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IRAQ: U.S. forces shoot man in Fallouja

September 16, 2009 |  3:53 pm

An Iraqi man whom relatives described as psychologically troubled threw his shoe at a U.S. military convoy passing through the western city of Fallouja on Wednesday, witnesses said.

According to witnesses, an infantryman immediately shot the man, who was seriously wounded and taken to Fallouja’s general hospital.  

The incident illustrates the delicate balance between U.S. and Iraqi forces ahead of a total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of August 2010.  One miscalculation can lead to a death on either side, and carries the risk of an incident that could upset U.S.-Iraqi relations.

The U.S. military said someone had tossed an object, thought to be a grenade, at the convoy and that troops then shot the suspected assailant. 

However, locals said the man, Ahmed Abdul Latif, had thrown a shoe. "Ahmed took off his shoe and threw it at the patrol. As an immediate reaction, the soldier on the Humvee shot at him and the bullet hit him immediately and he dropped," said Ahmed Mukhlif, a laborer installing a water pipe at the time of the shooting.  Next, Mukhlif said, the four U.S. Humvees stopped and a man stepped out, his rifle pointed toward the wounded Iraqi, and a policeman intervened and prevented the American from firing again.

Mukhlif said  people had been surprised to see the American convoy appear on Fallouja’s main street around noon. An Iraqi security official said the convoy was accompanied by Iraqi police. Since June 30, U.S. troops have mostly been absent from cities under the terms of a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement signed late last year that called for combat troops to be positioned outside of population centers and called into action only with permission from the Iraqi side.

Latif’s brother Uday said his sibling, an auto mechanic, has suffered from psychological problems since 2004, when the U.S. launched two major offensives in Fallouja.

“The Americans are the reason that my brother's behavior changed,” Uday said.  “He hates the Americans madly and acts hysterically when he sees American Army patrols. However, he doesn’t know how to use weapons and has never thought about it once.”

Latif  was detained by the U.S. for a week in 2007 and has thrown his shoe at American convoys before, Uday added.

A relative identifying himself as Safaa said that days before the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Latif had uneventfully thrown a shoe at an American patrol.

Perhaps Latif had been inspired by Tuesday’s release of Muntather Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who in December threw his loafers at then-President Bush.

“On many occasions you’ll find him [Latif] normal and warmhearted," Safaa said. "However, his fear from American raids and the horror of clashes between gunmen and U.S. forces has affected him psychologically.” 

Some locals demanded that the U.S. troops involved be put on trial.

“Of course [whoever did this] should be prosecuted,” said tribal leader Sheik Abdul Rahman Zobaie. “This is what we have been stressing on since the beginning. Those forces left the cities, and this is provocative action.”

Under the security agreement, U.S. forces out on missions cannot be prosecuted in an Iraqi court unless a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee can demonstrate the soldiers were off duty or committed a premeditated crime. 

-- Special correspondent Nawaf Jabbar in Fallouja and Times staff writer Ned Parker in Baghdad
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