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U.S. Troop Deaths Offend Some in Iraq

November 24, 2003

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) _ The killings of two U.S. soldiers, who were dragged from their car and pummeled with rocks, offended some in this neighborhood of dilapidated houses and potholed streets where the deaths occurred. But few Iraqis were shocked by the brutality, and some even gloated.

``They are occupiers, and this is their punishment,″ truck driver Hisham Abed said Monday of the soldiers. ``The Americans make nothing but empty promises. There’s no electricity, no gasoline and no work.″

Gunmen ambushed a U.S. patrol here Monday, wounding one soldier. Nevertheless, Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, was been among the safest areas for American soldiers, a place where U.S. troops could stroll bustling streets and frequent stores and cafes.

Armed attacks have been fewer in Mosul than in the volatile ``Sunni Triangle″ to the south. Commerce flourishes, and Iraqis feel safe enough to venture out at night to a far greater extent than their countrymen in Baghdad and other cities.

However, anti-American feeling still simmers beneath the surface. It exploded Sunday, when assailants shot two U.S. soldiers driving through the working class neighborhood of Ras al-Jadda, sending their vehicle crashing into a wall.

An Iraqi mob, most of them teenagers, dragged two bloodied soldiers from the car, threw them to the ground and pummeled their bodies with concrete blocks, according to witnesses, describing a burst of savagery reminiscent of that in Somalia a decade ago.

A few accounts said the soldiers’ throats were cut _ either by the attackers or by the mob. But one witness, teenager Bahaa Jassim, said the wounds appeared to have come from bullets.

Still, the violence didn’t set well with everyone in Mosul.

``We have our beliefs. It’s not right to maim dead bodies, even if they were our enemy’s,″ mechanic Ahmed Yaseen said. ``We’re a free people and we want freedom.... But if they (the Americans) leave, the law of the jungle will prevail.″

Others, however, had little sympathy for the Americans.

``They kill people and barge in on families at night,″ Abdullah al-Mulla, who works in a gas station, said of U.S. forces. ``If an American came to my house at night and took me away in front of my children, I would have to take revenge.″

Such feelings are deeply held in a culture steeped in traditions of vendetta. Revenge killing is considered a moral act, even if the victim had committed no offense and was marked for death simply because of his identity.

``This is normal. If someone is killed his family has to take revenge,″ said Abed, the truck driver. ``The Americans kill people by mistake and then apologize the next day. This doesn’t work here.″

Such opinions underscore the deep-seated problems facing the U.S. occupation as it seeks to win over the Iraqi population with aid projects and promises of a better future.

Because Mosul has been relatively calm, the 101st Airborne Division has been able to focus on improving infrastructure and the quality of life to a greater extent than military units elsewhere, which face a more serious insurgency threat.

Nevertheless, attacks against Americans and Iraqis who cooperate with them have been steadily increasing in Mosul. Late Saturday, Col. Abdul-Salam Qanbar, who was in charge of police who protect oil installations, was gunned down while heading to a mosque with his 8-year-old son.

Two weeks ago, 17 soldiers were killed when two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Mosul; it remains unclear whether they were hit by hostile fire. It was the largest loss of American lives in a single incident since the Iraq war began March 20.

Previously, the people of Mosul have not endured the frequent armed raids, intrusive searches and other measures that have outraged Iraqis in cities like Tikrit, Fallujah and Baqouba.

Nevertheless, many Iraqis with no firsthand experience with the Americans are keenly aware _ through friends, relatives or television _ of raids and accidental shootings during the U.S. occupation.

Some Iraqi and U.S. officials blame the Arab media for focusing on bad news from Iraq. After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, many Iraqis bought satellite dishes to take advantage of the new freedom to watch international broadcasts.

On Monday, Iraq’s Governing Council warned Arabic language media to avoid reports which incite violence and ordered the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite television station to stop reporting from Baghdad until it agrees not to ``encourage terrorism.″

``I would like to you know that we are serious in fighting terrorism and the Governing Council will exert more efforts,″ Jalal Talabani, current head of the council, told reporters. ``We will have an active political, media and military role against terrorism.″

Also Monday, a Sunni Muslim religious leader called on U.S. forces and resistance groups to observe a one-week cease-fire to allow the Iraqis to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan this week, media reports said.

Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Iraq’s Sunni endowments, appealed to guerrillas to cease operations for a week and also called coalition troops to stop raiding houses and chasing locals. His comments were broadcast by Arab satellite channels.

Near the northern city of Kirkuk, an oil pipeline was on fire Monday. Ghazi al-Talabani, chief regional security coordinator for the Northern Oil Co., said the fire was ``another of the acts of sabotage to which our oil pipeline has been subject.″

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