Iraqi soldier shot dead two U.S. servicemen
By Mussab Al-Khairalla and Ross Colvin
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi soldier opened fire on U.S. troops during a joint patrol on December 26, killing two and wounding three others along with a civilian interpreter, Iraqi and U.S. officials said on Saturday.
The U.S. military said it was not clear why the Iraqi soldier had opened fire in the northern city of Mosul, but two Iraqi generals told Reuters the attacker had links to Sunni Arab insurgent groups.
The U.S. military said in a statement the two soldiers killed were Captain Rowdy Inman and Sergeant Benjamin Portell, both assigned to 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, III Corps, based in Fort Hood, Texas.
"The Iraqi soldier who allegedly opened fire fled the scene but was identified by other Iraqi army personnel and was then apprehended. Two Iraqi army soldiers are now being held in connection with the incident," the military said.
In response to the shooting, the Iraqi army has tightened screening of new recruits in its 2nd Division, which controls the Mosul region, and is carrying out more thorough background checks on serving soldiers, the Iraqi generals said.
U.S. and Iraqi troops have been conducting joint patrols as part of a new U.S. counter-insurgency strategy to curb sectarian violence and improve the capabilities of Iraq's military, which will take over more security responsibilities to allow U.S. forces to begin withdrawing from Iraq.
The U.S. military said the December 26 attack occurred during an operation to set up a combat outpost, similar to dozens across Iraq where Iraqi and U.S. soldiers live side by side.
The commander of the Iraqi army's 2nd Division, Brigadier-General Mutaa al-Khazraji, told Reuters the U.S. soldiers were killed during a joint patrol in Hermat in western Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad.
The patrol "was attacked by gunmen and the soldier abused the situation and killed the two soldiers. The soldier was an insurgent infiltrator," Khazraji said.
Brigadier-General Noor al-Din Hussein, commander of the Iraqi Army's 4th Brigade, 2nd Division, told Reuters: "The shooting was deliberate. It was not an accident."
Hussein said the Iraqi soldier had been in the army for only one year and was an Arab from the Jubouri tribe. Most soldiers serving in the Mosul area are from Iraq's Kurdish minority.
"There is some penetration (by insurgents) and we want to purify the Iraqi army. Our soldiers are good and doing well. This is the first time something like this has happened," Hussein said.
The Muslim Scholars Association, a hardline group of Sunni clerics, said in a statement that the Iraqi soldier had shot the U.S. soldiers after he witnessed them beat a pregnant woman.
"His blood rose and he asked the occupying (U.S.) soldiers to stop beating the woman. Their answer through the translator was: "We will do what we want." So he opened fire on them."
U.S. military spokesman Colonel James Hutton said: "There is no indication that that is true and the matter remains under investigation."
U.S. commanders have been praising the improving abilities of the Iraqi military, which was rebuilt from scratch after the U.S. invasion and has been beset by a high desertion rate and some units refusing to deploy outside their home provinces.
American generals say Iraqi units have performed well in a series of counter-insurgency operations that have contributed to a 60 percent drop in violence in Iraq since June 2007.
In June 2004 two U.S. soldiers were killed by Iraqi civil defence officers patrolling with them. The Iraqi Civil Defence Corps was created after the U.S. invasion in 2003 and was the forerunner of today's post-Saddam Iraqi army.
(Writing by Ross Colvin, additional reporting by Aws Qusay in Baghdad; editing by Andrew Roche)