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US Forces Apologize for Baghdad Flag Incident - 2003-08-14

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, says U.S. troops have apologized for removing an Islamic flag that was near a mosque in Baghdad. One demonstrator was killed during the Wednesday incident and several were wounded.

A statement distributed in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City said American forces "deeply regret" what happened, and describes the incident as a mistake. U.S. authorities say a blast of air from a Blackhawk helicopter accidentally blew down an Islamic banner that was on a water tower near a mosque.

According to the military, a crowd of about 3,000 angry protesters pelted some U.S. soldiers with stones, and fired guns and a rocket propelled grenade at them. No U.S. casualties were reported in the incident.

The military says the soldiers returned fire in the predominantly Shiite Muslim enclave, and one protester was killed.

A neighborhood council has called for mass prayers on Friday over the incident and has demanded that U.S. troops leave the area.

This was the first violent encounter between U.S. troops and Shiite Muslims in Baghdad. Although Shiites make up around 60 percent of Iraq's population, they had little political power under the regime of Saddam Hussein and were often subjected to persecution.

U.S. military officials say that recently there have been an average of 12 attacks on U.S. forces every day throughout Iraq. They blame most of the violence on people loyal to the former Saddam Hussein regime.