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8 Iraqi Policemen Killed in US 'Friendly Fire' Incident - 2003-09-12

At least eight Iraqi security officers have reportedly been killed and about six wounded by U.S. troops near the town of Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.

The shooting in Fallujah is being called a friendly fire incident.

Witnesses say Iraqi security officers were pursuing a vehicle carrying suspected highway bandits, when they came close to a U.S. military checkpoint and were fired upon by mistake. The wounded were taken to a nearby Jordanian field hospital, which reportedly also came under fire during the incident. U.S. military officials in Baghdad said they are investigating.

U.S. officials say the American soldiers died in a firefight later in Ramadi, another 50 kilometers to the west. They say the troops were engaged in a pre-dawn raid, when they encountered armed resistance. U.S. troops have been raiding houses in the area in recent weeks, looking for weapons and for guerrillas, who almost daily have been attacking coalition forces in the region.

In a separate incident in Fallujah Friday, a U.S. soldier was wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle. Three American troops were wounded Thursday in the northern city of Mosul by a rocket-propelled-grenade, fired on their convoy.

Meanwhile, the new head of one of the leading Shiite Muslim political groups in Iraq, Ayatollah Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, has pledged to follow his predecessor's moderate policies. Ayatollah Abdel Aziz al-Hakim earlier this week replaced Ayatollah Mohamed Baqir al-Hakim, his brother, who was killed in a car bombing two weeks ago in Najaf.

Ayatollah Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, called on Iraqis to work together against supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime, who he said are the main cause of the crimes against Iraq.

Responding to reports that the U.S. government is asking Turkey to send thousands of troops to bolster coalition forces here, the ayatollah said he does not see the need for more foreign troops in Iraq. He said military forces are good for fighting other armies, but not for protecting civilians and their homes. He said Iraqis should provide their own security, and he called on the various local militias to protect the Iraqi people.

Coalition officials have given the Iraqi militias until Saturday to disarm or face arrest. Ayatollah Abdel Aziz al-Hakim did not say whether the Badr Brigade militia loyal to his group would lay down its arms. He said only that negotiations are under way to determine their role in the new Iraqi security apparatus.

The ayatollah said he understands that coalition forces are responsible for the security of Iraq at this time. But he called on them to change their methods, saying these will lead only to more deaths among both the coalition forces and the Iraqi people.