a school, which was next to a mosque. And the mayor of the town says that they have asked the soldiers to pull back from the mosque areas to allow the worshipers, the Muslims, to get into the mosque to pray. And it is not appropriate for non-Muslims to be located so close to the mosque. Now, the shooting incident at the school on Monday, the soldier said that they had been fired on in the compound, and they fired back, and there were several injuries just in that incident. Since then there was a protest on Tuesday during funerals for those who were killed. And the soldiers, the American soldiers, now have pulled out of the school. They relocated.
And Colonel Green says that they are in constant communication. They have held meetings with the mayor and tribal elders of the town, Fallujah, to try to work out accommodations to help them bring back a sense of law and order. Colonel Green says that there are still elements that are loyal to Saddam Hussein, and he suggests that they may try to provoke some sort of reaction from the American soldiers. And he says that the most important thing at this point is to stabilize and secure the town.
Webb: Laurie, is there any indication as to whether there are any casualties among the American troops?
Kassman: There are no casualties. Colonel Green said that during the rock-throwing he told his troops to move back inside the compound, to move away from the outside areas, to avoid provocation, and to protect themselves. And he says, as far as he knows, there have been no injuries.
Webb: How long did the demonstration and difficulties last this time? We understand there was a crowd of about a thousand Iraqis involved.
Kassman: There was a small demonstration held a few hours after the incident. And they were shouting: Americans, go home. We do not shoot at you. Do not shoot at us. Saddam is bad. Americans are bad. You must remember that Fallujah is considered a stronghold of Saddam supporters. So this is a very tense and delicate situation for the American troops.
Webb: Laurie, what is the situation now as you can see it on the ground there?
Kassman: I am standing in front of the compound where the incident happened. There was a small demonstration that, now, has dispersed. There are groups of men standing on the other side of the street, but it is quiet. It is calm and the colonel in charge of the unit here has been in communication with the mayor and tribal elders to try to work out a system to maintain the calm. And the problem is allowing demonstrations, but not to the point to where they deteriorate into such incidents.